Project Assessment: Define project vision, scope, strategy
Failed projects can trace most problems all the way back to the start and their kickoff. Maybe there was a large RFP of needs and requirements. Or perhaps a senior stakeholder laid out the ambitions and outcomes for a new initiative that had everyone nodding, but no one asking any of the tough questions to tease out risks, potential issues, or what it really takes to bring the idea to life.
As Jonathan Rasmussen says in the book The Agile Samurai, “Assumption of consensus where none exists is what kills most projects.” When stakeholders and teams fail to align early on, it can dramatically increase the risk of the project and delay the release of the custom software.
The goal of our process is to build a shared understanding of success so we can get aligned on how to most effectively build and deliver a new digital product to market. We call this rapid alignment process a Project Accelerator workshop. The goal of that workshop is to deliver our Project Assessment Report in under two weeks.
A better way to get started: Project Accelerator workshop
The purpose of our facilitated Project Accelerator workshop is to dive deep into the client’s business, its needs, and its capacity so we can determine what a project should look like to deliver value quickly.
Because we’ve done these Project Accelerator workshops so many times, we’re able to ask questions that companies maybe haven’t previously considered, but that we know are crucial. We suss out what the scope should be, where the risks are, how we want to put together a team, and how long the project in question will take.
The goal is to rapidly explore the needs of the business and create alignment on the most critical decisions to build the digital project and bring it to market:
Clarify product goals and vision and target audience for the first milestone
Break down the requirements and scope of the project, with informed decisions around priorities
Understand the assumptions and dependencies that will affect implementation
Identify the risks and accelerators for those biggest threats to a successful go-to-market
Map out the technical architecture for how the system will be built
Estimate the timeline and responsible budget for the release
Validate the measurable goals, outcomes, and KPIs for success after launch
Deliver a product implementation roadmap to get to market and improve speed to value for the business
Getting started: Client Homework
Before we kick off in our Project Accelerator workshop, we ask our stakeholders to do some homework to ensure we start the workshop in alignment (both with our team and among their internal stakeholders).
This homework helps provide context about the organization (e.g., a SWOT analysis) as well as the opportunity (primary drivers, benefits, and desired outcomes of the custom software). All of this homework is informed by a deeper understanding of their target audience, competitive analysis, and product-market fit.
Getting together: Project Accelerator workshop
We ask our clients to give us two days of their undivided attention, meaning they leave their fishbowl and avoid other meeting commitments and obligations for the two-day workshop. It’s an exhausting but enlightening two days, but doing this at the start will prevent many frustrations and misunderstandings. And ultimately that saves time, money, and rework.
This workshop is an opportunity to make sure everyone shares a common vision. Instead of relying on assumptions, we question and validate as much as possible to come up with a shared understanding. Here’s our checklist of goals for these two days together:
1. Deep dive on MVP scope
Clearly defining the project's vision and scope involves identifying the core purpose of the software we plan to build and the problem it aims to solve. As we explore the requirements together, we consider insights from business stakeholders, product owners, and end users. Defining the project's scope helps set realistic expectations and aligns everyone's understanding of the project's goals.
2. Establish Business Value
Understanding the business value of the software allows us to map out priorities for our initial release(s). By identifying and prioritizing the outcomes and features that deliver the most significant value to users and stakeholders, we can ensure that our work aligns with organizational objectives and provides the fastest speed to value.
3. Form Integrated Teams
Collaboration is a hallmark of our process and that starts in these Project Accelerator workshop sessions. We work in cross-functional teams comprising delivery managers, designers, developers, and strategists so we can pool our diverse expertise to ensure a holistic understanding of the project's requirements and challenges.
This collaboration early in the planning encourages the creation of an integrated team that partners with our clients to make informed decisions and adapt to changes efficiently during delivery.
4. Outline High-Level Requirements
While detailed requirements may emerge and evolve throughout the project, the Project Accelerator workshop process focuses on establishing high-level requirements. These requirements provide a foundational understanding of the software's core functionality. These details are captured at the epic level (think of this as the big feature / functionality level), which allows us to estimate and map out dependencies and risks.
In addition to these critical functional requirements, we also explore non-functional requirements that will impact the end user’s experience (like performance, accessibility, security, and privacy needs).
5. Identify Risks and challenges
Every software project faces risks. The Project Accelerator workshop process is a prime opportunity to identify and address potential challenges. By conducting risk assessments and brainstorming potential issues, teams can develop strategies to mitigate these risks and uncertainties.
Making recommendations: Project Assessment Report
After the two days together, our integrated team will do further analysis for one week to synthesize our notes, write up our release plan, estimate features, and make recommendations.
