Ideas Behind Agile Planning: It Helps to Have a Plan

This idea is a bit controversial, depending on who you talk to.

First, let’s agree partly with the opposite idea.

It can be painful to have a plan.  It can hurt.  Especially if managers have locked it in stone, as we say, and want to punish us if we are a day late (it is usually that lateness, usually more than 1 day, that is the biggest problem).

So, let’s agree that a plan is always a guess, and guesses, as in poker, are likely to be wrong very often.  So, being punished for making a guess is not useful.

Equally, not improving your guesses, and especially not learning from the guesses…those behaviors are also not good.

OK, so how can it help to have a plan?

First

Because in general, a plan is wanted, needed, and in some sense required.

Yes, there are situations where we have no half-way good guess.  And I suppose also, we have people who will not listen to reason, and understand large uncertainties.

But from my experience, those situations are relatively few.

The customers and the managers need to know when Product X will be delivered.  The delivery date affects other things, other actions.  So, at some point, we must give them some idea.

Second

The initial guess makes us think.  And thus improve the guess.

We should never suggest that any plan is perfect.  They are all guesses about the future.  In a probabilistic universe, every guess will give us results that vary from the guess.  This variation might be wider some times, and narrower other times.  But always the variation is significant (in some proportion usually to how far away from the finish date).

Third

The current plan enables the Team to make decisions.  Quickly.  It concentrates the mind in the land of uncertainty.

Fourth

The act of making a plan forces us to address, quickly, a series of hard questions or hard issues.

Fifth

Once we have done a quick and complete plan (in the sense of covering all dimensions), we can prioritize our stupidity.  Once we see the weaknesses or lack of knowledge embedded in the plan, we can take action to learn in the best areas.

Sixth

We can revise it.

If we organize the current plan in a good way, it becomes easy to revise it together.  As knowledge improves and life changes, we can make the plan better.  This is similar to saying: having a plan enables continuous learning and re-planning.

Let’s say that again, a different way.  In Waterfall, for me at least, it used to be painful and difficult to revise the plan.  I used to hate Microsoft Project. (Well, I still do.)  In agile, we must make the re-planning have a low overhead cost so that — it costs less, it hurts less and it is done more frequently.  And these days, with most of the Scrum tools, this is now fairly easy to arrange.

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Again, I am not advocating ever fully believing in any plan.  “It ain’t over till it’s over”, as Yogi Berra would say.  But you need a plan to win the ballgame.

More soon…  And see prior posts in this series.

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Note: Yogi Berra was a catcher for the New York Yankees, and was famous for his “Yogi-isms”.

 

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