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The objective of a pre study

I'm currently planning a pre study. You agile guys out there probably freeze when I say that word: pre study. Seems like a load of waste, or?

Why a pre study? Why not make it an implementation project right away?

I was also struggling with this and it all boiled down to me trying to understand the Commander's intent of a pre study. I'm writing a project description to our project review group and I always try to use Commander's intent. Commander's intent is (for you who have not read all my posts and for which this is old news) is a way of stating an objective. The format forces you to say what the essence of the problem is. "Independent of all other things, we should have achieved X." This means that even if all plans goes south you know what the purpose is. It's a military term and the effects on US military are enormous.

So, what is the commander's intent of a pre study. Normally, I don't have problems writing (one of my biggest problems is that I write too much), but now even I was struggling. What can be the objective of a project which does not produce anything which you can use. It's just paper. Or?

If we go to the scientific method, we talk about observation, hypothesis, theory and fact. In common day language we might not view these terms as so different and you sometime hear people say "well, that's just a theory." In the scientific language it's not that easy. Here are the Wikipedia explanations:

Observation is either an activity of a living being (such as a human), consisting of receiving knowledge of the outside world through the senses, or the recording of data using scientific instruments.

A hypothesis (from Greek ὑπόθεσις; plural hypotheses) is a proposed explanation for an observable phenomenon.

A theory, in the scientific sense of the word, is an analytic structure designed to explain a set of empirical observations.

In the most basic sense, a scientific fact is an objective and verifiable observation; in contrast with a hypothesis or theory, which is intended to explain or interpret facts

What does this mean? Well, in many cases, someone observe something and based on that form a hypothesis. When this has been tested and verified using the scientific method, you can form a theory. When a theory has been proven right beyond any reasonable doubt, you can say that it's a scientific fact.

But what does this have to do with my prestudy? You could say that we have observed a problem. But we don't know if it's a fact that we're going to do about or even if we're going to do something about it. We don't have a solid theory about what we're going to do. In other words, we couldn't formulate a commander's intent for the implementation project.

Starting projects without a commander's intent is seldom successful and here we have the usage of pre studies. They can give us a better understanding what the problem really is. This does not mean that all pre studies are good. Too many result in Gantt charts and details but fail to supply the one important thing and that is to give meaning to implementation.

I will probably not write that the purpose of the pre study is to form a commander's intent but if you remove all the extra words, this will be the bottom line.

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Categories: Agile
  1. Sreekanth A
    2012/06/13 at 10:18 am

    Coudn’t have agreed more with on this matter, is Pre-Stuy really required & worth the effort, time & money Spent ! Well am looking for reasons to escape the monster called Pre-Study

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