The Concept Phase in Agile Product Development

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June 12, 2017

The Concept Phase in Agile Product Development
By Joel Oosthuizen

Four phases to deliver value on Agile projects:

Concept phase – which is where we outline the goals, outcomes and justification for the initiative.

Initiate phase – where we identify the foundations of the solution, build an initial prioritized backlog and a good enough initial release plan.

Delivery phase – which involves creating functionality from the requirements through design, analysis, testing, build and deployment. The deliver cycle is repeated until the project ends.

Closure phase – where we take the lessons learned on this initiative and amplify them to the whole organisation, deliver the business benefits and alleviate the people so they can join other projects.

Learn and adapt is not listed as a phase as it should be an activity that is continuous in nature.

Why the need for a concept phase?

Scrum focuses on the delivery of (software) projects. Naturally it doesn’t take into account phases leading up to the point where we start building the requirements. In this article we briefly look at the phases that prepare value- and delivery teams for building and delivering software.

Concept phase

The input to the concept phase deals with a new idea or need for change. A journey of discovery into what it is that the potential idea or product can do for our business embarks. The discoveries here are translated into desired outcomes. These are typically our acceptance criteria for the project.

Project stakeholders

The concept phase is our opportunity to identify all the stakeholders that may be impacted by the initiative. It is crucial for our team, as well as the product’s success to ensure that we understand where in the stakeholder matrix of influence and power our identified individuals reside. We also undertake to understand the goals of the various stakeholders so that we can manage their expectations, and ensure we do our best possible to accommodate their goals.

During conceptualization we start with activities that get the related ideas out into the open. Make them tangible to create fertile ground for collaboration. Here, a high level capability map works like magic, as we are able to map out the high level feature sets in order to slot associated functionality into the high level competencies. Once we understand the boundaries of the system that we are envisioning, we can start with invention activities which may include brainstorming ideas for the product, looking at what competitors are doing in this space and attempting to apply any improvements etc.

Invention activities

The invention activities, together with the capability map allows us to create a high level design of the system that we are envisioning. These should include a healthy mix of low fidelity paper prototypes (initial user interface model) that we can test with real-world users prior to embarking on the next phases of the process. We may also envision the required architecture at this time which will guide various aspects down the line. The subject of Agile Modelling techniques is beyond the scope of this write-up.

Once we have our high level requirements, a model depicting the intended use for the system is understood, an initial domain model which identifies fundamental business entity types and the relationship between them, and an initial user interface model which explores UI and usability issues. The goal here is to build a shared understanding and not to write detailed documentation. Your success in this phase is to use inclusive modelling techniques that encourages stakeholder participation.

Success criteria for the concept phase

Acceptance criteria (outputs) of the concept phase is a project charter or inception deck, a list of quality goals and a high level capability set. These feed straight into the inception phase as inputs.

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