Continuous Agile Program Planning: Think Big, Plan Small

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 jrothman.com.

It seems as if the larger the agile program, the bigger the planning. Many organizations try to plan for an entire quarter at a time. They bring everyone on the program together in a large room (often a hotel ballroom) and attempt to plan the next quarter’s work.

That kind of planning works for some programs; it’s expensive in terms of time and travel. When all those people need to travel to one location, they don’t spend time working on the actual product when they are all together. They plan instead of delivering functionality.

Granted, there are other benefits when people get together in one location. They learn to work with each other. They also take a longer-term perspective on the program’s goals. I’m a fan of people learning to work together and planning.

However, the programs I’ve worked on or consulted to simply could not depend on an entire quarter’s worth of work being stable. More often, everyone would plan and return to their offices. A week or two later, something happened and the quarter’s plans were at risk.

What can you do? Instead of big, discontinuous planning, consider small continuous planning.

How Little Can You Plan?
When you plan for a quarter, you might feel as if you’re asking, “How much can we plan now?” Instead of how much, consider asking, “How little can we …

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