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How to plan an inception (or similar workshops)?

You have to plan an inception (or similar workshop) and you are looking for activities to build your inception agenda. You reached the right page.

But before going into many options for inception activities, let me start by answering this question: How to plan an inception?

You have to sort out the people, the agenda, the place (physical or virtual) and the tools. And then, make sure to have the right people at the right place with the right tools, following a well-planned inception agenda.

What is an inception?
How to create an inception agenda?
Inception activities Menu
– Organising the workshop
– Business
– Product
– People
– Process
– Technical
– Prioritisation
– Research and Design
Set-menu for inceptions
Data workshops special menu
Inceptions Duration
Questions for an inception triage
Inception and AI: What is AIInception?

 

What is an inception?

Inception is how agile teams begin their work.

The name Inception comes from the RUP (Rational Unified Process), a software engineering process created by Rational in the 90s for object-oriented development, based on UML (Unified Modeling Language).

Rational was purchased by IBM in 2003. At that time, RUP was considered one of the agile methodologies, with its proposal for shorter delivery cycles (three months was considered short back then) and incremental product evolution.

Inception was defined as the first of RUP’s four phases: Inception, Elaboration, Construction and Transition. Typically, during the Inception phase, the team would gather requirements via interviews with users and stakeholders. The result would be documented in the Use Case format. Then, augmenting and prioritising these Use Cases, the team would design the software and define the release plan for the project.

I stopped hearing about RUP long ago, but inception remain as a common term for agile teams.

Inception is how agile teams begin their work. Typically, Inception is a workshop with many activities to help a group of people align about the scope of work, the ways of work, the people, the product, the technology, the design and/or the process.

Ok, but how to plan an inception, how to create an inception agenda?

It depends. Seriously. It is not just a typical consultant answer (I’m a consultant). It depends on what you want to get out of your inception.

 

Think about planning an inception agenda, as you plan a meal for a group of people at a restaurant. Think about the many inception activities as the items on a restaurant menu. Even better, think about the inception activities as the itens in a Spanish tapas restaurant menu. Sometimes you want to plan a Sunday lunch for a large group of people that have not met before; other times you are planning a quick snack for a few friends. You must select the appropriate options for your context.

I live in Spain, where tapas are a common culinary delight. Tapas are typically very small dishes that you enjoy as a meal by ordering multiple plates. Just like with tapas, some of these small plates complement each other wonderfully, while others may not pair as harmoniously. This similarity applies when selecting a set of activities for a workshop. Sometimes, the sequence of activities flows seamlessly, while other times, they may not align as well.

If you’re not experienced in this art, I recommend seeking advice from someone with experience in organizing inception agendas and facilitating activities. Their insights can be invaluable in ensuring a successful and cohesive outcome for your workshop.

Inception activities Menu

So, please find below the Inception activities menu. You will also find a Set menu — a combination with a sequence of pre-selected activities (each set menu was created by a very experienced ‘inception chef’).

Organising the workshop

Business

Product

People

Process

Technical

Prioritisation

Research & Design

Set-menu for inceptions

Please find below a list of set-menus, a combination with a sequence of pre-selected activities (each set menu was created by a very experienced ‘inception chef’).

Data workshops special menu

The menus below are special for Data related workshop:

Inceptions Duration

Inceptions vary in length. I have been on inceptions that last from a few hours to a few weeks. I prefer an inception agenda that fits in a week (like this inception agenda template), from Monday to Friday. But I do recognize the need to plan the inception duration as per your specific context. For example, many times I will start with an agenda template and adjust it.

You should plan each activity duration and be very careful not to under allocate time to it. During each activity, you should plan enough time for the people interaction, not only for the artefact generation. For example, you can fill up an MVP canvas in 10 minutes and ask everyone to be on mute and follow you. On the other hand, in a more collaborative way, you can plan and facilitate a collaborative session to build the MVP Canvas. It requires more time, probably a few hours, or a full day.

Be aware (and respectful) of people’s energy level. For example, it is usually better to plan a sequence of 12-hour sessions in three consecutive days than to have it all in one day. Usually, it is more productive and more respectful of people’s energy level and agenda.

Anthony O’Connell created the following graph and explanation  to help teams understand and plan the length of digital product inceptions.

