Before I start a story writing seminar, I think it’s important that the participants know what is the purpose of the project and what is not the purpose of the project. I’ve never heard about a project where there is no deadline and money is not the issue. You must always focus on the right stuff to get the project to become a success.
So, what is a successful project? Well, I guess if it’s a project which meets the objectives. And to meet the objectives you need to complete the tasks which leads to forfilling that objective and you must probably try to spend as little time as possible on tasks which does not lead to the objective.
It is one thing to have someone tell you what the objective is. It’s a little better if you’re shown some kind of picture, but what ever the form; if an objective is just broadcasted to you, you might know it. But is it yours?
Mike Cohn has some interesting exercises for forming a project objective, but until today I hadn’t really grasped why I really found it so important that the team participate in these exercises and that you don’t simply tell the guys why we’re spending all this money.
When I presented the exercise, one of the guys frankly spoke out and asked why they were forming the objective and why the business folks didn’t do this. How were they supposed to know.
A very good question.
But when he said that it became so clear to me that what I really wanted was to know what they believed and thought. Everyone has their own picture and if they don’t tell what they think and believe, we cannot debate their idea.
So, out the window went the exercise and I simply asked everyone what they believed and thought. We listed all this input and then based on that we formed a simple Moore’s product vision for the project.
We then went back to the list and marked which items were mandatory to meet the objective and how they helped.
When we during the upcoming exercises formed user stories, we could really lean on those decisions. Both what was included and what was not.
One of the hardest tasks when you’re hosting a workshop is when people question your exercises. But if they cannot understand why they are used, you should probably not use just that one on that occasion. You should instead know what you wanted with the exercise and think if there is some other way you can reach that goal.
But the best thing is how much you learn about an exercise if they don’t go as planned. I’m even more confident in the relevance of a project objective, but the reason for formulating one in a story writing seminar must be clarified to the group.
One of the interesting things about agile methodologies is that when you read about best practice in other fields of "business", you can find the same stuff. I’m currently reading the excellent Made to Stick, about how you present a message to make it stick. A truly interesting book for anyone who think he’s got something useful to say. Mike Cohn stresses the need for a project/product vision. He uses the Geoffrey Moore’s template from Crossing the Chasm:
- For (target customer)
- Who (statement of the need or opportunity)
- The (product name) is a (product category)
- That (key benefit, compelling reason to buy)
- Unlike (primary competitive alternative)
- Our product (statement of primary differentiation)
So simple, and so powerful.
In the military, there is something called Commander’s intent, which have the same objective as the the Product vision: to make people understand why they are doing stuff. What is the objective. The definition, according to FM 100-5 (Field manual) from 1993, the Commander’s intent is:
It should be as short as possible and should be placed on top of every order. The reason is that if all plans fail or if something unexpectedly happens, the team should select the thing which bring them closer to the objective. These questions can be seen as the template for the commander’s intent, where the sub questions are meant to answer the superior question:
- What is the single, most-important thing that my team has to do during this operation?
- If we do nothing else during tomorrow’s mission, we must X
- The single, most-important thing that we must do tomorrow is X