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By Pavel Kukhnavets

Agile Project Planning

What is the role of the project plan in Agile development?

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More and more teams are adopting Agile methods as more clients are striving to reduce project risks and realize value faster. Businesses all over the world use some forms of Agile to plan and execute their projects at the highest level.

No matter if you are just starting to dabble with Agile at scale, or trying to apply Kanban or Scrum for some time now, Agile planning is what you will definitely need to succeed. 

In this article, we’re going to guide you through the concepts of Agile planning, describe how to work with Agile project schedules, list the consistent Agile project management steps, and many more. Let’s not waste time and figure it out!

What is Agile planning?

Agile Planning Definition

What is Agile planning? This is a project planning method that estimates work with the help of self-contained units. These units are called iterations or sprints. 

A sprint is a special period of 1-3 weeks in which a team focuses on a small set of work items as well as OKRs. They strive to complete them in the most effective way.

With the help of Agile planning, you can define the items that are done in each sprint, and create a repeatable process to help your teams learn how much they can reach.

How Agile planning differs from estimation

Agile planning breaks down software development into small units that deliver value to clients.

Teams don’t strive to plan the big product at once; they plan for what they can accomplish to satisfy a client in a short time period.

What Are the Benefits of Agile Project Management?

There are many evident pros of the Agile methodology for managing projects and project planning over the more traditional approaches. In project management, Agile provides teams, leaders, sponsors, and clients with many project-specific benefits, including:

  • Increased flexibility and adaptability to changes
  • Increased success through more focused efforts
  • Reduced waste (through minimization of resources)
  • Rapid solutions’ deployment
  • Faster issues and defects detection
  • Quicker turnaround times
  • Improved development processes
  • Optimal project control
  • Increased focus on specific customer needs
  • Increased frequency of feedback and collaboration

Agile planning vs traditional planning: how do they differ?

The main difference between Agile planning and the Waterfall (or traditional) planning approach is that the first one is iterative and adaptive to changes. The second way, in contrast, is a step-by-step heavy planning process.

Of course, both approaches have their pros and cons. When you’re building a house, you logically want to have a detailed and well-thought-of plan. So, welcoming requirements late in the process with an Agile project plan is not the most suitable option. It can take place, but changes might be costly to implement.

In the case of knowledge work, change is welcome at any process stage. It is about creating a solution that will satisfy clients, and everything will be allowed. Therefore, in Agile project management, you lay down detailed plans only for shorter time frames. You can make changes when needed.

Agile Project Planning Template: Four Essential Components

1. Dividing an Agile project plan into releases and sprints

People involved in Agile planning define a release that contains creating a new product or updating an existing product. 

They break down every release into several iterations – sprints. Each sprint has a 1-2 week length, and the team has a predefined list of work items to work through in each sprint. These work items are user stories.

2. Planning is based on user stories

A user story briefly describes a need experienced by your users. In Agile planning, the team only documents what the user needs (unlike in the Waterfall approach). During the sprint, the team decides how to address that specific need in the best way possible.

3. Iterative and incremental planning

The Agile process is based on the iteration concept. All sprints have equal length, and the team repeats the same process in every sprint. Each sprint should result in successful features that will be delivered to end-users.

Thanks to the iterative nature of the process, the team can learn what they are capable of, estimate how many stories they can complete, and learn about possible problems.

4. Estimation is the responsibility of team members

The Agile philosophy assumes that development teams should participate in planning and estimation. Agile planning allows teams to assign story points to user stories in the release plan.

A story point is a number that reflects the complexity or amount of work involved in developing a user story. Another way to estimate is to apply ideal time – how long a user story should take to develop, assuming zero interruptions.

Key Characteristics of Agile Project Planning

There are several levels at which you can plan. You can not just do Agile on the team level. You can have an Agile strategy, Agile product management service, and Agile portfolio management. 

Business agility is about being agile in your strategy. Agile planning is iterative, so you can develop and adjust your plan multiple times when you find it necessary. 

It is important to invest time in planning and adapt to changes if they occur during the execution stage.

Your Agile project plan will have similar characteristics despite the level at which you operate. Here are these characteristics:

1. The goal from the eyes of your client

An Agile project plan must consider what your clients exactly want. 

You can also use the word “value” here from the Lean dictionary. So, your plan must be clear on how and when you strive to deliver value to the client. The more this plan is focused on outcomes, the better.

2. Lack of details

Many projects in the knowledge work realm look like situations when you can not predict and estimate everything. 

You may know a lot about your project in advance but not enough to commit to every single piece of it. However, often managers insist on having a detailed and strict plan for each project deliverable. Therefore, we usually offload the commitment to the last responsible moment in real life, not doing so in our project plan.

3. Frequent deliveries and fast feedback

Any Agile project accommodates frequent deliveries and the collection of feedback. In fact, the feedback taken should be reflected in the next plan’s version that would improve the likelihood of efficient project closure.

4. Date ranges instead of single date estimates

Clients usually expect a fixed date when they ask about the project duration. They would actually appreciate it if you provide a date range instead of a single date.

So it is recommended to use date ranges based on forecasting methods and historical data and to create an Agile project timeline for your plan.

5. Focus on the work, not the workers

When you assign people to the jobs too early, it can be a risk to do the wrong thing at the wrong time. It is appropriate to leave the team to self-organize around the project.

