Sunday, March 04, 2007

5 Levels of Planning

I just read an interesting article that breaks down the Agile planning process into 5 levels:
(This is slightly modified)
  1. The Vision
  2. The Roadmap
  3. The Next Release
  4. The Next Iteration
  5. The Next Day
Essentially, each agile planning session occurs in one of these levels. With each level dependent on it's predecessor. Ideally, you need a vision before you have a road map, road map before you plan the next get the idea.

This really made sense to me. For years now I've used a somewhat complicated model to describe what it is we do. This model, oddly enough, can be easily distilled into this 5 level process.

In the table below I have identified each level of planning with WHAT being the expected artifact and the WHO generally describing the participants:




The Vision

A Vision Statement


The Roadmap

Roadmap (duh)


The Next Release

Release Plan/Stories/


The Next Iteration

Iteration Plan


The Next Day

Engineering Tasks


In the first level, The Vision, your goal is to provide a vision statement. Each shop will decide it's own requirement but I general recommend a condensed vision statement that can be easily hung on the wall as an "Information Radiator" (Remember...big visible charts). The Vision should be agreed upon by all stakeholders (chickens) and written without concern for technology. It should also convey some sense of purpose, since it is intended to drive the development process.

Once you have a Vision your team of chickens is ready to start working on The Roadmap. The Roadmap should also be brief enough to work well as a Big Visible Chart. Ideally your developers will keep the roadmap hung up in the shop. As items on the Roadmap are completed they can be checked off. The Roadmap will list, in order of importance, the vision for future releases. I recommend a bulleted list with each release defined by no more than 2 or 3 sentences (1 is better). As with the vision the roadmap should have a sense of purpose and as each item on the roadmap is completed you'll likely want to revisit the vision (it may have changed).

With your Roadmap written you'll want to start planning your Next Release. Planning a release is no simple task. You'll want the input of all your chickens and pigs. I'd recommend, first, relooking/revamping the vision for the next release; something may have changed. During release planning the chickens should be presenting stories to the pigs. These stories fall into 3 categories; enhancements, new features, bugs. Chickens should only consider enhancements and new features that fit into the vision for this release. Any stories considered a bug may be considered, regardless of the vision. Beware what you call a bug....just because you "don't like the way something works", does not make it a bug.

During Release Planning you should play the planning game. Chickens write a story, pigs estimate, chickens rewrite.... The final result should be a set of estimated stories with user values and generally well described acceptance tests. This may take several days. Pigs should feel free to throw back any story that can't be estimated. Chickens should make sure to stay within the vision for this release (or revise it).

Once you've hammered out your Release Plan, you're ready to begin working on the Next Iteration. Your original estimates of a story should not change unless the story is changed. Tracking progress should be done via your velocity (that is outside the scope of this article). At the beginning of each Iteration you'll select a set of stories to complete. This should be a sort of "do or die trying" commitment on the part of the Pigs. If you've tracked your velocity properly then making a commitment should be easy. Put story cards somewhere visible or use a large chart to track progress. No story should be started without an acceptance test and no story is complete until the test passes.

As each iteration progresses you'll constantly be planning The Next Day's work. Each day engineers/developers should pair up and select a story to work on. Pigs will sometimes hold design sessions with CRCs or write engineering tasks to remind themselves what needs to be done next. A coach should be available to cheer them on as the stories slowly disappear and the new builds start to appear. Always make big visible charts and information radiators to track progress of tests, builds and stories.

As you get into a rhythm your team should start to move through these stages naturally. For many companies distractions are a way of life. Try your hardest to insulate developers from these distractions and you'll see your vision realized much faster. If distractions are unavoidable them just realize that your velocity will suffer. As long as distractions are common your velocity should adequately adjust for them.

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