How to Use Iteration Zero (Or Not)

Mass Bay Chapter

Johanna Rothman works with companies to improve how they manage their product development--to maximize management and technical staff productivity and to improve product quality. She is the author of Manage Your Project Portfolio: Increase Your Capacity and Finish More Projects and the Jolt Productivity award-winning Manage It: Your Guide to Modern, Pragmatic Project Management. She is the author of the forthcoming Agile and Lean Program Management: Collaborating Across the Organization. See her blogs and more of her writing at

Do you use Iteration Zero for your agile projects? An Iteration Zero is an iteration where you set up all the servers, make sure you have a release plan, develop a product backlog and in general do all those things that “assure” you that your project is ready to go.

Some agile project managers do, some don’t. I’m not a huge fan of Iteration Zero, because I’ve seen it turn into turn into Iteration Minus One, Iteration Minus Two and so on. And then the architects step in, and then next thing you know you’ve got Big Design Up Front. If it takes two or three months to start your agile project, your Iteration Zero is not working for you.

But there are times when Iteration Zero can help your project or program.

You Don’t Have Even a Hint of a Backlog
One of those times is when you don’t have a backlog at all. Now, you might be raising your eyebrows and wondering how you can have an agile project without a backlog. But maybe you are like my colleague Jackie, who described her new project and her new product owner (Bill) to me:

Bill has never been to any agile training. Luckily, the team was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, since he is so sincere about wanting to the right thing for the product. He has a ton of experience in the product domain. So, I asked the team if it was okay if we did a five-day …

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"If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties."

- Francis Bacon