5 key steps to kick off “impossible” projects
I’ve recently been working on a project that was very difficult to define requirements. Both us (Leopard) and the customer knew that there was value available as an outcome of the project, but neither of us really knew exactly how to get there.
Whilst kicking off this project, we’ve identified 5 Key Steps to help define requirements and to help stimulate your imagination and come up. Read more to find out the 5 Key Steps and to see how it interacts with your Project Management processes.
Just to be clear: this wasn’t about doing “standard reporting”. This was about going one step further, or rather a few steps further. This was about the process of data mining, getting more out of the data, producing unexpected insights.
From experience, this style of project scares companies because there are lots of unknowns. Not knowing what we’re trying to achieve scares people because we don’t know what we need to do to get there and how much it’s going to cost.
The steps described in this post can be used to start to define a project that will be run in both an Agile methodology and a waterfall methodology such as Prince2. I’m not saying that these steps will replace your tried and tested project management methodology, but they could enhance what you do in complex projects where you don't know what you’re trying to achieve and whether there is value in your data.
To give you some background into how we developed these steps, I’d like to spend some time explaining the project we were working on.
The client had data that they thought had some value in, but Business Intelligence was not their core business or skillset and they weren’t sure how to get there. When we engaged with them, we also thought there was value in their data, but it wasn’t clear of what that was. Essentially they wanted to use their data to provide analytics to their own customers to add value to the offering they gave their customers.
Early in the engagement with them, it was very clear to us that we would need to approach the project in a different way and look at bite-size mini-projects or deliverables to help stimulate our imagination and plan what the deliverables of a much larger project and really define the goals and outcomes that we wanted to achieve.
5 Key Steps
Here are the 5 key steps that we used:
- Engage key stakeholders to understand their requirements and pull out any requirements. This doesn’t have to be a long drawn out process that takes a lot of time and costs a lot of money. This can literally be a few hours to understand their business and known requirements to help on the process of defining the project and deliverables.
- Define small steps to start the project. Because we didn’t know the type of analytics we were trying to deliver or the outcomes that we wanted to deliver, it was important to define some small, bite-size steps in order to start the process of defining the requirements. This meant that we took a cut of our customer’s data to start looking at it, searching for the goldmines that are hidden in their data and starting to imagine and define the type of value that is there. Sometimes this isn’t obvious and often this only comes from experience of knowing the type of analytics that add value to companies.
- Deliver early proof of concepts to start the process of imagining where you could go with the project. As mentioned before, because we didn’t know the type of analytics that we wanted to get out of their data, it was important to start to analyse what they had, visual their data and start to use that to imagine what could be done and where value could be added.
- Show and tell the progress made on putting together proof of concept. Once we’d reached a certain stage in putting together some proof of concepts, we were ready to show our customer where we’d got to, what gaps we’d found in their data, what challenges we’d faced and prove our understanding of their data.
- Imagine what could be done and define wider project and deliverables. Once we’d all reviewed the proof of concept, we were ready to imagine what could be done. Our customer could get excited and see the value that was starting to appear in their data and to think of the outcome that they want to achieve. We were able to ask questions where we had questions about their data, confirm if assumptions that were made were correct and plan how to fix gaps in their data. This then gave us a good foundation to define a bigger project with clear goals and outcomes and also identify clear showstoppers and risks for the project.
The outcome of these steps gave us the ability to start to define a bigger project with more clear goals and deliverables without having spent a lot of time and money on the project. It gave us a better foundation to base out planning on and we launched an exciting new project to develop a new data warehouse that will add value to our customers offering and increase what they can give to their customers.
If you think you have value in your data but aren’t sure whether to kick off a project or not, why not give us a call and we can go through these 5 Steps to see how you can Become Greater.