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Project Blastoff

Imagine launching a rocket. 10 – 9 – 8 – 7 – 6 – 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1 – blastoff! If all it needed were the ability to count backward from 10, then even Andorra1would have its own space program. The truth of the matter is that before we get to the final 10 seconds of a rocket launch, a lot of preparation has taken place. The rocket has been fueled, and the course plotted—in fact, everything that needs to be done if the rocket is to survive and complete a successful mission.

The key purpose of the project blastoff is to build the foundation for the requirements discovery that is to follow, and to ensure that all the needed components for a successful project are in place. The principal stakeholders—the sponsor, the key users, the lead requirements analyst, technical and business experts, and other people who are crucial to the success of the project—gather together to arrive at a consensus on the crucial project issues.

The blastoff defines the scope of the business problem and seeks concurrence from the stakeholders that yes, this is the area of the owner’s organization that needs to be improved. The blastoff meeting confirms the functionality to be included in the requirements discovery, and the functionality that is to be specifically excluded.

Defining the scope of the business problem is usually the most convenient way to start. In the IceBreaker project, the lead requirements analyst coordinates the group members’ discussion as they come to a consensus on the scope of the work—that is, the business area to be improved—and how this work relates to the world around it. The meeting participants draw a context diagram on a whiteboard to show which functionality is included in the work, and by extension, which elements they consider to be outside the scope of the ice forecasting business. The diagram defines—precisely defines—the included functionality by showing the connections between the work and the outside world. (More on this in the next chapter.) This use of a context diagram is illustrated in Figure 2.2. Later, as the requirements activity proceeds, the context diagram is used to reveal the optimal product to help with this work.

Figure 2.2

Figure 2.2. The context diagram is used to build a consensus among the stakeholders as to the scope of the work that needs to be improved. The eventual product will be used to do part of this work.

When they have reached a reasonable agreement on the scope of the business area to be studied, the group identifies the stakeholders. The stakeholders are those people who have an interest in the product, or who have knowledge pertaining to the product—in fact, anyone who has requirements for it. For the IceBreaker project, the people who have an interest are the road engineers, the truck depot supervisor, the weather forecasting people, road safety experts, ice treatment consultants, and so on. These people must be identified, so that the requirements analysts can work with them to find all the requirements. The context diagram, by establishing the extent of the work, helps to identify many of the stakeholders.

The blastoff also confirms the goals of the project. The blastoff group comes to an agreement on the business reason for doing the project, and agrees that there is a clear and measurable benefit to be gained by doing the project. The group also agrees that the product is worthwhile for the business to make the investment, and that the organization is capable of building and operating it.

It is sensible project management practice at this stage to produce a preliminary estimate of the costs involved for the requirements part of the project—this can be done by using the information already contained in the context diagram. It is also sensible project management to make an early assessment of the risks that the project is likely to face. Although these risks might seem like depressing news, it is always better to get an idea of the downside of the project (its risk and cost) before being swept away by the euphoria of the benefits that the new product is intended to bring.

The blastoff group members arrive at a consensus on whether the project is worthwhile and viable—that is, they make the “go/no go” decision. It might seem brutal to kill off an embryonic project, but we know from bitter experience that it is better to cancel a project at an early stage than to have it stagger on for months—or years—consuming valuable resources when it has little or no chance of success. The blastoff group carefully considers whether the product is viable, and whether its benefits outweigh its costs and risks.

Alternatively, if too many unknowns remain at this point, the blastoff group might decide to start the requirements investigation with the intention of reviewing the requirements after a short while and reassessing the value of the project.

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