July 5, 2012

Tips for the Product Owner: Planning - Part 1 - Theory

Planning is the art of predicting the future as accurately as possible by assuming that past events - which brought to a positive outcome - would h...

Long Term Planning

A good plan allows better decisions

 Planning is the art of predicting the future as accurately as possible by assuming that past events - which brought to a positive outcome - would happen again in the future if we are able to recreate the same conditions. You could argue about the past being a good reference to make prediction about the future. I like to see it in a pragmatic way: as human beings, we base almost all our decisions about the future on what we have learned in the past. So far at least, the past has proven to provide supportive information to keep us alive.

Allow adaption by deferring decisions

A good plan allows for better decision making because you can defer them later in time when you really will need to make a choice and will probably have more information to evaluate the possible consequences of your decision. Additionally, a plan provides the guidance for a the team to focus on a long term goal and in this way a plan can also provide alignment. A team needs to be enabled to optimize the flow by removing unnecessary variations (Mura), while no resource or person in the chain gets overloaded (Muri) and eliminating wasteful activities (Muda). If you fail to allow enough room for adaptation to your teams, by deciding to early in the process, you will either end up constantly re-planning, or you will most likely encourage the team to stick to the plan.

Numbers are not the target, but indicators

For this behavior to emerge, it is critical to involve the team and clarify your expectations. If you present numbers as a goal, you will get compliance to those numbers as a result instead of what you expected as an achievement. You can use numbers as indicators for a real achievement. As a PO, you actually do not plan on your own, but facilitate the team’s planning. 

Don't pretend you can predict the future

The science teaches us that the nature of complex dynamic systems doesn’t allow to predict an exact end state. The best chance you have to guess what future achievements could look like, is to have a reliable measurement of the past. Scrum helps you by providing time-boxed iterations called Sprints, as soon as you have run enough Sprints you should have accumulated enough data to be able to determine what your team is able to achieve within a given set of time. Most Scrum teams tend to remain stable to avoid unnecessary variations and keep using those data effectively, so the achievements should become sustainable.

Common Pitfalls

There are some common pitfalls: remember that as a Product Owner you are asking the Team if they can commit to achieve a Goal for the Sprint that needs to be negotiable, and you are not instead expecting the team to complete everything they selected out of the Product Backlog.. By evaluating the team based on their percentage of completion of the items chosen out of the Product Backlog every Sprint, or their velocity, you will most likely encourage a compliance behavior to your expectations that might lead to poor quality, fear of failure and very likely to a very conservative attitude.

Estimate as an evidence for a good conversation

When you ask for an estimate, it is not about adding a number to a story. The real value of an estimate is that it is an evidence for a sufficiently deep conversation about the problem you presented and the suggested solution by the team. So if the team were able to give you an estimate, they understood what you need and also agreed on how to solve the problem. This is a very important step that reduces the risk of delivering something which is not what you expected or even block the team in the middle of the Sprint, because of disagreement. 

Learning is a valuable result

Whether or not the Team completes all the chosen Backlog Items for a Sprint, there is a very valuable learning for the whole Scrum Team and you will know better next time what to do different. The Sprint Retrospective, at the end of every Sprint, is a great opportunity to do root cause analysis about the issues encountered and consolidate the learning by adapting the existing process in the attempt of improving next time.

As PO, you can appreciate how the constant improvement of the Team is enabling  you to have more reliable forecast. First you might struggle forecasting a Sprint, but after a few, you will be able to make long-term predictions that are much more accurate than you would ever have thought.

Image of fivancsich

Franz Ivancsich

blog comments powered by Disqus
Image of fivancsich

Franz Ivancsich

Latest Posts

Scrumtisch September 2019

The Berlin Scrum User Group meets on September 30th at agile42, Gruenberger Str. 54, 10245 Berlin.

Image of aballer

Alexandra Baller

agile42 Team Assistant

The Scrum Master as an organizational multi-function pocket knife

The Scrum Master is a jack of all trades with a magic problem-solving knife in his back pocket or a master of Scrum?


Image of elrich.faul

Elrich Faul

I’m passionate about helping the current and next generations to develop the skills they need to be successful in a rapidly changing world. I believe that by leveraging my expertise in engineering, psychology and management I can empower individuals and teams to reach their maximum potential. I’m inspired when given the opportunity to coach teams as well as individuals toward growth and happiness.

Campaigning for Dave

agile42 coach Dave Sharrock is running for Scrum Alliance Member Elected Director and we support his candidacy!

Image of abragad

Alessio Bragadini

Web community manager of agile42, trying to post relevant, informational, fun bits of content on the blog and social networks

Talking agility at Agile Islands conference

Pascal Papathemelis and the agile42 team will be present at the Agile Islands 2019 conference in the Åland Islands

Image of pascal

Pascal Papathemelis

Pascal has worked as an agile project manager/scrum master/facilitator of various developments in size and type for almost two decades. His focus is on people and practical approaches in order to deliver value. Currently Pascal is working at agile42 as an agile coach on a journey to help organisations and individuals grow, improve and become more efficient in a sustainable way.

Coaching at the Nordic Business Forum in Helsinki

Giuseppe De Simone will represent the Scrum Alliance at Nordic Business Forum in Helsinki, October 9-10 providing agile conversations to attendees

Image of giuseppe.desimone

Giuseppe De Simone

Giuseppe De Simone is a Certified Scrum Trainer (CST), Certified Enterprise Coach (CEC) and Certified Team Coach (CTC), passionate about helping individuals, teams and organizations become more productive by embracing Agile values, principles and practices. He is one of very few to be accredited from the Scrum Alliance as an educator of the Certified Agile Leadership and Path to CSP programs.