<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=443149619225659&ev=PageView&noscript=1"> Agile Planning Pitfall: We Don't Plan Past This Sprint

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Agile Planning Pitfall: We Don't Plan Past This Sprint

Agile Planning Pitfall: We Don't Plan Past This Sprint

While the Agile Manifesto and its principles guide us to deliver software in small increments and be accepting of change, it does not say "stop planning ahead". Many teams continue to only focus on the next sprint without a clear understanding of how the work will impact the longer term vision of the product. Many teams also do nothing to help product managers and management plan ahead. We can all do better at long-term planning without sacrificing the core Agile principles and by doing so, deliver higher value and have fun doing it.

The Challenges

  • Agile frameworks, including the Scrum Guide, talk very little about planning beyond the short iteration.

  • Software developers are afraid of being held accountable for any planning into the future and giving specific dates, especially when they know the plans will change.

  • Engineers express frustration in not understanding the product vision. Tech debt often comes from the team not understanding the product direction, not from bad coding.

  • The anti-waterfall establishment has put a black cloud over upfront project planning.

  • While well intentioned, agile team efforts are often not aligned with the long-term goals of the product or company.

How can we plan ahead and still respect our agile principles of delivering small increments, responding to change, and constantly delivering working software?

Three things to consider are adding or increasing backlog refinement time, schedule a "release planning" every 3 to 6 sprints, and tracking your plan with transparency to management.

  • Use Backlog Refinement 

    • Make it a Regular Ceremony: schedule a backlog refinement (sorry, +1 meeting) every sprint strictly for ensuring an understanding of the future sprint or two, and giving the team an opportunity to add their input.

    • Share the Vision: product owners should share the product vision with the team on a regular basis. Do this at the start of refinement when needed (yay! -1 meeting).

    • Connect Stories to Strategy: ensure the team understands which strategic initiative their stories/tasks support and why the work is important.

  • Plan Further Ahead with Release Planning

    • Schedule a block of time, 4 hours to 2 days to look out 3 to 6 iterations (no more than 12 weeks).

    • Don't fear making rough estimates on less than 100% documented stories - communicate that this is a plan and not a commitment (easier said than done, but you need to start somewhere).

    • Focus on understanding the value and connection to strategic vision for the product. The details are easier to work out if you understand this first.

    • Invite stakeholders and other key players (UX, Ops, etc.) so they can weigh in on priorities and details to confirm their approach.

  • Track it, Very Transparently

    • Ensure that the goals beyond the sprint are clearly tracked.

    • Update this plan every sprint/iteration.

    • When change happens, make the impact very transparent to the stakeholders and management.

    • Get stakeholder feedback about the potential impact of any changes to the plan (what features might fall out, do they want to reprioritize, etc.)

Summary

Planning beyond the sprint benefits the Agile team by providing clear vision and goals, while management gains more value directly toward their strategic vision. It also benefits the product owner to help them prioritize the backlog and helps stakeholders understand the impact of change and short-term decision making. Consider doing a bit of longer term planning and maybe your Agile team will deliver even higher value and allow for improved upward communication and collaboration at the same time.

To learn more about managing multi-team software development projects, download our free Whitepaper The Challenges of Agile Software Development for Distributed Teams.

The Challenges of Agile Software Development eBook

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About the author

Michael is the Director of Agile Strategies with Small Footprint, where he leads Agile software development projects and Agile transformations. The goal of his projects is for businesses to deliver high value to customers and stakeholders through adopting Agile across the entire organization, not just the development teams. He has 15+ years of new product development experience, ranging from software engineering to product line management. Michael is a certified Product Manager, Product Owner, and Scrum Master.
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