Lean Inception for data product

30 Nov 2021 | Agile Culture

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Caroli, we have been following the amazing articles on Data Mesh by your Thoughtworks colleague Zhamak and we have had great strategic data workshops with data vision and roadmap. But when it comes to create the data product, then it becomes really hard. Can we apply Lean Inception for Data products?

This is quite a common question I have been receiving since  Zhamak started sharing her amazing content on Data Mesh.

The short answer: yes, but you need to make a few adaptations. In this article I share my learnings on these type of inceptions.

Data Mesh is becoming more and more common on large organisations. So, it is the request for Lean Inception for the teams building the data products to be added to the mesh.

I have facilitated quite a few Data mesh related inceptions for quite a few different clients. Also, I have been talking to other people that have been involved in good and bad Data Mesh inceptions.

So, I finally feel comfortable to share the adaptations I have made to the Lean Inception activities to best fit the needs of the Data Mesh teams.

Before going to the Lean Inception activities adjustments, I share a few important topics:

Thin Slice

Data Mesh advocates for working and thinking about thin slices via Domains, Use Cases and Data Products.

This is a great start. But you can slice the ´thin slice´ even more. After a great understanding of the Data Mesh strategy with its Domains, Use Cases and Data Products, you still have to plan and execute on the delivery of the first few Data Products.

You can (and should) slice the ´thin slice´.

It is not because you are working with Data Mesh that you will do a big upfront design and build the whole `thin slice`(the use case and the data products). On the Lean Inception for Data Mesh you and your team will figure out the thin slice within the thin slice.

User, Business and Technical

Data Mesh is more technical in nature. Therefore on data mech inceptions, a business person will hear lots of technical language and technical jargons.

You should not try to avoid the technical conversation nor the technical jargons. But take the time to onboard people new to these terms. With time, the users of the data products and the businesspeople become more technical.

The data mesh inceptions are a little more technical in nature. Still, the inception main goal is to find the intersection from these three perspectives: the business, the users, and the technical aspects.  Then the group will align on the big picture but start small, via a MVP (Minimum Viable Product, or the thin slice within the Data Mesh ´thin slice´) for a few Data Products within a Use Case.

Collaboration, commitment & alignment

One of the great benefits of an inception is the collaborative work towards building an execution plan.

A result of the Data Mesh Lean inception is the plan for moving forward. Such plan is built by many hands (with the representatives from the business, the users and the tech people – including many data people, in this case). But it is much more than a plan.

It is collaboratively built, and it considers everyone perspectives. Therefore, it represents much more than as execution plan. It represents a team commitment.

I am not talking about a commitment to exactly follow the plan. I am talking about the commitment to achieve great results.

The plan will help with a good stepping stones towards building something. But it is a new terrain. The most important aspect of the collective planning is that people are aligned.

Aligned on the plan to get started and aligned with the concept of building and learning. The foundation for the (many) times they will come together as a team (or one team within many data mesh teams) to make many small decisions, course correction, or even governance build up and additions to the mesh.

It is not in the scope of this article, but the governance should not be top-down, but emerge from the collaboration between teams and data mesh excellence towards a common data mesh goal. The collaborative nature of the Data Mesh Lean Inceptions enables such federated governance behaviour.

Lean inception sandwich

I am assuming that before going for the Lean Inception, you already took care take care of all aspects for understanding your organization Data Mesh transformation, for detailing all use cases, domains, and data products. For example, the Accelerate Data Mesh Workshops is a sample of something that precedes a Lean Inception in the data Mesh context.

I am also assuming that after the Lean Inception you and the team will do more work, being workshops, activities, or normal day to day work for further detailing of all tasks and activities to be performed. The detailing becomes easier once the team is aligned on the big picture and the very first step (with its subsequent increments).

The typical Lean Inception

Lean Inception is a collaborative workshop to align a group of people about the MVP and following increments.

This article will not detail all Lean Inception reasoning and activities.

Lean Inception has been used for many different context with no need to have big changes of adaptations. But, in the context of Date Mesh, I realised that I did adapt it every time I facilitated the Lean Inception. For this reason, I share below the specific adaptations I did and strong recommend you also do.


Lean Inception for data product (Data Mesh) adaptations


… to be continued …  I was taking too long to release this article, so I decided to build it incrementally. I will add more to it in the coming weeks.



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 .
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