Justin Holmes

Co-Authors: Deven Phillips Matt Takane

Start At The End

discovery-loop-why loop position

What is it?

Start At The End is a simple exercise to identify a set of assumptions which must be tested in order achieve a long term goal. It’s a rather simple exercise, which asks participants to describe what success looks like for their work, and use this to define the goal of the effort. We default to 12 months, but it can be longer or shorter. Then, the exercise asks participants to imagine all the ways their project can fail, and using the results to enumerate key questions or assumptions that must be examined at the start of the work. The technique is derived from Chapter 4 of The Sprint Book1. At the end of the exercise, you will have:

  • A shared understand of your effort’s goal
  • A list of key questions or assumptions that need to be examined early in the work effort in order for the team to achieve the goal.
  • A prioritization of the key questions

Why use Start At The End?

  • Most planning activities revolve around juggling a “shopping list of features,” as Gojko Adzic calls them in Impact Mapping. Even though the features are delivered, often the business objective is not achieved. Start At The End gives us a light weight approach to put the business value at the center of our work and make sure that assumptions that could lead to failure are clearly identified for examination
  • Start At The End is really easy and quick to facilitate, but often yields great results. It’s a great technique for those new to facilitating workshops or sessions that are short on time.
  • The technique forces participants to think about failure, which many teams never do. It’s surprising how much you can learn about a domain just by getting participants to share their fears.
  • It’s easy to communicate the results of the session in slide ware and project rooms. We’d recommend keeping the results up in the project space throughout your effort.
  • Impact Mapping is another practice which leads to the same outputs. Compared to Start At The End, Impact Mapping produces a higher fidelity understanding of the domain, but at the cost of increased complexity for facilitation. Generally speaking, Impact Mapping is the better fit when building products or services, and Start At The End is a better fit when discussing organizational change or other generally nebulous efforts.

Who do you need?

  • Facilitator
  • Product Owner
  • Project Sponsor, both technical and business
  • Architects

Suggested Time

1-2 hours. The session can be done without any participant prep.

Difficulty

  • Facilitator: Easy
  • Participants: Easy

Facilitation Materials Needed

None required, but 3x5 sticky notes with markers can be useful if you want participants to jot their notes down independently and then present back.

How does it fit?

  • Typically done in the Why area of the Discovery of the Open Practice Library

External Resources

  1. The Sprint Book
  2. Double Diamond design model
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