Agile planning is a critical phase of the agile process, as it determines the team’s priorities and sets the tone for the work to come. The planning process helps agile software development and other product development teams sort through new information, adapt to roadblocks, and address evolving customer needs.
Agile is an iterative process that helps teams reduce waste and maximize efficiency for the ultimate goal of bringing value to customers. This customer-first approach helps teams make informed choices throughout the development process — choices that continually and consistently provide value to stakeholders.
It’s the opposite of traditional project planning, which takes a step-by-step waterfall approach. For many years, the method dominated project planning with detailed plans laid out at the beginning of a project that had to be adhered to rigidly. This may move a project or product forward, but it neglects to account for any new developments that could occur outside of the “master plan.”
And what about stakeholders? The best part of the agile process is that stakeholders can be brought in at every turn. You don’t need to guess whether or not you’re making the right decisions — you can find out every step of the way by directly including stakeholders in your process. You can adapt your plan as you need to based on what will provide the most value to customers at any time.
Yet, even if you are part of a seasoned agile team, there are still hiccups to overcome and processes to finetune. This post will outline some unproductive agile planning mistakes teams make, including how agile teams can avoid these common pitfalls.
Agile Planning Mistake #1: Not being on the same page as stakeholders
Do you involve stakeholders in your planning process? Do they understand your goals and why you are making each decision? Working directly with stakeholders will help you gain a clear view of what your customers need and want to determine what should be done when.
Never assume you’re on the same page as your stakeholders. They live in a different world than the one you are deeply embedded in, and they may not have the same experience with the agile process, your planning methods, or the agile tools your team uses.
Ensure you never make commitments the team can’t keep. What you thought would provide the most value during the planning phase could be completely different a couple of weeks later.
In order to produce deliverables that meet stakeholder expectations, you need to agree on what those expectations are. Involve your stakeholders in planning, but ensure everyone understands that expectations could evolve throughout the process based on new information gained from successes, failures, and customer responses.
Agile Planning Mistake #2: Using bland, flat product maps
Flat product backlogs are bland and boring 😴. Think carrot cake without icing. They lack the detail and functionality needed to realize the full story of your product backlog.
Plus, once you have more than a handful of items, they become overwhelming and difficult to organize in a meaningful way. It becomes less clear which item is the most important and more difficult to ensure your decisions align with the larger goal of the project.
When you plan out your roadmap, it needs context, and you must be able to clearly see the customer journey. User Story Maps visualize the customer journey in the planning process and throughout the entire process of product development. They utilize user stories — the smallest unit of work that can bring value to the customer — so you can plan and organize the backlog from the customer’s perspective.
📕 Read our ultimate guide to user story maps to learn more.
Easy Agile User Story Maps for Jira transform your flat product backlogs into an impactful visual tool. Product owners and team members can plan core user activities, manage epics inside the story map, order user stories by priority, and edit story summaries — all while integrating directly with your Jira agile boards.
Agile Planning Mistake #3: Not allowing the plan to live, breathe, and adapt
Agile methodology is an iterative approach. This means your agile planning needs to leave room for changes. Your plan should be able to grow and adapt as you progress with each sprint or product roadmap.
At the beginning of a sprint, you lack the information needed to see the full picture. You don’t have everything you need to build the perfect solution, and that’s okay. It’s all part of the process. Spending hours or days trying to iron out the perfect plan just wastes time that could be better spent learning and solving problems as they come.
You may need to alter your plan after a roadblock comes up in a daily stand-up, or you may learn about a customer concern that completely changes your direction. Iterations are inevitable and welcomed! They help you keep pace with incoming information as you learn from each other, stakeholders, and your customers.
Agile planning isn’t a promise. It’s an outline that will help you reach your goal, and that changes with your goals and circumstances.
Agile Planning Mistake #4: Not incorporating retrospective insights in the following planning session
Retrospectives are an essential piece of the agile process. They give teams a chance to reflect on everything that occurred in an individual sprint or after the completion of a product.
An effective retrospective asks the entire team key questions that can improve the process next time around. What went well? What’s worth repeating again? What didn’t go so well? What could be improved upon next time? What roadblocks or dependencies developed? What did you learn? How did you feel at the end of the sprint?
A retrospective provides insights that will improve efficiency, teamwork and team dynamics, the effectiveness of tools, and communication with stakeholders.
Simply holding a retrospective or collecting retrospective feedback is not enough to gain value. You need to ensure you’re incorporating the feedback into the following sprint planning meeting. The next iteration will be all the better for the time you spend reflecting and improving based upon what you learned.
Agile Planning Mistake #5: Choosing tools that don’t take a customer-centric approach
Whether your team uses a Scrum process, kanban boards, or agile methods, the tools you choose should always be customer-focused. And you need to continue using them in a way that keeps the customer at the forefront of decision making.
Teams can fall into a trap believing they’re focusing on the customer when they aren’t doing much of anything beyond following simple agile methods and generic processes. Customers need to be embedded in your development process right from the planning phase so that every decision a team member makes considers customer needs first.
Choose planning tools that help your entire team get to the heart of what makes your customers tick, and always check in to ensure you are making decisions in line with your customers.
For example, Personas provide a deep understanding of what customers want, need, don’t want, etc. They reveal key information about customer pain points, desires, demographics, goals, shopping patterns, and much more. We highly suggest developing customer Personas to get a rich picture of all the people who will use your product, but it’s not enough to just have Personas lying around.
You need to bring these Personas into your agile planning process and keep them front and center as you complete issues and continue to develop your product.
Easy Agile Personas for Jira helps you create and store Personas within Jira, so you can plan based on customer needs in real-time. The tool will help you empathize with customers in order to make decisions that provide the most value to users at any moment. All of our Easy Agile Jira plugins are customer-focused and designed to keep the customer top-of-mind throughout the product development process.
Learn more on the Easy Agile blog
There’s plenty more where this came from. Easy Agile is dedicated to helping teams work better using agile. We make simple, collaborative, customer-focused plugins for Jira.
We regularly publish lists of tools, advice articles, and how-to guides for agile teams. If you work with Jira, you’ll find our resources are especially helpful in navigating the ins and outs of product development and the Jira plugins that will improve the way your team collaborates.
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