Managing projects with Inception Deck
Among my tons of readings there was a book, which honestly I was expecting nothing from, but which ended up being the one with really interesting ideas and innovations: Agile Samurai. Usually those books tell you the story of Agile, the manifesto, describe SCRUM or Kanban practices you’ve heard for a thousand time and that is already written on Wikipedia. And despite its simplistic look that book has made the feat to really innovate about agile methods and make its contribution to the cause!
Today I will therefore introduce a method presented in this book called Inception Deck. This deck is freely distributed in multiple languages so do not hesitate to use it ! I made a french translation for those interested in Moliere language.
The principle is pretty simple: to avoid the usual pains in project management (who’s responsible, what are the most important features, what are the tradeoffs you re willing to do) this slide deck proposes us to state the limits of the project with 10 slides. This deck is built from equally the project team member and the customer showing up to setup the hopes, goals, limits and risks related to the project. This document is not set in stone and is not necessarily written all at once as some of those elements might ask you a bit a reflexion. However this document will become your roadmap and the single most important piece to communicate with your customer.
To be honest with you, at first I thought it was too simplistic , borderline simple-minded, but after few uses of it on real life projects and facing the final customer, it became quickly one of my best weapon for productivity and engage conversation with the customer.I don’t go out without my deck on the belt anymore 🙂 Of course since it’s a Creative Commons licence I’ll let you relook it with the colors of your company and add the feature you feel necessary!
I am going to present you one by one the 10 slides that builds this deck and hopefully at the end your project will seem clearer and if it’s not the case it would have helped you to discover the problems keeping you back!
Slide 1: Why are we here?
This first slide is simply the reason which brought you here. What is the reason you or your client would spend any money in this project ?
You’re going to list here all these reasons (minimum three) and highlight a specific one which will be the guiding one which make you begin this project. If you’re already blocked at this point, you would better ask yourself twice if doing the project is really worth it.
Slide 2: The elevator pitch
We keep going with an exercise well know from the Startupers and attendees of company building events. A good project should be able to be described with a simple sentence which lists all the essential elements of the project. This pitch is used to describe the target audience and the needs the project meets, as well as its benefits compared to competitors. It’s a very good training to do with the customer to know if everybody is really on the same page regarding the targeted audience as well as the keys for success of the project in the ecosystem it’s going to evolve in.
Slide 3: Product Box
This slide could seem useless but the exercise is really interesting to do. The main idea is to represent yourself your product as common good (cereals,detergent) and to imagine its packaging. You are going to list its name, catch phrase, benefits and try to differentiate it from others. This exercise allows you to embody a potential customer of your product and see if the magic sets in. You MUST be aware that you will need to attract your target audience. If you were a potential customer looking at this packaging would it make you dream/hope/buy? Otherwise maybe you should review your branding, catch phrase or the way to present it. This slide can also be used to sell your project internally and reassure people about what the project will bring them.
Slide 4: The NOT list
This slide is critical ! I strongly recommend that you write it with the project owner next to you ! It will define the whole scope of the project. At first you should put everything in Unresolved and while discussing you move them either to [In Scope] or [Out of Scope]. This slide saved my life many times when we discovered that the initial specification was wrong. But by stating it clearly we could solve it in time! It also has the benefits to show visually to the project owner when she’s asking too much… 120 items in the Scope and nothing Out of Scope should facilitate the trades off.
Slide 5: The project community
In this slide we will list the stakeholders of the project. We tend to underestimate the effect on other people and include them at the last time in rush (I’m sorry dear marketing team 😉 )This slide allows us to cut most of the frustration around communication of the project and last minute changes. It also helps to create a comprehensive scope to diffuse news and status of the project to all parties. Therefore it brings not only you but the all team an effective way to plan and set their own milestones relative to the status of this project ! And that’s teamwork is about. Try to list everybody from developers, futur users, marketing team for PR, press, sysadmin for deploy…etc
Slide 6: Technical solution
Engineers have the bad habit to present their work as a black box full of magic that drives what they can and cannot do. Here in this slide the goal is to explain to EVERYBODY how they intend to build this project. Therefore it has to be explained simply enough for parties to understand and if needed they can answer more specific questions. Of course on one slide you cannot show the whole complexity but it helps to see how the project is designed and potentially to detect technical risks. I often encountered engineers who discovered bottlenecks while explaining the technical solution and it greatly helped the whole process of the project! It also show the potential dependancies to other services and allows the engineer to show to the stakeholders what they control fully and what they don’t: Paypal API, Remote Feed…
Slide 7: What keeps you up at night
This one MUST IMPERATIVELY be written with the project owner! Here you are going to lay honestly your fears and the risks you perceive about the project and its realisation. Is the scope too big? Timing is too short compared to the scope? Or more subtile things such as the success of the application is overestimated (servers specifications). It’s the perfect moment to have an honest discussion with your sponsors and partners to highlight some risks and find ways to limit their impacts.You can ask whatever is needed if the stakeholders acknowledge the risk and the consequences and risks if they didn’t approve.
Slide 8: The A-Team
We are going to list here the skills needed to success in this project. Ideally it would be profiles but if specific persons are needed within the organisation you can name them explicitly (only one sysadmin in the company?). We will describe here their implication, their role and what we expect from them in the context of this project. It allows to state clearly the responsibilities and helps refine the earlier slide about the project community. We also write who should be responsible for the decisions and break the ties such as the project owner. Mostly you need someone who understand the stakes of the project and who is capable to make tough decisions when needed.
Slide 9: How big is this thing
This slide concerns the communication with the client. She clearly needs to know what to expect roughly in terms of timing. We will therefore give an estimation, I say an estimation and not a planning nor a commitment, to give her an idea of the work needed. It also helps her to organize herself in terms of timing to execute peripheral tasks related to the project. This estimation will be built using epic stories or other stories created from the slide 4.
Slide 10: Trade off sliders
Last one and probably the most complicated. It’s here that we will negotiate trades off. If the deadline or the budget come close , what should be prioritize to protect them? Of course IT DOES NOT replace a discussion with the client when you see the problem coming! But you can mention this slide to remind her of the priorities you set up together and even though nobody likes trading off, a choice needs to be made. Rules are simple, 2 sliders CAN NOT be at the same level, so the customer CAN NOT put everything at 100%. And that’s where the magic happens, because she has to choose what to prioritize. In the upper side are listed the 4 common critierias (functionnalities, budget, time, quality). In the lower part you can add your own criterias specific to your project.
Sum up slide:
To close this deck we put a sum up slide which your customer will be very focused on. Here you sum up the time/resources/budget implied in this project. On the customer part in this one slide she will be able to decide whether she goes for it or not.
Once again this slide deck is only a roadmap and is not set in stone ! However everytime an element is updated you should share it with all the stakeholders to let them know what changed and the possible implication. Of course the customer too ! If you’d like to know more about the Inception Deck I add the presentation of Jonathan Rasmusson, creator of this deck.
Do not hesitate to comment or tell me what you think of this deck and how it helped you to handle your projects !