The Opportunity

UNDERSTAND AND ALIGN ON THE PROBLEM OR OPPORTUNITY THAT NEEDS TO BE ADDRESSED

To ensure we’re all working towards the same goal, we need to align on the problem to address.

This is really about asking ‘What problem are we solving, what opportunity are we seeking to exploit, why and with what goals in mind?’

Why

Good outcomes are only delivered when we solve the right problem, the solution provides value and all contributors are aligned. These activities allow the team to align and flag any concerns or mismatches.

Activities

THE BUSINESS PROBLEM OR OPPORTUNITY

What problem are we being asked to address?

We jointly articulate the business problem or opportunity, vision, goals and value proposition.

We outline what the business wants to achieve, why, and explain how value will be generated and for whom. The more metrics and SMART goals, the better!

During an inception we generally focus on validating, aligning on and refining these aspects (rather than having to define them in the first place). That is, the business case and value proposition should already be sound.

I want to understand the underlying factors that create the opportunity

Strategic drivers allow us to identify the factors that the organisation needs to respond to. This can be in order to benefit from an opportunity, or avoid a threat. Strategic drivers are (generally speaking) the ultimate source of opportunities and the raîson d’etre behind everything an organisation does.

I want to understand the vision related to this initiative

The product vision canvas links target audience needs with product capabilities and business goals. Use this to create or understand the overarching vision.

I want to understand how the organisation delivers the value proposition

The Lean Canvas is a way to explain how a value proposition is delivered.

I want to know how my client’s business will evolve over time

A business roadmap outlines how, over time, a business will evolve its capabilities at the highest strategic level. This forms an important input into delivery roadmaps, as we often need to align product roadmaps to a high level strategic roadmap.

I want to justify (or understand the justification of) an initiative

These two documents provide a lightweight framework for defining the rationale for an initiative.

SWOT

I want to understand strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities I can address or exploit

A matrix to note strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, classified by whether they are external, internal, harmful or beneficial. This tool is useful for uncovering these contextual aspects, which can help in defining a strategy. It is not however focused defining and prioritising solutions or actions, and should be used with other methods to action the insights that emerge.

Success criteria

What does success look like?

We pose the questions ‘What does success look like’ and ‘How will we know’? It’s important that these questions are constantly revisited as the inception progresses to ensure that what we do remains viable, desirable and feasible. We must define success for the client and also success for the supplier. Such success criteria should cover the commercial, socio-cultural and (in some cases) personal factors that are important to all parties.

OKRs

I want to define and measure business goals

Objectives and Key Results are a structured way to define actionable objectives in an agile way, and enable cascading this intent throughout an organisation.

I want to structure information, find patterns and make the consumption of a larger amount of information easier

An affinity map is a diagram which groups items that belong together. It’s helpful when we ask a team to provide their thoughts, which we then group by relationship / category. We use affinity maps to gather success criteria from all stakeholders and distil themes which are then reflected in our team charters and ways of working.

I want to ensure I have SMART objectives for the initiative

Objectives apply at different levels within a business. It’s important to understand the objectives that apply to a given initiative and how they contribute to higher level objectives. To do so, we create a tree (or network) that illustrates this hierarchy. This can be used to group, categorise and reduce a large number of objectives to a more manageable set. These can then be mapped against strategic themes and features.

I want to understand and align on what is important

Alignment on values and principles is vital, as it determines not only ways of working but also the decisions and compromises we make. Project sliders allow stakeholders to indicate the relative importance of a number of dimensions. This helps teams to align, and also defines a decision- making framework.

CONSTRAINTS AND CONCERNS

What are our constraints?

At this stage it is worth being very clear about constraints and concerns we’ll face. Constraints may relate to time, milestones, budget, resources or other constraints the delivery team will have to operate to. Concerns are often more personal, but usually point to risks that we need to be aware of and manage.

I want to understand and align on what is important

Alignment on values and principles is vital, as it determines not only ways of working but also the decisions and compromises we make. Project sliders allow stakeholders to indicate the relative importance of a number of dimensions. This helps teams to align, and also defines a decision- making framework.

Values

I want to make sure teams have shared values

Identifying and aligning values across teams and organisations helps to ensure successful collaboration.

I want to know which key events or targets I need to factor into my planning

Business milestones are events that impact our initiative from a strategic perspective. They affect prioritisation, roadmaps, dependency maps and delivery plans.

I want to make sure teams have shared values

Identifying and aligning values across teams and organisations helps to ensure successful collaboration.

Roundtable

I am interested in people’s opinions and thoughts

We surface risks, concerns and get buy-in by going around the table and ask all stakeholders for their individual view on a given matter. Keep it simple, keep it short.

I want to map dependencies that impact my delivery

A tree or network identifying individual dependencies, their relationships (x depends on y), their status and ownership.

Pro tips

At this stage, work at the business level. Do not jump to the solution just yet.

Observe the dynamics in the room, whether opinions are freely voiced or whether certain participants are overly dominant, and take appropriate action where necessary.

By default, assume the value proposition and the business case are sound and validate them (as opposed to assuming that you will need to define them). Where you find gaps or mismatches, consider whether pivoting to a discovery is more appropriate.

While you are obliged to clarify, align and question to ensure the initiative is the right thing to do, do not tell the client how to suck eggs. You may have a client that does not know how to build software but they do know how to run their business – so tread carefully when questioning top-level vision, objectives or value propositions.