This post was previously on the Pathfinder Software site. Pathfinder Software changed its name to Orthogonal in 2016. Read more.

When starting a new project, we employ a technique we call Inception.  At a high level, the goal of Inception is to develop a shared vision for the project, come up with an initial scope (user story list), provide an updated estimate, and identify areas of risk.

A pitfall that is challenging to avoid is getting stuck in analysis paralysis.  Our customers love to dig into the details of how each story could work.  Our designers are chomping at the bit to get creative on the whole user experience.  The developers are, quite naturally, afraid to estimate with only a story phrase and discussion to go on.

So how do we balance the tension between the desire for ever increasing levels of detail and getting thru with initiating the project and onto the value-added activity of building the product?

First, we get the whole team on board with what the goals of inception are (as stated above)…and equally important, what they’re not.  The goal of inception is NOT to gather all the requirements nor is it to design the whole UI.

Next, we use the many of the same organizing practices and rituals we use during development: time-boxing, daily stand-ups, retrospectives, a backlog, etc.

I think time-boxing is probably the key to avoiding the analysis paralysis trap.  For example, let say we’re going to determine the scope of the admin portion of an application.  We might schedule one or two 1.5 hours workshops with the goal of mocking up a UI and culling a reasonably thorough story list.  With a strong, experienced facilitator, we complete the analysis in the time allotted.

It can be a bit scary and uncomfortable.  We will have missed requirements and when it comes to estimating, some of our assumptions will be correct, while other will prove to be wrong.  But we will get started building software and the customer will start to see their dreams coming to fruition…..and we all learn and adapt along the way.