Three Planning Ideas to Support Your Future Decisions – Johanna Rothman, Management Consultant

Three Planning Ideas to Support Your Future Decisions - Johanna Rothman, Management Consultant

Three Planning Ideas to Support Your Future Decisions

Many organizations use deliverable-based planning, specifying the various features or products the teams expect to deliver and when. I’m a fan of short-term deliverable-based planning because it focuses everyone on the (few) deliverables. But the pandemic taught us a critical idea: while long-term deliverable-based planning can illuminate risks, we can’t guarantee we can deliver all those long-term plans.

When was the last time your business, market, or organizational context changed two or three months from the time you planned? For many organizations, a quarter—yes, 13 weeks—turns out to be long-term planning.

That’s when my clients tell me they feel uneasy about their past decisions. They committed too much too far in advance. Now, the cost of replanning feels high.

You have options. Instead of long-term deliverable-based planning, consider these ideas:

  1. Plan for the fewest possible deliverables now, for the short term.
  2. Create a list of options you can pull from—assuming you have time to finish more deliverables before it’s time to replan.
  3. Define candidate problems—not deliverables—for ease of future decision-making.

Here’s how these ideas work together.

Idea 1: Limit the Number of Deliverables to Plan Now

How large and long is your current backlog? Here are some guidelines I’ve used to limit planning:

  • Limit a team’s backlog to the number of items the team can complete in up to two weeks. Because even if the team doesn’t use iterations, two weeks might be a reasonable time to see if the backlog should change.
  • Limit a product backlog to the number of items the customers can adopt in about a month. If the customers can’t take the changes for a given product any faster, it may be time for a different project or product for that team.
  • Limit the number of projects and programs to the number of teams. When teams work on just one project or program at a time, they make the maximum progress. Multitasking slows everything.

You might be willing to give me the benefit of the doubt. But what happens to all the work you would ordinarily plan for this project or product? That’s where an options list helps.

Idea 2: Create an Options List

How do you show uncertainty in your plans now? I like the idea of the “big black line,” as in Alternatives for Agile and Lean Roadmapping: Part 3, Flow-Based Roadmapping.

Instead of committing to all the work in advance, we commit to as little as is reasonable. That’s everything above the line.

Then, if we have time before it’s time to replan, we can pull an option up from below the line.

You don’t have to rank those options far in advance, either. Since no one has those options on a backlog or in a roadmap, the team or the product leader can re-rank the options as needed. Or as the market, customer, and organizational context changes.

The options allow you to plan for the long term—without committing to those options.

Idea 3: Define Problems for Future Decisions

When I think of backlogs and product roadmaps, I think of problems we already decided to solve. However, I started this newsletter suggesting that we need more flexibility in our planning because our context might change.

When we define candidate problems instead of deliverables, we can more easily review the context against our previous plans. That makes it easier to decide which problems to solve and when. And that allows everyone to shorten all the feedback loops as you manage your planning. (See Multiple Short Feedback Loops Support Innovation for more detail.)

Support Your Future Decisions

Consider which deliverables you want to deliver now and later. Instead of pre-specifying all those deliverables, which can you make options? Then, instead of committing to long-term deliverables, can you make those long-term ideas problems to solve? The faster your business, market, or organizational context changes, the more you might want to change which deliverables to change and when. And you might want to rethink which problems to solve—and when.​

Your future self will thank you.

Learn with Johanna

The Q1 2023 writing workshop is open for registration and is half full. If you want to improve your writing next year, check out the workshop.

I have a request for you. I want to work with a client (preferably three) on creating a proper dual-track career ladder. A dual-track ladder is insufficient—we need three tracks:

  • A “technical” track focused on how well people influence and coach others about the code and the solutions inside the product.
  • A “product/process” facilitative track focused on how well people influence and coach others about how to work better. (This is the product leadership, project/program management, agile coach, etc. track.
  • A leadership track focused on how well leaders and managers create and reinforce a culture that offers them the business agility they need.

If this interests you, please reply, and we can chat.

New to the Pragmatic Manager?

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Here are links you might find helpful:

Have a terrific holiday season, and I’ll write to you in 2023.


© 2022 Johanna Rothman

Pragmatic Manager: Vol 19, #12, ISSN: 2164-1196

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