  • SHORTER INCEPTION (less that 3 days): Simple product, small number of features, little or no integration with existing systems
  • MEDIUM INCEPTION (aprox. 5 days): Medium complexity product, larger number of features, some integration with existing systems
  • LONGER INCEPTION (more than 5 days): Large, complex product, large number of features, significant integration with existing systems

I like Anthony´s work because it depicts a visual representation to help teams assess their context for deciding the inception length. You should consider a similar approach for planning your specific inception length.

Questions for an workshop triage

Before planning the workshop, I will try to get some context on it. Please find below some questions I use to find more information about the workshop context.

  1. What is the culture of the organisation? Siloed? Component teams? Product Teams? Internal teams? External teams?
  2. Is it ok to have a collaborative workshop? Or shall we plan to work isolated and later find out if whatever we came up with is good enough?
  3. What do we want out of this workshop?
  4. What happened or is happening, before the workshop?
  5. Is there a plan for after the workshop? Any dates already defined?
  6. Who are/should be the people actively involved? What are their roles? technical? UX? Business? Other?
  7. Who are the stakeholders (people very interested with the workshop result but that cannot be part of it)?
  8. Who is organising it? Is there a draft agenda already?
  9. Who will facilitate it?
  10. Has anyone already sent a “save the date”?
  11. Who will send the invitations?
  12. Will the workshop have one facilitator or will it have a shared facilitation style?
  13. Which online board will we use?
  14. Which videoconferencing tool we will use?

Inception and AI: What is AIInception?

AIInception signifies the application of artificial intelligence (AI) to optimize inceptions. In essence, AIInception involves the comprehensive usage of AI advances to improve how agile teams start their engagements.

Currently, I am experimenting some AI tools and gathering feedback from colleagues who have employed AI for any of the activities outlined on this page. Do you have feedback? Please feel free to email me at [email protected].

More info

I promise to evolve this page content into an eBook; but, for the time being, consider these options:
– bring the Lean Inception training to your organisation (detailed step by step on this workshop, a best seller in Brazil)
– bring the Product Leadership and Strategic Alignment Training to your organisation (three workshops’ agenda are shared in this training)
– join this WhatsApp group to decide a date and participate in the upcoming training on ´How to plan an inception (or similar workshops)´:

 

[rock-convert-pdf id=”9959″]

 

Why did I write this post?

I am a very experienced facilitator. I am the Lean Inception author — a set-menu for aligning an agile team about the MVP.

From 2006 to 2011 I facilitated many inceptions, varying the activities. From 2011 to 2014, I focused on activities to help align an agile team about the MVP. From 2014 to 2020, the majority of inceptions I facilitated, were Lean Inceptions.

But in 2020, with the pandemic situation, I went back to facilitating any kind of inception (anything to help foster better agile teams!) Then I found myself looking at a large list of activities to decide how to build an inception agenda, according to the team specific goal.

The thing is, I like set-menu. For example: Design Sprint to quickly decide and design a prototype, Lean Inception to align on the MVP. But, some teams just want to open the menu, select and combine a few things.

It took me years to collect, experiment and organize this activity list. But, what if that F* corona virus got me as well?

I don’t want to take decades of inception knowledge with me to the grave. I rather share it, then keep updating this post. I am sure it will be of good usage by my current and future inception facilitator colleagues.

COMMITMENT: I’ll update this post at least once a month (I have to link it to so many other places… I’ll do it incrementally)

 

Article Updates:

