Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Failing to plan is planning to fail!

The Agile Manifesto boldly states, "We value ... Responding to change over Following a plan". I can't reiterate often enough that these are not mutually exclusive conditions.

I remember working in a project which coined the idiom "headless chicken mode" to describe the activities resulting from new feature requests: Everyone got busy, running into different directions - but nothing substantial resulted.

While panic and blind actions are response to change, they certainly are not the best. What the Agile Manifesto is concerned about is not plans in themselves - but that new information tends to make old plans obsolete!

Even seasoned developers occasionally fall into the habit of not planning, time and again! Throw out a (big) task that is fun and people will jump head in - without considering the long term objective! The result? When the window of opportunity closes, we have great ideas and fascinating code, but no marketable product!

Here are some things which should definitely be planned:

What do we hope to accomplish?

If you are uncertain as to what you will have accomplished when you are done, you will have no idea of how to know whether you have met the goal yet. It is completely legitimate to change your objective once new information uncovers that another course makes more sense.
It is not okay to be vague or unclear about your future accomplishment.
If you can not state your objective in one sentence - plan better!

In which order do we want to deliver what?

Agile approach suggests going MVP rather than perfectionism. Often, it takes a whole lot of thought to discover what is actually the minimum viable product and when we can deliver it.
The faster you can deliver something, the faster you will know whether you properly understood the need. Set short term goals that help you meet a long term goal. Don't go for that Big Hairy Audacious Goal without delivering value time and again in between!
If you have an ambitious plan that could take two months or more, don't set out unless you can break that plan into at least 3 steps that you can put into delivery order. Plan better!

How do we Inspect and Adapt?

When an idea is new, it tends to be coarse, ambiguous and with a lot of room for change. This uncertainty is no problem - unless we fail to manage it.
We can not remove uncertainty by drawing a straight line through uncharted territory - but what we can do: Take small steps, then carefully plan the next step.
Your Inspect+Adapt plan also needs to include how you will know whether you have made progress in the right direction - or not. Using direct customer interaction is as valid as some Big Data solution like Google Analytics or Omniture. Just make sure you choose the one that suits your needs.
If you can't describe your I+A strategy in one sentences, you have failed already! Plan better!

What do we need to succeed?

You should be clear what you will need to be successful. The Bible states, For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish'
You don't need to sign up to Christianity to understand the wisdom in these words. It is okay to miscalculate. It's also okay to miss something. But it's definitely not okay to not even bother figuring out whether you even stand a sporting chance!
If you can't name the top 3 success contributors and your strategy for obtaining them: don't start! Plan better!


This list of planning factors is by far not exhaustive, there are many more things to consider. In general, agile plans do not imply Gantt charts or big documents - but a clear, concise strategy for what you will do in order to succeed.
Your two most valuable plan items that need full clarity are:
  • The "big plan", a.k.a. the Product Vision - where you want to be
  • The next step
At any time you have uncertainty about those two things, stop what you're doing and re-plan!

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