Feeds

Grappling with eels - second wriggle

Planning: (mostly) harmless

Intelligent flash storage arrays

Rottweilers like Harry are rife in IT. They're resistant to change, and you'll often hear them thundering pithy retorts like "Don't give me problems, give me solutions!" It's easy to put this attitude down to their rigid, no-nonsense nature, or even to regard them as ignorant dinosaurs from a bygone era.

But in reality, they are the product of an unforgiving business world in which deadlines matter and ROI is everything; and the attempts of a lone team leader to change the way his organisation thinks about project planning doesn't amount to a hill of beans.

Plan driven projects are so-called because they are led (up the garden path?) by the project plan - the term "plan driven" was coined by Barry Boehm to contrast with the term "agile". The plan "owns" the project and affects the behaviour of everyone involved. It's pored over incessantly by stressed PMs (project managers) who worry about how to rearrange the staff to get the facts to fit the plan; and it's rolled up and used as a baseball bat during management meetings, when Harry the Rottweiler uses the baseline as evidence that the project is slipping.

Agile projects, by contrast, are "planning driven", because their primary focus is on adjusting the plan as they go along based on the latest feedback.

(Side note: This "plan driven vs planning-driven" dichotomy is an example of the sort of wordplay that often goes on in the agile world. It's not exactly to my taste, but a lot of agilists appear to thrive on it. Another example is "model": the code is a model just like a diagram; therefore, your design model can equally well be the source code. Aaargh!)

A software project may very well be suited to a dynamic, adaptive approach to planning. But friction occurs because the project doesn't operate in a vacuum - it's fulfilling a specific need for a paying customer. For the PM and her team, the project is the universe, where the dynamics of software development are to be bowed down to; but for the customer it's simply a single piece in a bigger jigsaw puzzle. The customer doesn't care that it's difficult to predict when the software will be done, he just wants a date so that he can plan when his ROI will begin.

The business world operates on plans and deadlines. Although agile planning is an important risk-reducing development, the IT world risks alienating itself from the business world if it insists on eschewing the concept of predictive planning.

That said, agile projects could still fit into the plan driven business world if they keep to the concept of planning in broad brushstrokes, and only planning in detail for the current iteration. This may be good enough for many customers; others will demand more detail and commitment, if only because their business in turn demands it.

But the valid point that agile practitioners make is that even when a manager insists on a detailed plan being produced and adhered to at the start of the project, the plan doesn't come with any guarantees. So, know your audience. If Harry the Rottweiler insists on a rigid and almost certainly wrong plan, let him have it. But within the project, track your project velocity and keep planning adaptively, maintaining a plan that will become increasingly accurate the further into the project you get. Harry can have this copy as well if he wants, but it's up to him.

Often the value of a plan is the exploration that it encourages (for example, conducting a quick throwaway prototype to work out how long a feature will take), but the plan itself may quickly become obsolete. As Mary Poppendieck (of Poppendieck LLC) has said: "Do the planning, but throw out the plans."

Some more advice comes from Sanjiv Augustine, in his book Managing Agile Projects - in transitioning from the familiar, use release plans instead of Gantt charts.

head shot of Matt Stephens smilingThere's a multitude of books on agile planning, offering a mixture of advice. I'll provide a round-up of the advice offered in some of these books in part three of this series. ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Nexus 7 fandroids tell of salty taste after sucking on Google's Lollipop
Web giant looking into why version 5.0 of Android is crippling older slabs
Be real, Apple: In-app goodie grab games AREN'T FREE – EU
Cupertino stands down after Euro legal threats
Download alert: Nearly ALL top 100 Android, iOS paid apps hacked
Attack of the Clones? Yeah, but much, much scarier – report
SLURP! Flick your TONGUE around our LOLLIPOP – Google
Android 5 is coming – IF you're lucky enough to have the right gadget
Microsoft: Your Linux Docker containers are now OURS to command
New tool lets admins wrangle Linux apps from Windows
Bada-Bing! Mozilla flips Firefox to YAHOO! for search
Microsoft system will be the default for browser in US until 2020
prev story

Whitepapers

Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Managing SSL certificates with ease
The lack of operational efficiencies and compliance pitfalls associated with poor SSL certificate management, and how the right SSL certificate management tool can help.
Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile
Data demand and the rise of virtualization is challenging IT teams to deliver storage performance, scalability and capacity that can keep up, while maximizing efficiency.