Five Challenges to Agile Planning: Part 1 of 5

Jonathan Kuipers | January 17, 2012

How do you bridge the gap between development & the rest of the team?

If you have experience with Waterfall or traditional “phase-gate” developmental processes, then you know why Agile has gained traction so quickly. It’s a nimble, collaborative way to work. But like any professional process, it takes new skills to gain the promised benefits.

Follow this, five part, blog series and learn the major challenges that we’ve seen lead to Agile failure, as well as advice on how to make Agile work for your entire team.

ONE: Aligning “Vision” with “Iterations”

The Challenge: An early challenge you’ll experience is that the Agile team will want to self-organize and start writing code now… fast. They’ll want to define user stories, tasks and test cases “just enough” to create the first software iteration, or “Sprint” in Agile terms and deliver working code. The Product Owner (which we’ll discuss next) might state, “We know that customers will want to monitor every outlet and appliance in the house, let’s start with building a database schema that allows users to enter a list of these.”

While this is not inherently bad, getting started too quickly can be wasteful and set your team up for quick frustration, creating immediate conflict with other ideas about the major product attributes and how to get started on the right path. Management, and even some internal technical leaders such as Architects and Product Managers, will scream “Wait!” What are you building?” At which point the Agile development team might respond, “We’re just getting started… we’ll refine it along the way.” Unfortunately, this is little comfort for those that must communicate release plans, project scope, schedules, business models, ROI, and resource plans.

The Solution: Even the worst car drivers will have a general understanding of where they are going before making their first turn out of the drive way. There must be sufficient time and energy spent upfront to gain a solid grounding in the product vision and distilling it into “just enough” business requirements to provide direction to the development team on what is expected at a high level. Creating a vision, documenting a product plan and prioritizing use cases doesn’t need to take the months that a Waterfall approach might take, but certainly several weeks of thoughtful customer interaction, preliminary designs, and market analysis is required before getting started. The development team should participate of course in thinking about architecture, performance needs, user experience, platform needs, etc. However, even this front- end vision planning can apply Agile approaches using epics, fast prototyping (without writing code) and immediate customer feedback cycles to get clear, early guidance to kick off a new project. Light documentation of this vision, clarity on who you are targeting, why customers care, and your big picture roadmap will make everyone from the CEO to the receptionist ecstatic that you have a plan.

Read part 1, 2, 3, 45 or download “The Five Challenges to Agile Planning” whitepaper.