Yogi Berra was fond of saying “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” What Yogi was getting at was that it’s a good idea to do a bit of thinking, a bit of planning, before you get started. In the previous blog, Planning: When Have you Done Enough? we explored the factors that affect how much planning we should do. The challenge is that the factors are qualitative in nature, requiring us to make a decision that is based on intuition.
In this blog we explore how to increase the chance that we get as close as we can to achieving the maximum value from our planning efforts. The following figure is organized into four planning quadrants, each one of which represents a target area for our planning efforts.
Figure – The four quadrants of planning efficiency.
Let’s explore each quadrant. In order from most desirable, to least desirable, they are:
- Q1: Efficient. The most efficient approach is to do a bit less planning than is sufficient, to undershoot the mark. The idea is that you want to get close to sufficient and be prepared to explore the aspects of your plan later in the lifecycle when you discover that it’s insufficient. This strategy assumes you have easy access to the subject matter experts (SMEs) and decision makers, thereby enabling you to quickly adjust and evolve your plan as needed.
- Q2: Comfortable. Some people will aim for this quadrant out of the believe that they need to think everything through right now, that they won’t be allowed to update the plan easily later on in the lifecycle. Although this is comfortable for people who are new to Disciplined Agile (DA) ways of working (WoW) it is also wasteful because they’ve invested too much on the planning effort.
- Q3: Insufficient. This is where a lot of agile purists, or non-managers who are new to agile, end up. When planning is grossly insufficient like this your team tends to work in an undirected manner that results in a lot of rework later.
- Q4: Wasteful. This is where a lot of traditional managers who are new to agile WoW land. This strategy is particularly problematic in areas where there is great uncertainty, in particular software development where requirements and underlying technologies change rapidly. Planning efforts that land in quadrant 4 are often caused by impedance mismatch between the expectations of the people doing the planning, or the expectations of the people who require a detailed plan before the rest of the work commences, and the reality of the situation on the ground. Very often the environment has changed but the planning methodology hasn’t, so lighten up.
Eisenhower said “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.” There can be significant value in planning, but it is possible to go too far, to plan too much. Although more research is needed in this space, it appears that the value of planning follows the law of diminishing returns – there is significant value in doing some planning, but that value quickly reaches a maximum point. Determining that maximum point is a qualitative, “gut feel” decision based on a collection of factors such as the complexity and risk of the situation, the skills and experience of the people involved, and the uncertainty that you face. Surprisingly, the most efficient approach to planning is to aim for your plans to be slightly insufficient, to be close but in need of a bit more work when you discover that you need to work through a few more details. I hope this blog series has been food for thought.