  • I did not keep track of all the updates before 12/may/2021.
  • May, 12th, 2021 – added the Data Mesh Accelerate Inception as a Set Menu
  • June, 17th , 2021 – added the Organization and the teams’ topologies activity
  • July, 20th, 2021 – added the OKR activity
  • August 30th, 2021 – added the Data Workshop – Wheel of Intelligence
  • Aug. 4th, 2021 – Added Strategy DHM activity
  • Sept. 13th, 2021 – added the Continuous delivery assessment
  • Sept. 14th, 2021 – added the Context assessment workshop
  • Sept. 16th, 2021 – added the Opportunity solution tree activity
  • Set. 22nd, 2021 – added the session on Inception Length
  • Set. 23rd, 2021 – added the session on Questions for an inception triage
  • Set. 24th, 2021 – added the article index
  • Set. 28th, 2021 – added the SAFe PI planning to the Set menu
  • Sept. 29th, 2021 – added  the Strategy planning workshop to the Set Menu
  • Oct. 8th, 2021 – added the Accelerate the business workshop (Mural template)
  • Oct. 8th, 2021 – added the four key metrics activity
  • Oct. 13th, 2021 – added the teams deliverables and dependencies activity
  • Nov. 11th, 2021 – added the data set journey activity
  • Dec 23rd, 2021 – added the team calendar activity
  • Jan 23rd, 2022 – added the 3 glasses for innovation activity
  • Jan 25th, 2022 – added the Research & Design category
  • Feb 28th, 2022 – added the Crazy Eights activity
  • March 8th, 2022 – added the Roles and Responsibilities activity
  • October 5th, 2022 – added the Facilitation techniques
  • October 17th, 2022 – added the Real, Win, Worth (RWW) for evaluating potential activity
  • October 24th, 2022, added theProduct Market Innovation Matrix activity
  • December 14th, 2022, added the Power vs. Interest Matrix (Stakeholder mapping)
  • December 15th, 2022, added the Scheduling Assessments (with Stakeholder mapping) Mural template
  • January 18th, 2023, added the Scheduling assessment interviews activity
  • January 29th, 2023, added the Prepara a Glossary activity
  • January 30th, 2023, added the Data Mesh Platform principles activity
  • February 13th, 2023, added the Value Stream Mapping (VSM) activity
  • July 30th. 2023, added the in / out / open questions board
  • August 27th, 2023 added the Meet your neighbours activity
  • September 13th, 2023 added the Opportunity scoring (importance vs. satisfaction) activity
  • September 20th, 2023, added the Scrum Ways of Working (WoW) activity
  • September 20th, 2023, added the Cupcake-Cake-Wedding Cake (Define the MVP) activity
  • September 20th, 2023, added the Storytelling with OKRs activity
  • September 26th, 2023, added the Participation level activity
  • October 18th, 2023, added the Build the MVP Canvas activity
  • November 28th, 2023, added the Assumption Mapping Activity
  • December 6th, 2023, added the block on AIInception
  • December 12th, 2023, added the Now, Next, Later activity

 


Below are a few notes I’ll keep for related content which is not yet posted

 

Defining Success Criteria : What does success look like? How will we measure success? What are some of the key metrics across these various lenses? How do we know if it is successful? How do we know of it is a failure?

Architecture Current State: What is the Architecture Current State? Let’s look to align everyone on our common understanding and answer any questions and share relevant information about it. This will be the baseline to discuss the Architecture future state and how we will transition from the current the to future state.

Path to the Future State Architecture: What is the Future State the Architecture? How do we get from the current state to the future state? The goal is to paint a high level view of the end state and interim stages to get there.  We will create a map with the steps/activities/components needed to achieve the high level future architecture.

Testing Strategy & Roll Out : What is our Testing strategy? How does it relate to the roll-out of new features.

 

Paulo Caroli

Paulo Caroli is the author of the best-selling book “Lean Inception: How to Align People and Build the Right Product” (the first on a series of books about Lean Strategy and Delivery). He's also the creator of FunRetrospectives.com , a site and book about retrospectives, futurospectives and team building activities. Caroli writes on this blog frequently. Receive the next post in your email. Sign up here .
Build the MVP Canvas

Build the MVP Canvas

In the ‘Build the MVP Canvas’ activity, you’ll explore a dynamic tool inspired by lean startup principles—the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) Canvas. This visual chart empowers you to validate and refine product ideas systematically. It guides you through defining the MVP’s proposal, personas, journeys, features, metrics, and schedule. Step by step, you’ll understand each block, fill it with relevant information, and ensure alignment. Whether concluding a Lean Inception workshop or standalone, the MVP Canvas bridges ideas to action, turning concepts into customer-centric products.

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Participation Level Activity: Clarify the Participation Level and Engage Your Workshop Participants Effectively

Participation Level Activity: Clarify the Participation Level and Engage Your Workshop Participants Effectively

The “Participation Level” activity is a simple yet effective tool for collecting participant information and gauging their involvement in a workshop or session. By utilizing color-coded post-it notes and encouraging interactive introductions, this activity not only enhances understanding but also infuses energy and engagement into the group. Whether you’re organizing an inception or any collaborative session, this activity sets a vibrant tone and fosters a sense of active participation among attendees.

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