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Agile Project Initiation

Agile Project InitiationI’ve written before about how I think Agile Project Management alone is not enough. Project Initiation is one of the areas of agile methods that I think needs embelishment for large projects.

Over the years, I’ve used quite a few techniques for project initiation.

But I’ve never really come across an agile one.

My first experience of formal project initiation was a Project Definition Report in Method1, a very traditional methodology from Anderson Consulting as they were known then; now Accenture.

Then, as a Project Manager, I used a PID (Project Initiation Document) from the PRINCE2 project management methodology, which I guess is probably the most widely used today.

In MSF (Microsoft Solutions Framework), there’s the Vision & Scope document.

Truth is, they’re all pretty similar really. Long documents, with lots of details about a project and how it’s going to be run. Long, tedious documents.

Yet, for large projects, they are important.

As a Project Manager, I always found the thought process they made me go through was incredibly useful. I personally benefited from writing them; that’s for sure. Without them, the project could be poorly thought through. And the chances of failure would certainly be higher.

So the thinking was valuable. Trouble was, no-one wanted to read those lengthy documents. All that thinking. All that writing! And no-one was really interested, truth be known. Not the Project Board. Not the project team. And certainly not the wider stakeholders.

So, if the thinking is valuable, what do agile methods have to offer instead?

Nothing.

Unless I’ve missed it somehow. Nothing.

So, for large projects that warrant it, how do we incorporate this valuable thinking into agile methods? And how do we do it in a way that people will actually pay any attention to?

The answer is simple.

Do it in PowerPoint.

Producing this information in PowerPoint has some profound effects:

  1. It’s easier to write. In PowerPoint, the writer is naturally more concise, because of the constraints of the format.
  2. It’s easier to read. It’s natural in PowerPoint to convey things in a more interesting and digestable form.
  3. And it’s easier to share. Invite people to a meeting or presentation, and they’ll happily sit through a PowerPoint to understand the goals of a project. The speaker – aided by the slides – brings the information alive. Ask the same people to read a 50 page project initiation document and, surprise surprise, the response is different.

Thinking a project through before kicking it off is valuable.

Being able to communicate this thinking to others is imperative. To get funding; to share the vision with the team; to inform other stakeholders about the goals of the project.

So next time you need to do a more formal project initiation, why not try it in a format that’s more appropriate for the purpose?

Kelly.

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6 Responses to “Agile Project Initiation”

  1. Philk says:

    Wow, has to be the first blog i’ve read that recommends Powerpoint ! I don’t know anyone that would ‘happily sit through’ one but thats because all the presenters I’ve suffered have listed pages of bullet points and then repeated them word for word – whats your secret for making them come alive ?

  2. Kelly Waters says:

    Yes, I would certainly recommend PowerPoint in favour of Word!

    Unfortunately bad presenters give PowerPoint a bad name! I hope I’mn not one of them :-)

    Reality is, projects do need to be communicated.

    In terms of my secret, I try not to use bullet points except where absolutely necessary. Inevitably they are sometimes, but they should be minimised. Personally I like to use one big picture that (at least conceptually) visualises my point. Then I just use one heading to remind me and the audience what the point is and I talk from memory. Apart from being visually more interesting, it also means the speaker doesn’t fall into the trap of reading the bullet points.

    You can get the gist of what I’m saying from the screen shot of my agile presentations, even if you don’t want to buy one. Especially the one about 10 Key Principles of Agile. See here:

    http://www.agile-software-development.com/search/label/presentations

    Regards
    Kelly.

  3. Brad Sherman says:

    This is a seeming flawed recommendation as the other comments indicate could be the outcome of a ‘bad’ powerpoint presentation. I admit that I chuckled when I read the suggestion. On the other hand, I think that this would be a near-perfect opportunity to use the ‘Answer First’ style of powerpoint presentation.

    A presentation which succinctly focuses on ‘where we were’, ‘what has changed’, ‘what question do we need to answer’, and ‘what is the answer’ as a means to present the objectives for a project seems very well suited.

  4. jan says:

    I must say that this idea is worth of consideration. Some time ago I had to provide such “important” vision document. In that time I was also under pressure to deliver another project.
    But as this vision document was very important and everybody wanted to read it I had no choice. I wrote document and sent it to all interested parties. It was two months ago and try to guess how many persons went through that document?
    But if I would create presentation along with document I am very sure I would get much more responses.
    So next time, if I will want response, I will create ppt + document.

  5. Michael Walkden says:

    I’d also like to add that having a short, portable, description of the project is invaluable on large projects. The reality is that large projects are often a revolving door of experts and executives there to “help”. As a PM having a quick description that I can send off to new people saves the team a lot of time and lets them focus on getting important things done rather than catching people up.

  6. Social Gantt says:

    Indeed, the traditional approach to project management breaks down
    a job into development stages–focusing on the project, rather than the people around it.

    At first glance, the discipline of modern project management (or PM, for short) can
    seem rather alienating. Very soon you will notice signs of # 1,3
    and 4 (listed above).

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