How to Plan the “Perfect Retrospective” - a.k.a. Ditching a Good Plan

Planning too far ahead is a waste: it is best to stay flexible and decide as late as possible to make more informed decisions

10 March 2017

“In preparing for a battle, I have found planning is indispensable, but plans are useless.”
Dwight D. Eisenhower

I love it when a plan comes together — but sometimes, you just have to let it go.

When coaching teams, you will soon find out that every team is different and even every meeting of every team is different. Just like snowflakes, no two are alike. The key is to be able to adapt your plan to the team’s needs, at every moment of time. Even the best plan is made based on the knowledge and assumptions of that current state and point in time. Things change, and there are always surprises - it is crucial to stay adaptable.

Notes, photo by congerdesign

As assuring as it is to have the plan all laid out, the number of times I actually had to ditch that “initially awesome” plan are countless. In fact, the number of times where we ended up sticking to the original plan was… guess what: ZERO! Most of the time, I actually end up adapting the plan heavily and tweaking it according to the team’s needs as we go - and those are the ones that work out best. “Responding to change over following the plan”, as in the fourth item of the Agile Manifesto.

One of the most recent cases had me redesign the initially oh-so-meticulously planned retrospective on the actual sprint change day, during lunch break, based on what I saw during the review. That “retro_version_12.0” was yet again re-adjusted DURING the retro itself - just like a custom made Italian designer suit, tailored to fit as you try it on. It was probably still not THE perfect plan, but likely the closest possible approximation.

What we can perhaps all agree on, is that there really is no such thing as "the perfect plan” - and even if it did exist, it would be impossible to preempt / predesign it. Here is the good news, though: You can get a pretty close approximation by having a good draft (call it MVP, if you want) to begin with, and adjusting it as you go. Start with a good plan, and inspect & adapt - sounds familiar, right?

Charles Darwin once said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” Obviously, those who rigidly stick to the ‘original’ plan do not have the best chances of survival. What it all boils down to: Planning too detailed & too far ahead is a waste, and there is a hard to hit sweet spot. It is best to stay flexible, keep your options open and decide as late as possible, to make more informed decisions.

Having a plan is good. Having a good plan is better. Being able to ditch that good plan and come up with a better one as you go - priceless!

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Discussion 1 Comment

Good essay. I think it summarizes human being natural behavior.
Human beings are adaptive creatures and we are designed for survival. This means, we need to make plans and adapt it according to the current situation.




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