Agile Project Planning

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Monday, May 22, 2006

Agility through discipline

I've read some things lately about Agile software development or project management lacking discipline. In my experience, Agile methods require MORE discipline than traditional methods when properly practiced.

For example, consider software project planning and estimating . On a traditional project, I often saw a detailed project plan that listed specific tasks, dates, assigned resources, and so on. The strange part is that this plan was rarely modified to reflect the learning we did later on in the project. Instead, the entire project often became a continous scolding opportunity for the project manager. "We need to get back on schedule. Where are we on Task XYZ that was slated to be completed by Friday?" and so on.

By constrast, the Agile projects I've been involved with did some planning up front, but at the level of business value, not of development tasks. We worked with project stakeholders to determine what items to do first, and were able to put a schedule in place based on consistent, reliable delivery of working software. When new requirements emerged, or we faced unforeseen technical challenges, we were able to update the plan based on that information. This kept everyone able to adapt and communicate about where we REALLY were.

It takes more discipline to face reality consistently than to avoid having difficult conversations, and following a rigid, hopelessly inaccurate plan. Fear is more commonly associated with traditional project management than courage.

I propose a new definition for Agile: creating freedom through courage and discipline. What's your definition?

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  • Dave,

    I have been reading and enjoying your postings for the last couple of months. I have found this latest posting to be exceptional as you articulate so well what I have learned about Agile Project Planning. Not only do the developers using XP practices like Continuous Integration and Test Driven Development have them courage in the face of changing requirements, project planning and tracking using Agile techniques give s us PMs courage too.

    Thanks for your good work.

    Tom Looy
    PM - ThoughtWorks, Inc.

    By Blogger Tom Looy, Tacit Knowledge PM, at 9:10 PM  

  • "In my experience, Agile methods require MORE discipline than traditional methods when properly practiced."

    I'm a recent hire in a small company that is just beginning to try to really apply some process to its software development, and from my research I'd have to say that I completely see this. In agile methods, it's the developers themselves who have to run the process and have the discipline; in pre-Agile methods the discipline was just enforced from above, with lots of heavy-weight structure built in under the assumptions that programmers lack the ability to reason for themselves about the program and don't care about quality, maintainability, reusability, etc.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:30 AM  

  • True. Maybe because the human nature is more accustomed to sequentially planning our lives and everyhign around us that way, maybe this could explain why PM's need to look outside the box and disciplined themselves to following Agile guidelines. However client involvement is also important, a lot of clients (my clients) do not understand this whole "agile thing". They need tasks breakdown and dates, and dealines- sometimes delivering business value doesnt do it. I suppose a mixture of techniques is the best appoach.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:39 AM  

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