A map is a plan.

A map is a plan.

All projects should have some sort of plan. Whether that plan is a classic project plan and schedule or a prioritized backlog and a release plan. A plan helps answer stakeholder questions and, perhaps more importantly, it reflects the philosophy of the project. In order for a plan of any type to be helpful, the plan and philosophy must be possible. Bob Ferguson (Listen to SPaMCAST 240) said that there were ways to detect a plan what was not possible. Several of the rules of thumb that Bob suggested (augmented with a few of my own) are:

  1. Difficult work is done late. This is on both of our lists. Teams that avoid addressing difficult or technically complex stories backload risk, which can impact a project’s ability to deliver value. Conceptually this problem should be harder in Agile, assuming stories or features are prioritized in value order and the inter-relationship between features is factored into the value discussion.
  2. Learning is not explicitly planned. Any project that is creating new features or a new product should have prototyping built into the process used to gather requirements and build a backlog. Experiments/prototypes also can and should be used to prove solutions that are complex or cutting edge (at least for the team). This item was on Bob’s list and not on mine; it is now.
  3. Rate of story completion is not feasible. If the plan can’t be completed given the team’s (or teams’) level of velocity or productivity, then it is a bad plan. Plans that specify the amounts of functionality to be delivered, the date of delivery and the budget to be spent have credibility problems, however when they are developed using wishful thinking productivity rates they enter into the impossible range. This one is on my list and not Bob’s (in your face Bob).
  4. Belief that the plan — is THE Plan. A plan, schedule or backlog that does not change for a project of any moderate or large size is wrong or if it actually works is  the reflection of sheer dumb luck (Harry Potter reference – reread Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.). Anyone that falls into the trap of absolute belief that any project deliverable can be created once and referenced forever will find delivering value difficult at best.
  5. Not involving the business. The real product owner(s) must be part of the product to act as an active conduit of business acumen into the team to minimize wait and search time. All too often business stakeholders have been taught treat the boundary between IT and the business as a demilitarized zone where information hand-offs occur on a periodic basis. This behavior makes planning and maintaining any sort of plan difficult at best which slows the project down. IT teams often elect proxy product owners from inside the IT boundary leading to the same result (I heard this termed all of the responsibility and none of the authority). Proxy product owners can’t provide the level of feedback on priorities and the plan that the business can.

Plans have value only if they are current and only if maintaining plans, schedules, backlogs and the release plans do not become the goal of the project. Planning helps teams to develop a strategy for delivering value, but they must be allowed to change. Change is inevitable because we are learning both personally and about our project everyday. Not using what we learn is silly!

 

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