My Agile PM Toolbox : Project Liftoff – A Trajectory for Success

23 January 2015
| |
Reading time: 6 minutes

I am always asked, “what’s in an Agile Project Manager toolbox?” This is the first of a series of articles about what’s in mine.

Chartering is as old as projects management. It’s a pattern that has been used for projects I have worked on since I started as a software engineer. I developed my version of project chartering when I became a project leader. I have also been in meetings, at the start of projects, where the project lead talks at you with a boring slide deck and then, thank you very much, off you go and write some code. Afterwards, when you ask each other what you think about this new product that you are all supposed to understand, you find that everyone has a different interpretation of what has been talked at you about in that boring slide deck meeting. Lifting off a project with Agile Chartering provides everyone with a common understanding and co-ownership of a project from the outset.

If a team doesn’t have a common understanding about the Purpose of what you are about to spend however many months on creating, or Alignment on how you will be working together, or the Context of where the product fits in the bigger scheme of things, then you are going to spend a lot of time building stuff that won’t be right.

So the first thing I would like to share with you from my Agile PM toolbox is launching your project with an Agile Chartering Workshop. Some call the meeting held at the beginning of a project the kickoff, jump start, launch or project start. By calling it a project Liftoff, a sense of “the rocket booster workshop that sends the project off into its trajectory of success” is created!

An Agile Chartering Workshop gathers everyone involved in a project together, lets them look at the big picture and collectively draft the project Charter. Having a shared knowledge, understanding and co-ownership from the outset will give a project’s outcome a better chance of success. Everyone is encouraged to participate in conversations, tell stories, write things down and draw pictures around various dimensions of Agile Chartering. These dimensions are Purpose for inspiration, Alignment for team collaboration and Context for the project dynamics.

It is best to start with Purpose as this is the project’s inspiration and motivation for building the product, it provides a sense of the significance of what is being committed to be built and helps us to know and understand the product’s requirements for success. The only preparation for the Agile Chartering workshop are the artifacts of Purpose which are the Vision, Mission and Mission Tests.

As describe by some as the project’s elevator pitch, the Vision we want to hear is the compelling description of the future as it will be when the product is completed and in the hands of its users. This motivates the team and states the case of how and why the product is going to change the world. That’s right “change the world”! Everyone needs to understand the vision of how the product will transform the world of its users.

The Mission describes the product and Mission Tests the criteria for success; both of which the team will be accountable. Everyone needs to be in agreement. No one wants to be set up for a failure. So let’s find out what it is that the  team think they are going to build. Let’s get this straight before we start building anything, so that we have a better and more aligned Mission. The team also need to ensure that the Mission Tests are achievable, attainable and a true measure of a successful outcome.

The next area for discussion is Alignment for the team and those collaborating directly together with them on a day-to-day basis. Alignment creates unity, building and sustaining trust, the ability to collaborate well together and commitment to the wellbeing of the team.

For alignment the project needs to draft the Values and Principles which are the simple rules that act as a guide for decision making and behavior. The Mission will help to clarify alignment on who the Core Team members are, what the team’s required skills set is and if there are any gaps, the ability to fill them. Align the team with shared understanding of how they will be working together by drafting the initial Working Agreement. Simple stuff such as core hours, standup time or definition of ready / done. Simple, yes, but you will be surprised how useful it is to have before you start. Over time as the project and team progress they will adapt all the alignment draft artefacts.

The project’s Context is what the team needs to know about the environment; the full view of the system, what is in scope and what is out of scope, what are the risks and how the product they are going to build fits in the big scheme of things.

To give a sense of context, everyone needs to understand the Boundaries and Interactions they are responsible for. What are the external dependencies and how do they, or the product, interact with them? What are the Committed Resources, the tools, technology and environments needed for the team to do their job? Let’s not discover that we need a box to run UAT so we have a stable environment for testing, only for the infrastructure team to inform us that we can’t have for two months.say you can’t have it for two months. This is the time for Identifying anything that is missing and to make a plan to get them in place before this unknown thing comes and bites you later.

Everyone needs context on the Prospective and Risk Analysis, what the team needs to look out for. It’s the stuff we project managers lose sleep over. What should we look out for in the next few months that could affect the progression of the project, such as access to users, events, or dependencies on other project launches.

The next time you start an Agile project try lifting it off with Agile Chartering. As with all Agile techniques, begin with what you know best at the time, then reflect, inspect and adapt. There are plenty of ideas out there to get you started;

Liftoff: Launching Agile Teams & Projects. by Diana Larsen and Ainsley Nies

10 questions to ask at the start of your next project, “The Agile Inception Deck” by The Agile Warrior

Project Chartering defined by the Agile Alliance

Project charter – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

I have some other goodies in my Agile PM toolbox that I will share with you another time. I would like to hear about what’s in your toolbox? I also invite comments on your own experiences of launching projects and your thoughts about Agile Chartering.

Happy Liftoff!

Comments (4)


Paul Field

26 January 2015 at 11:53

Hi Lynne – Thanks for reminding us of the importance of lifting off a project in the right way. I’ll add to your great list of chartering topics a discussion of “Who are we?” – particularly if the people on the team haven’t worked together before. Contrasting with “alignment”, this is about the individuals, who they are as people, what makes them different and what they need (as individuals) to be at their best in their job. This is a good discussion to have early in the chartering process. It creates some social glue and surfaces a lot of raw material for creating the team’s working practices and values/principles.

    Lynne Johnson

    Lynne Johnson

    26 January 2015 at 19:46

    Hello Paul – “Who are we?” is definitely part of Alignment. A fun activity is for everyone to create their own personal poster or shield. Thanks for the feedback!


Jen Hunnisett

27 January 2015 at 14:29

Hi Lynne, A great post bringing together so many of the elements which it is invaluable to have team input on and transparency.
I also like Paul’s point – even in smaller organisations you may ‘know’ someone by face but know very little about them, and it might be a good way to lead into a conversation about RACI with the team too.

Arnaud L'Hôte

Arnaud L'Hôte

4 February 2015 at 12:56

Hi Lynne, this is a great post. It is always a good sign to get the similar ideas from different sources : The Disciplined Agile Delivery Inception Goals http://wp.me/P1ODzT-uw are very much in line with the #liftoff you describe. Scott Ambler describes as well the way to reach these goals as a collaboration between the team and the project sponsor .
Steve Holyer presented #liftoff in the Agile Breakfast Zürich this morning ( slides will be under : http://engage-results.com/presos/liftoff ).
He says hello BTW 😉


Sign up for our Updates

Sign up now for our updates.

This field is required
This field is required
This field is required

I'm interested in:

Select at least one category
You were signed up successfully.

Receive regular updates from our blog


Or would you like to discuss a potential project with us? Contact us »