You probably have specialists on your team that create many dependencies, especially in larger companies. The reasonable approach is to manage dependencies based on the holistic view of your company and value streams.

6. The lack of a separate phase for quality assurance

One of the success factors of Toyota was “build quality in”. It means that no time should be spent fixing the product after it has exited the production line.

It is better if you strive for the same level of quality during the execution phase of the project and try to avoid a final “quality assurance” phase. 

7. Two-tiered plans

Having a high-level plan of all major deliverables, you’ll be able to easily break them down into tasks and pass these tasks to the actual execution teams.

This is actually a substantial difference compared to the traditional Gantt chart plans. When you break down a project deliverable into its comprising tasks, it is better not to start and end dates for the tasks unless necessary.

8. Data-driven decisions (use your historical data to plan the future)

If the Kanban method is your choice for running the day-to-day tasks, it will be easy to use statistical methods for data-driven forecasting. 

Monte Carlo simulation is one of such methods widely used in the Agile environment. This method takes as input historical data. Using it, you should simulate thousands of possible outcomes for your project with the help of mathematical algorithms. After evaluating all possible outcomes, the Monte Carlo simulation will give you information about the project’s potential completion dates with some probability attached to the forecast.

Agile project planning secrets

Long-term planning and Agile: how do they work together?

No matter where you exactly are on the way to Agile, you will definitely need to manage work, time, and people when planning your long-term strategic vision. 

The best idea to get a key to long-term Agile planning is to keep your task estimates and project details in sync with the roadmap. Here are the consistent steps to generate a long-term Agile implementation plan.

  1. Begin with the big picture. Determine the vision and outlining the strategic themes. Then establishing high-priority themes to focus time and energy to do things really well.
  2. Consider big-ticket items and break the work down into more consumable pieces (epics). This will give you a better view of all the steps required to achieve the initiative.
  3. Estimate to better prepare a roadmap. This will allow you to understand when big things will happen and in what order.
  4. Prepare smart releases. In Agile, teams generally deliver a working piece of software at the end of each sprint as a version or release. However, if you need long-term planning, it’s better to define some rough release points on your roadmap to be able to estimate release dates over the next quarter.    
  5. Create a roadmap. By this moment, you already have an estimated backlog, releases, and teams with a velocity. You have everything to create a realistic roadmap. And finally, your contractor can provide you with the info about the actual dates.
  6. Share the roadmap with your team and validate it. Let them break down the epics into stories and give their best estimations for how long the work will take. 
  7. Improve it. Continuing to deliver value through incremental improvements is what drives innovation. Your roadmap will help to inform and optimize future roadmaps. Consider customer feedback, keep testing and improving on a frequent and regular basis.

What Are Agile Planning Processes and Methods?

1. Preplanning

Before starting an Agile project, a company determines a project vision, a business case, and a roadmap. The Agile project life cycle starts with a pre-planning step. This includes prioritizing technical and business requirements in a backlog, team formation, high-level time, and cost estimation. 

The team meets with the experts and they provide high-level estimates for all features. Based on these estimates, a first approximate estimate for the project duration and the overall cost for the realization of the backlog is determined. 

2. Planning

Planning of releases and iterations is the next step. The company decides whether release each iteration to clients or release a collection of iterations at once in one release. You can run release planning right after the creation of the product backlog or after the first iterations have been completed.

3. Release planning

During release planning, all parties involved (PO, PM, a team, and other stakeholders )break the functionality in the product backlog into iterations. They assign iterations to releases and every release delivers a working product increment. 

4. Iteration planning

Agile project planning focuses on the planning of the next iteration. The project team meets after every iteration with the aim to identify the scope of the next iteration. They verify if there is agreement on the product backlog and the priority of the listed features. 

After getting the required details on the features from the client, developers choose features from the backlog that can be accomplished within the next iteration.

What is an example of an Agile project plan?

Let’s look at a practical example of how to create an Agile plan and at Hygger.io.

Defining key project deliverables/releases

Imagine that we need to plan the creation of a new site blog. We have quite a wide scope for that, so the first thing we need to do is to define various functional parts that will be released.

There is no need to plan the deliverables in detail. Our Agile project plan will include it progressively throughout the project. This will save time for unnecessary planning and will help to retain agility for any emerging changes. To create a roadmap for the execution of the deliverables, we can use an Agile project timeline. Here we can input one or more deliverables to be executed in parallel or visualize a sequence.

Breaking down into tasks

Now we have a roadmap with the major functional parts of the project. The next step is breaking them down into individual tasks. It is better to start with the most critical deliverables at this point.

A handy Kanban board is what we’ll need to visualize the tasks and their flow to completion. 

Now we can see which deliverables are currently in progress, their status, and who is working on what. This also allows us to collaborate with one another. All these will allow us to satisfy customer needs with the delivery of our project.

Conclusion

With proper Agile planning, you get an exciting way to deliver change. This popular method provides more flexibility and allows stakeholders to feel real benefits.

Hygger.io will help you to build and prioritize a backlog, manage your iteration capacity, or simply record day-to-date plans.

If you are a newcomer in Agile planning, Kanban boards in Hygger will offer all of the elements you will need in one concise platform. So, you will be able to spend more time focusing on the things that matter. Use all the features of this tool to get a clear and visual way to plan, collaborate, and track your work and guarantee effective results for your customers!