The primary deliverable of the Project Accelerator workshop is the Project Assessment Report for the initial release(s). These artifacts set clear direction for the project, establishing priorities and providing a framework for the team's efforts. The finished Project Assessment Report serves as a foundation for iterative development and continuous improvement throughout the Agile software development lifecycle.
Deliverable #1: High-level features and epics
Identify the high-level features or epics that are targeted for each iteration or release. These features will closely align with the project's overall goals and priorities. Each epic will have details as to our assumptions, acceptance criteria, and understood priorities.
Deliverable #2: Risk assessment and mitigation
As part of the plan, we identify potential risks and uncertainties that could affect the project's timeline or success. We then seek to develop early strategies to mitigate these risks and proactively address challenges that may arise.
Deliverable #3: Dependencies and constraints
As part of release planning, we will capture dependencies between features, as well as any constraints that could impact the project's timeline or delivery. Dependencies might include requirements that must be fulfilled before certain features can be developed.
Deliverable #4: Resources and team allocation
We will map out the staffing plan, availability of team members, and resources for delivery. This helps ensure that the plan is realistic and feasible based on the team's capacity. Our integrated teams are adept at collaboration and working with agility to deliver quickly.
Deliverable #5: Release timeline and estimates
The plan will outline the estimated timeline of the project, including development and design milestones as well as anticipated release dates. The estimates will be delivered as a range, based on our assumptions and knowledge of the requirements and understanding of potential risks (the larger the risks, the wider the range variance).
The work will be scheduled in iterations (timeboxed periods during which specific features or user stories are developed, tested, and potentially released). The final output is a release plan that contains the epics based on their priorities, as well as the estimated costs involved for delivery.
This kind of planning allows us to rapidly and transparently model several “what-if” scenarios (E.g.,: What if we cut low-priority features from the scope? What if we add another developer pair? What if we reduce the timeline by two weeks?). With this agile planning approach, we can play around with various constraints (time, scope, budget, team size) to collaboratively shape the release plan with our clients.
We believe in radical transparency at TXI, and think that evaluation of risks and timelines should start at the outset and happen continuously. A Project Assessment gathers all of our thoughts and recommendations to be completely open about cost and timeline. From there, our clients can look at the ROI and find ways to cut costs and / or risks and increase opportunities.
Benefits of this approach
Beyond the creation of the final deliverable of the Project Assessment report itself, there are several benefits to this kind of kickoff for a new project.
1. Determine whether a project makes sense
The best thing we can do for our clients is keep them from wasting money. Sometimes we’ll spend two days in the room, figuring out the scope, cost, and duration of a project, only to realize it’s not going to be ROI positive. That’s a phenomenal outcome. If it sounds like a failure, think about the alternative. Our clients can stop the project with that discovery, and they’re only out two days, rather than months of design and custom software development.
Other times, we’ll recognize that based either on the budget or the desires they have, it doesn’t make sense to go the custom route. Instead, they should take an off-the-shelf product. It’s kind of weird when you think about it, for a custom development company to tell people not to build custom software. But that happens. But our job in these assessments is to help the client find the best way to achieve their goals. That doesn’t always lead to creating more custom software.
2. Decide if TXI is the right partner
If we’ve never worked with a client before, we want our first engagement to be something small. This kind of dedicated time and rapid assessment of a project is a great introduction to new clients to showcase how we work, how we think, and the caliber of our team. Eventually we’ll build software together. But a Project Accelerator workshop lets us first build a release plan and get to work together while providing value––in under two weeks!
3. Get feedback from developers and designers
The eventual goal of any software project is to have everyone working together on building the product. We just think that should happen in the visioning stage too. Instead of a client meeting with only one lead or sales person, a Project Accelerator workshop gives them a chance to actually meet with some of the team members who are going to create their product.
Our engineers, designers, product strategists, and delivery managers can sit with them and say, “I hear what you’re saying, but that’s expensive, have you thought about this?” Those tips save us time building a plan that isn’t rooted in reality.
4. Ramp up quickly
After a Project Accelerator workshop, we’re ready to go. There’s no game of telephone. You have a clear sense of what it takes to make your idea a reality. We know you and how to communicate with you, and you know the same. It makes it that much easier to jump into a project and get started.
This kind of rapid project assessment (or Project Accelerator workshop) sets the tone for the project's collaborative culture. Teams create an environment where communication flows freely, ideas are shared openly, and feedback is actively sought and incorporated. This process creates a safe space where team members feel empowered to voice their opinions, contributing to a culture of continuous improvement. And that improved communication improves the velocity of the team during the delivery phase. Our goal is to help you think big, start small, and learn fast.
Published by Jennifer Vasko , Toun Ogundu , Mark Rickmeier , Benedict Wong in Product Innovation