Kelly's Contemplation has a nice post on The 3 Phases of an Agile Project. He starts the example with receiving a project that has few actual requirements. The notion of a traditional - or better yet conventional - approach to project management starts looking for requirements. The agile approach is presented in a way that is typical of COTS based deployment through progressive development of the capabilities of the tool set tailored to the needs of the client.
Here's where traditional, er., conventional, project management fails to deal with the current approach to complex project, program, and product development.
I our Defense and Space program, there is a critical first step, that is baked into the procurement process.
CAPABILITIES BASED PLANNING
What capabilities does the customer want to posses when this project is over? These capabilities are the prerequisites to defining the requirements. Here's an end-to-end process for developing the capabilities description. This looks very non-agile, but these are the principles, put these into practice in a way that best suites your need. But check to see if you've covered off all the steps, because is something is missing, you may think you're being agile, but in fact you're missing a critical piece of data.
The critical reason for starting with capabilities is to establish a home for all the requirements. To answer the question “why is this requirement present?” “Why is this requirement needed?” “What business or mission value does fulfilling this requirement provide?”
Capabilities statement can then be used to define the units of measure for program progress. Measuring progress with physical percent complete at each level is mandatory. But measuring how the Capabilities are being fulfilled is most meaningful to the customer.
The “meaningful to the customer” unit of measures are critical to the success of any program. Without these measures the program may be cost, schedule, and technically successful but fail to fulfill the mission.
The process flow above is the starting point for Identifying the Needed Capabilities and determining their priorities.
Starting with the Capabilities prevents the “Bottom Up” requirements gathering process from producing a “list” of requirements – all needed – that is missing a well formed topology. This Requirements Architecture is no different than the Technical or Programmatic architecture of the system. Capabilities Based Planning (CBP) focuses on “outputs” rather than “inputs.” These “outputs” are the mission capabilities that fulfilled by the program.
In order to fulfill these capabilities, requirements need to be met. But we need the capabilities first. Without the capabilities, it is never clear the mission will be a success, because there is no clear and concise description of what success means.
The concept of CBP recognizes the interdependence of systems, strategy organization, and support in delivering the capability, and the need to examine options and trade‒offs in terms of performance, cost and risk to identify optimum development investments. CBP relies on scenarios to provide the context to measure the level of capability.
Here are the details of how to capture the capabilties needed by the customer. Again do these any the way the best suites your need. But do check that you've got - or are going to get - all the information. Otherwise you get to do the work twice.
Notice that most everything talked about in the post is here, plus some other stuff. Trade offs between capabilities is critical. Assessing the costs and the risks. It doesn't do anny good to charge ahead with everything the customer wants to do if you have no idea of the REAL costs and the REAL risk that is being created by your agile approach.
But defined capabilities through Use Cases and Scenarios is the standard approach in large defense and space programs. There is even a language for doing that - SysML is a systems engineering modeling language for Use Cases and Scenarios. I know that doesn't sound very agile, but on a multi-billion weapons systems (mostly software these days) scenarios are the starting point for identifying the actual requirements.
This is the core concept missing from the PMI approach, the dreaded waterfall approach, the conventional approach. And of course these approaches are no longer allowed in the procurement of system for the Defense and Space industry. Those places procure systems using Capabilities Based Planning.
The picure above is one of 5 processes we use in our Performance Based Management activities in our domain. Next comex the requirements, since we're spending the governments money, they want to know those sorts of things.