An Inception workshop is a frequent practice in companies that embrace the Agile discipline. It allows defining a common ground for a new project, where all participants (product owners, developers, designers, stakeholders) debate together, through different activities, about what to build, how to build, which are the customers, or how to forecast the risks involved.
A shared understanding (consensus) will bring clarity about individual roles and responsibilities, and ideally, the team will walk out with an initial backlog of epics, milestones and user stories that the developers will tackle in the first sprints.
Last week we conducted a single day Inception session to raise awareness and analyze the feasibility of a new and revolutionary product we are starting to bake in our travel-tech kitchen (still in stealth mode, so nothing can be disclosed yet).
As we strive for new challenges to keep adding value to the industry, we need to constantly assess that our assumptions — what does the market want, why does it want what we think it wants — are true. The travel business is evolving fast, and kick off events like the one that we face here are perfect chances to force ourselves to think out of the box and zoom out to see the big picture of TravelgateX as an IT company.
At the same time, we would be allowing ourselves to dream big on new, exciting, unexplored fields.
Among all the exercises and activities that the different “schools” of Agile methodologies propose to perform, we chose the ones that could leverage our perception on the difficulty of fitting a new idea or business case into the existing ecosystem of products and services available at the TravelgateX platform.
Similarly, we needed to identify the right people in our staff to incorporate into the project — considering they are already involved in other work streams — while possibly planning to onboard new hires. According to all that stated previously, we ended up doing the following routines:
- Introducing first draft of the elevator pitch presentation deck
- RAIDS: Risks, Assumptions, Issues, Dependencies
- Actors/stakeholders mapping
- High level technical roadmap
As a newcomer to TravelgateX and the one in charge of igniting the fire of our new venture, I spent my first days learning about the market, its players, their pains, current and future business opportunities, and the overall behaviour of the ecosystem revolving around tourism, hospitality, mobility and transportation.
After a few weeks I had produced a very early version of a presentation deck that I could use to pitch the ideas to the team, including challenges, solutions, architectures, product definitions, goals or team needs.
In a more ideal situation, everybody would have come to the workshop with a background after having read the presentation, but in our case some people just joined and knew about the concepts the same day we performed the workshop, therefore it came as mandatory that I presented to them the initial ambitions and goals that we would be tackling in the session.
As we progressed through the different slides, it became apparent (and otherwise expected) that the whole project needed a lot of work before the vision and the mission could be clear enough to everybody.
The term “RAIDS” stands for Risks, Assumptions, Issues and Dependencies. The workshop assistants are asked to write down any topic they think falls into one of these categorizations.
This is a good exercise to push the boundaries of project ambitions and stress test how far we are able to reach. As failing is cheap at this stage — practically at a zero cost because not a single line of code has been written or a single cent has been spent yet), by making these kinds of concepts emerge we can understand things like whether what we’re thinking of is crazy (i.e. impossible to build) or suicidal (i.e. it will make us lose money or customers).
The outcomes of our RAIDS included common concerns on how our existing customers would embrace a new product with such radical different approach, the still blurry ways of monetizing it, some tight dependencies with our current business offer, or how to avoid threats coming from competitors or other actors i.e. regulators.
By having all this information at hand, we nevertheless acknowledged that the bigger the walls on adoption, development or deployment, the more likely we are entering a blue ocean of disrupting the market with innovative solutions that nobody dared to face before.
Although TravelgateX is still a young company, it has a proven track of expertise and knowledge of the different players in the map. For this reason, we had some advantage in mentioning actors or stakeholders that could be an originator or a target, directly or indirectly, of the main business activities generated by our product.
An interesting thing to achieve with this exercise is trying to refine your actors down to a point where you may discover some niches to start with, early adopters to approach in the first marketing steps, or even new stakeholders you were not aware of.
High level technical roadmap
Scheduling how to roll out and deliver — in terms of times, deadlines, important events or resource constraints — is key for the success of a new project that needs to integrate into the workflow and day-by-day activities of the rest of the company.
Sometimes you are just a brand new startup with some seed capital funding and a blank slate where you begin working your magic, or sometimes you are already a business making money, with paychecks and commitments, like TravelgateX.
For us, the scenarios we played were basically two: a smooth integration of our new ideas into the existing solutions, or a more “labs” approach where more freedom could be achieved while at the same time more risks would be taken.
Between flipcharts, notes written on stickers, heated conversations and coffee breaks, we spent a whole day together envisioning the future of TravelgateX in the form of innovative products and services. Although we failed to produce a significant number of user stories for the initial backlog due to lack of time, we narrowed the scope of our project and we now plan to perform a second Inception round soon!