In the previous blog we examined what the value of planning is, so that we can then determine how much planning we need to do. The answer to this question was “it depends,” and the implication was that we need to do just enough planning for the situation that we face and no more. In this blog we go deeper to explore what this depends on in practice.
We learned in the previous blog that our planning efforts should be sufficient, what we referred to as just barely good enough (JBGE) in Agile Modeling, for the situation that we face. The following figure depicts the contextual factors that we should consider, with the factors motivating us to do more planning on the left-hand side under the red arrow and the factors enabling us to do less planning on the right-hand side under the green arrow. These factors are mostly qualitative in nature, implying that it requires a judgement call on the part of the people involved with the planning effort to determine whether they’ve planned sufficiently. Let’s explore each of these factors in more detail.
Figure. The factors to determine whether you’ve planned sufficiently.
There are four factors that motivate us to increase the amount of planning we do:
- Risk. The greater the risk that we face the more we will want to think before we act. For example, transporting perishable medical supplies from Toronto to Timbuktu requires more logistical planning than transporting a box of Choose Your WoW! books from Toronto to Philadelphia.
- Domain complexity. The more complex the problem that we’re trying to solve, the more we want to invest in exploring the domain and then thinking through how we will address the complexity. For example, building a bridge across a river is more complex than building a dog house, so we will invest more time thinking through the building of the bridge.
- Solution complexity. The greater the complexity of the solution that we are building, or configuring in some cases, the more thinking we will need to do. For example, installing an ERP system into an existing organization to replace dozens of legacy systems requires more planning than installing a new app on your phone.
- Desire for “predictability.” This can be a common cultural challenge within organizations, in particular the desire to be told up front how much a project will cost or how long a project will take. These are fairly reasonable requests when the endeavor is something our team has experience in doing, such as a house builder being asked to build a new house. They are unreasonable requests when the team is being tasked with doing something that is ill-defined or whose scope will change throughout the endeavor, the situation typically faced by software development teams. Far too many times I’ve seen teams run aground due to an unrealistic request for predictability – the teams will overly invest in up-front modeling and planning, will then make promises regarding cost and schedule that either they’re unable to keep or can only keep by cutting scope or quality of the delivered solution.
There are six factors that enable us to reduce the amount of planning that we need to do:
- Skill. The greater the skill of the people doing the work, the less planning will be required for that work.
- Experience. The greater the experience of the people doing the work, the less planning will be required for that work.
- Ease of change. The easier it is to change the work products being produced, including the solution itself, the less planning is required. For example, we are developing a website it is relatively easy to update and then redeploy web pages if we discover that they need to evolve. So we can get away with minimal planning. Conversely, if we are building a bridge spanning a river it is relatively difficult and expensive to rebuild a supporting pillar in the middle of the river if we discover that it was placed in the wrong spot. In this case we face greater deployment risk so we need to invest in greater planning to increase the chance of getting things right.
- Access to stakeholders. The easier it is to access stakeholders, in particular decision makers who can provide direction and feedback to us, in general the less initial planning we need to do. Being able to work closely with stakeholders enables us to think through the details when it’s most appropriate during a project, not just up front.
- Communication and collaboration. The greater the communication and collaboration within a team, perhaps because we’re co-located in a single room or because we are using sophisticated communication software, the less planning is required due to the increased opportunities for streamlined coordination.
- Uncertainty. The more likely that something will change the less planning you should do because when it does change your planning efforts around it will have been for naught.
To summarize, the answer to “when have we planned sufficiently?” is “it depends.” In this blog we explored several factors that motivate you to increase the amount of planning we need to do and several factors that enable us to reduce the amount of planning. In effect we went beyond the typical consultant answer of “it depends” to the more robust answer of “it depends on this.”
In the next blog in this 3-part series we explore how to be efficient in our planning efforts. I suspect the answer it won’t be what you’re expecting.