Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Project Kickoff Tips, part 1

I've helped kick off a few software consulting projects lately, and thought it might be helpful to share what I've learned so far. For the first article in this series, I'll focus on what we've found useful to bring in on the first day.

First, make sure to have the essential information ready. It seems obvious, but I'm going to go over a lot of things that sound obvious in this series. They can be so obvious that it's easy to overlook them, or they may not be obvious to everyone. You should have the initial story list, location, and contact information prepared. One thing I've sometimes found helpful is to meet up at an external location before the first day, talk strategy a bit, and walk in as a group.

Then there's the meeting box. It's a convenient way to keep track of all of the things you want to bring along at first. You can also easily carry it to any meeting rooms, so you're never without your tools. Its typical contents, in rough order of importance, are:

Index cards and pens - Our modular task list, story list, and notetaking system. I'd feel lost without a stack of them close at hand. A good rule of thumb has been a 2:1 ratio of white to assorted other colors, but aim closer to 1:1 if you're also using index cards for your information radiators.

Timer - To time your pomodoros with. Even if you're not using pomodoros, it'll help time your stretch breaks and meeting breaks.

Whiteboard, dry-erase markers, and a whiteboard eraser - I'm talking about a portable, 11"x14" whiteboard. Great to have handy when you want to visualize solutions, explain things, diagram connections, or even just store some information in external memory.

Sharpies - Write things that are visible from far away. Essential for creating information radiators, but also good for posting things like phone numbers and schema versions that are useful to know at a glance.

Map pins and masking tape - Create information radiators by pinning index cards to cubicle walls and separating sections with labeled tape. A decent setup if you don't have access to wall space, which you often won't.

Big stickies and medium stickies - If you do have access to wall space, instead create information radiators by sticking a big sticky to it and writing on that. Use medium stickies on this sheet for things that tend to move around, like stories. Also consider bringing in a sticky whiteboard if you've got wall space.

Estimation cards - Lends estimation an air of legitimacy. Helps convey that we're prepared and know what we're doing.

Thumb drive - Nice to have pre-loaded with installers, but even without that can be useful for quickly passing information or large files between physically nearby computers, or as a boot disk in a pinch.

Mints - Useful while pairing, but on this list more for offering them around at early meetings for subtle working relationship benefits.

Binder clips - Sometimes you just need to tie a set of index cards together.

Post-its - Can be useful for posting things like phone numbers and schema versions that are useful to know at a glance. Tape and index cards will suffice in a pinch.

Hand sanitizer - Useful while pairing.

Camera - Not very important now that everyone has a camera phone. This is more a reminder to photograph and send any time you're creating an ephemeral artifact, like a whiteboard drawing or a big sticky, that someone wants to be a permanent artifact.

I'll come back and update this list if it turns out there's something useful that I forgot, in order to keep it a one-stop reference.

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