What's the Question?

Michael Aucoin

Michael Aucoin, D. Engr., PE, PMP is president of Leading Edge Management, LLC in College Station, Texas and author of Right-Brain Project Management: A Complementary Approach. He can be reached at maucoin@leadingedgemgmt.com.

“It is better to ask some of the questions than to know all the answers.”
- James Thurber

An agile project is much like a mystery novel. At the beginning, we have the sense of a fuzzy objective--one that will move into focus and resolution only with effort and time. As much as anything, the agile project is all about the management of ambiguity.

In other words, the agile project is about the effective management of questions. Consider this: To use the waterfall method of project management faithfully, we should only complete the project plan and begin execution when all (or nearly all) ambiguity is resolved before the project commences.

With agile, we implicitly understand that the project is riddled with questions--even significant ones. The “scope” of work includes (and ultimately depends upon) the insightful identification and answering of key questions. It is a mystery that at once requires a grip on reality, healthy confidence, a desire to learn and solid grounding in a unifying theme. We will address each element of this framework in a minute, but let’s first identify the types of questions on an agile project.

For a project to succeed well, we need to see our questions according to three categories.

  • What (goals)– Goal questions involve the product of the project, scope of work, objectives and features.

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If trees could scream, would we be so cavalier about cutting them down? We might, if they screamed all the time, for no good reason.

- Jack Handey

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