How Much Planning is Enough?

“Responding to Change Over Following a Plan”

This is the phrase from the Agile Manifesto that causes confusion.  The next part of the Agile Manifesto, of course, states “That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.”  It doesn’t say we don’t care about what’s on the right; just that it is less valuable than what is on the left.

It is this part that gets lost in translation somewhere.

We still very much need to have a plan, but it’s a plan that is written in wet sand, and the tide is coming in.  Our plan is very much subject to change — and often — as we get into work and begin to fully realize the tasks we have committed to during a Sprint.  Anything that is planned out beyond the current Sprint is nebulous at best, and WILL change when we get to Sprint Planning. Scrum puts emphasis on the act of planning often, over rigidly following a plan that is set in stone. The fact is that our plan can change several times a day, and we need to constantly be able to re-plan based on the new knowledge we have acquired.  We know that our plan will become obsolete almost the moment we finish it.  The art of Sprint Planning lies in the following:

  • Minimizing the time you spend analyzing things that may never happen
  • Minimizing the time spent analyzing to an impossible degree of accuracy.

When I talk about Sprint Planning with my teams for the first time, I will often show them the most famous World of Warcraft video ever made — Leeroy Jenkins.  For those who somehow have never seen it, it shows the group of players coming up with an elaborate plan for how they will tackle something in the game, right down to a 33.3 (repeating, of course) percent chance of success.  No sooner do they finish the plan when Leeroy, who was AFK the whole time, runs into the room and blows the whole thing up. Everyone dies.  It’s hysterical.  It’s important to plan, but getting to that level of detail is only time wasted because once someone starts the work — and they Leeroy your plan — all bets are off and you need to be able to respond to those changes quickly. Scrum values the act of planning far more than the actual plans, because we recognize those are highly volatile.

Focus on where the value is, and plan around the most valuable work that aligns with your Sprint Goal without requiring a superhero effort from your Development Team. Make sure that nobody is AFK during planning, and be ready for your plans to change the very second they are put into action.

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About Heath

Scrum Master. Software Engineer. Writer. Musician. Craft Beer Aficionado. Jeopardy! contestant. Not necessarily in that order.