Key Abstractions are intimately related to the project’s story line. It is a term borrowed from the Rational Unified Process (www.rational.com) and given a somewhat broader meaning within the process pattern context. In technical terms key abstractions refer to entities (i.e. people, places, and things) about which persistent information will be maintained. There should be widespread agreement among all project stakeholders relating to the centrality of these entities because the entire story is subsequently built around them.
At the project’s inception we are dealing with first order Key Abstractions. For any non-trivial project there will exist second order Key Abstractions, third order Key Abstractions, and so on. It is next to impossible during inception to deal with any abstractions beyond those considered to be first order. Moreover, it is not necessary to do so. Subsequent abstractions will become obvious as the project’s iterations progress and will become easier to recognize and/or define at the appropriate time.
Once Key Abstractions (of whatever order) have been identified it becomes necessary, and plausible, to identify the processes that act upon these entities. Given a set of processes and a set of Key Abstractions a reasonable iteration plan can be developed.
Focus on Key Abstractions in their relative order of importance.
Breaking Ground relates to getting started—duh. You might think that this pattern is only manifested at the start of a project, but you would be totally mistaken. Each non-trivial project is composed of hundreds, sometimes thousands, of smaller sub-projects that are not explicitly captured in the plan. Often experienced project hands even find it difficult to get started on these. What then happens is akin to the writer’s block phenomenon. Sub-projects often require small R&D efforts and can send team members down a number of tangents. Critical intervention can jettison the effort by reducing the DIP.
It is the responsibility of the Director to ensure that Breaking Ground happens early and often. At the project’s inception this usually means developing the project story and coming up with the first order Key Abstractions. Until the project story, as embodied in the Key Abstractions, is reduced to paper, nothing can happen and nothing should happen.
If it hasn’t been written down, it hasn’t been said. Be sure to institute a lightweight process that requires that all important and relevant project decisions be documented.
The Breaking Ground pattern should be invoked whenever the Director suspects that writer’s block is preventing progress. The Director must be constantly vigilant in seeking out Breaking Ground opportunities since team members are often reluctant to come forward of their own accord. They are, more often than not, likely to thrash about and ask for help only out of desperation.
Keep your shovel in hand. Breaking Ground opportunities are everywhere!