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The Planning Approach that Refreshes
on February 11, 2006
Better planning, as Mary Poppendieck (author of "Lean Software Development") points out, results in a higher standard of living for the individual, for the team, and for the organization. With "Agile Estimating and Planning", Mike Cohn delivers a beautifully pragmatic approach for pushing us into the notion that this higher standard of living is completely attainable for our software development projects in this lifetime.
Mike's earlier book, "User Stories Applied" has been one of my most cited books when working with teams new to agile software development. Understanding the usefulness of the story concept as the base unit of function delivery has put these new teams in a good steady stride for being realiably realistic about their work delivery toward feature completion.
With Mike's "AE&P", I now have a fully referenceable guide that moves the team story planning pragmatics to the next level: bringing multiple planning approaches to bear at multiple levels for multiple measures of software feature acceptance and completion. In his usual style, Mike delivers his guidance with wonderfully accessible non-software analogies. For example, "How long is a football game?" and "How long will it take me to move my pile of dirt?" for understanding the distinction between effort (or ideal hours/days)and duration (total calendar hours/days). These simple mental models set the stage for ruthlessly correcting the many misunderstood atrributes of planning and its life partner estimating. Having shattered the myths of task-based Gantt Charts, PERT charts, and Work Breakdown Structures as completely repeatable prediction models for planning and estimation, Mike rebuilds the planning toolbox with practices that truly work. He buoys his practices (such as Planning Poker and frequent replanning) with the de rigueur reinforcements of appropriate metrics (e.g. how many tests did we complete in the last iteration, how many story points did we complete in our worst iteration, how are we tracking today with our estimates of what is left to do) that really guide teams in how to steadily improve their planning acumen.
Because my passion in agile software development has focused more and more on the importance of participatory decision-making in order to make planning commitments stick, I am particularly grateful that Mike sets a high collaborative bar with regard to how team's must work in order to create effective and actionable plans. Guidance on collaboration, high visibility, and continuous inspection are woven into all the practices in Mike's book, start to finish.
If I can leave you with only one piece of advice from "AE&P", take Mike's "Dozen Guidelines for Agile Estimating and Planning" (Chapter 22) and nail them to your team's door. In fact, nail them to your business partner or product manager's door. If you allowed me a second piece of advice: read through his excellent case study that follows in Chapter 23. And then, if you forgave me one final piece of advice: be prepared to start enjoying your new standard of living.