Inception Deck for CS257

The Big Picture

“Teams face thousands of decisions and trade-offs every day.  And without the right context or big-picture understanding, it’s impossible for them to make the right trade-offs in an informed or balanced way” (40).  The Agile Samurai devotes an entire two chapters to the inception deck, which aims at deciding on what the big picture of a project is before starting to work on it.

It will be important for everyone involved, students and professors, to be on the same page about how this agile classroom will work, especially because it will be so different than how classes tend to be. In this post I will work through the inception deck for an Agile classroom.

The product for this inception deck is Software Design (CS257 in the Carleton catalog).  Here is what it says in the course catalog: “It’s easy to write a mediocre computer program, and lots of people do it. Good programs are quite a bit harder to write, and are correspondingly less common. In this course, we will study techniques, tools, and habits that will improve your chances of writing good software. While working on several medium-sized programming projects, we will investigate code construction techniques, debugging and profiling tools, testing methodologies, UML, principles of object-oriented design, design patterns, and user interface design.”

Inception Deck

There are ten parts of an Inception Deck that we will work through.  The first five sections are involved in the why for the class and the second half of the deck is to figure out the how.

Why are we here?

To learn and practice techniques and tools to write improved software.

Elevator Pitch

For students

who are interested in being able to create large software products

the CS257 class

is a computer science class

that explores code construction, debugging, testing, object-oriented design and user interface design to get students on the right path for participating in larger projects.

Unlike other easier classes you could take this term,

this class will help prepare you for life after graduation and give you valuable real skills that you can apply to a career in the industry.

Product Box

Screen Shot 2016-01-10 at 1.52.07 PM

NOT List

Screen Shot 2016-01-10 at 2.04.02 PM

Meet your neighbors

Teaching Assistant (TA)

Jane Doe (, Office Hours: …)

Lab Assistants

Annie Abe (, Hours: …)

Becky Bats (, Hours: …)

Nick Neets (, Hours: …)

A Technical Solution

Below is a possible solution to what a group may sign up for and accomplish during their time in the class.  The idea of these buckets will be explored in the next blog post about an Agile Grading System.  These buckets will vary for each group depending on their learning preference.

Medium/Difficult final project:

Gravity simulator
2 user stories per week
6 led study sessions
2 guest lectures by students
B average on biweekly tests
Individuals master each subject

Medium/Difficult final project:

Gravity simulator
4 user stories per week
3 guest lectures by students
C average on biweekly tests
Individuals master each subject

Easy final project:

4 user stories per week
Individuals know some of each subject



“Life is going to throw curveballs and sliders at you that you don’t get to bat against in the practice cage.  Get used to it.  Either you know what’s coming or you don’t and never will. For the rest, just take it as it comes.” (The Agile Samurai, 61)

Screen Shot 2016-01-10 at 2.56.29 PM.png

This scale is not exhaustive by any means, but this is one diagram that I would make sure to have posted in the classroom.  I think that it would be a powerful tool to help students keep perspective.  If a student is struggling with something, the ability to look up and see that their concern is explicitly under the “Not worth worrying about” side of the scale, it could help put their mind at ease.  This would be a great exercise to do together at the beginning of the class.  Everyone can explore what they are worried about and together the class can organize them into the two sides.

Size Things Up

When it comes to whether we will put a stake in the ground on delivering by a certain date or delivering a certain set of feature, we are a bit backed into a corner since the class has to be over in ten weeks.  While I would prefer to be more flexible on the time, it looks like the stake needs to be put down that we will do what we can in 10 weeks.  However, just because the course is ten weeks does not mean that this exercise is useless.  There may be special circumstances to take into consideration – if a student is leaving the class early for the summer or wants to put in work before the start of term.  In order to measure these possibilities, doing this exercise may be best to do individually before the class starts, perhaps through email, as well as as a group at the start of term.

However, the challenge of communicating with students before a class starts would not be as present if this kind of classroom was the norm in a college.

What has to give

Below is the trade off sliders for what we are willing to sacrifice and what cannot be changed for this class.  The items that are OFF mean that we will be flexible with them, and the items that are ON mean that we cannot be flexible on those matters.  Following with the rules of the trade off sliders, no two items can share the same spot of the slider.

Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 2.55.48 PM

I replaced Budget with Effort since there is no actual money.  Instead, I’ll use effort as the closest thing to money. If you need to spend less or more time in the class doing the homework or reading, this would be an increase in effort.  Other examples of putting in extra effort in class could mean doing extra problem sets or tutoring students who are struggling with the material.

Unfortunately, time is the one thing that is the least flexible for the classroom setting because each class is 10 weeks no matter what.

What’s it going to take (The A-Team)

Professor – Capable of writing practice problems, explaining topics, showing examples, giving lectures, answer questions, set office hours

Teachers Assistant – Capable of helping with homework, available upon request for office hours, answer questions, hold study/review sessions, create practice problems

Students – Capable of asking questions for clarification, putting effort into a project, attends class, takes notes, 3 hours of homework a night

3 class sessions per week, 1 hour 15 minutes per class, 10 weeks

Letting the Class Decide

Every part of the Inception Deck involves making important decisions about the class, how it will run, and what is expected of participants.  I think that the creation of the Inception Deck would be a great opening exercise for the class to do together.  Everyone should be involved: students, teachers assistant and the professor.

It would be especially helpful for students to help create the NOT list, the risks and the what has to give because these are extra important for realizing the priorities of the class and what is expected of them.



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