Disciplined Agile

Practice: Coaching inception

The Disciplined Agile® Delivery (DAD) portion of the DA™ process tool kit includes an explicit Inception phase – sometimes called a project initiation phase, start-up phase, or iteration/sprint zero – which is conducted before Construction. The primary purpose of the Inception phase is to build an initial understanding of the stakeholders’ needs and do just enough work to get your team going in the right direction.

To do this, the team will likely need to perform some initial requirements modeling, some initial architecture modeling, some initial planning, and other organizational activities. Inception results in a shared vision between the stakeholders and the team as to the expected outcomes and how to achieve them.

Besides the activities of building a high-level understanding of the requirements and the solution, Inception also encompasses activities to establish the team and the work environment.

It is important to keep the Inception phase as short as possible. The average agile/lean team spends on average 11 workdays, so a bit more than two weeks, in Inception activities.

Why to Do This Practice

An Inception effort is advised when:

  • You are initiating a product team.
  • You are taking a project-based approach.
  • Your existing team has pivoted in a significantly different direction than what they were taking before and need to come to a common vision about where they are now heading.

In the DA decision-making framework, the Inception phase identifies the many decisions, and their options, that need to be made in any new project. Depending on the scope, novelty and complexity of the solution, the Inception phase may involve all or a subset of the decisions.

Who Does This Practice

Here are the roles involved in this practice:

  • Team lead, who coaches all involved parties through the Inception activities.
  • Product owner, who facilitates requirements gathering and organizes the initial project backlog.
  • Stakeholders, who provide insight into the vision and high-level requirements, and with whom the team ultimately agrees on the resulting project vision as a viable and sufficient starting point for moving the project forward.
  • Team members, maybe just a smaller subgroup of the ultimate team

What to Do


While Inception constitutes the beginning phase of a project, many activities may have occurred prior to Inception that provide input to the phase, including:

  • Business prioritization
    • Business value has been established
    • Prioritized (relative to other approved items)
    • Sequenced and approved to continue
  • Business planning
    • Minimum business increments (MBI) are defined
    • MBIs are prioritized and sequenced based on ROI (relative to other approved items)
    • Technical feasibility has been assessed
    • MBIs are sized according to T-Shirt sizes
    • MBIs are approved to continue and product manager has been assigned
    • Business SME’s identified (and possibly product owner assigned)
  • Business Staging
    • MBI(s) have been refined
    • Features are defined and sequenced (based on business value)
    • Acceptance criteria are defined for each feature
    • Business backlog has been established
    • Features are approved and sequenced to continue based on ROI (relative to other approved items) 


Inception involves many different areas of concern. A common approach is to divide up the activities amongst the Inception participants to establish the different aspects of the project separately and then to compiled them into final results.

1. Introduce the members (even if team is relatively well established).

  • Members of the team (roster and who is required)
  • Required team(s) resources
  • Review of team environment: workflow, visual board, and policies for stories

2. Identify technical components. Input them into team backlogs (technology features and/or stories).

3. Review and define production documentation and artifacts.

  • List the current production documentation that will be maintained.

4. Review and define high level architecture and design.

5. Establish feature sequence by Business value and technical discrepancies.

6. Identify any critical areas and dependencies that must be addressed for progress to be made.

7. Review and define complexity factors for relative sizing in story points.

  • If there are problems or impediments, rank them, prioritize them, and identify stories to mitigate them. 

Process Goals

Disciplined Agile® Delivery (DAD) describes a number of process goals to help with Inception:


Outputs from Inception include:

  • A high-level shared vision description
  • Project backlog populated for the first few iterations
  • Team logistics plans: resources, tools, environmental
  • Backlog of concerns and impediments

When to Do This Practice

The Inception activities could take anywhere between a few hours to a few weeks to complete, depending on the circumstances of the project.

Where to Do This Practice

Here is where to do this practice:

  • In a room that is convenient to the entire team 


The benefits of this practice include:

  • Product manager approves initiation of inception activities
  • List of product manager action items compiled to assist completion of business discovery process and frequency of business discovery completeness re-evaluation The team is prepared with skills and tools to begin work on the iterations.
  • Stakeholders and team have communicated effectively about the objectives of the release and what is expected.
  • The team builds a sense of ownership for their processes.
  • Impediments to progress that are outside of the team’s control are naturally escalated to management and others who can do something about them.
  • The team will be able to answer these questions:
    • How do we know we are done planning?
    • What documents do we have?
    • What do we know?
    • How do we know we are ready for the first iteration? 

April 2023