Ever since reading The Art of Agile Planning (2nd Edition), I’ve wanted to put everything I could from that book into practice during my work as a software developer and to help manage various aspects of my technology organization. With a recent project, I’ve had the opportunity to explore some of the visual planning ideas outlined in the book, focusing on how it works best for teams in a remote-first environment.

After learning a little about how to do this effectively, I wanted to share my knowledge in a series of blog posts covering developing great software plans, from high-level ideas to individual task planning for the coming week. This first post will cover the tools used and the concept of ‘planning horizons,’ which is the framework within which you can structure your agile team plans.

The Right Tools for the Job

There’s a whole massive chapter in the book about teamwork, covering everything from staffing to safety to purpose, but one thing I wanted to zero in on was this list of required tools for successful remote teams:

  • Videoconferencing software, such as Zoom, for real-time conversation
  • Messaging software, such as Slack, for asynchronous conversation
  • Virtual whiteboard software, such as Miro or Mural, for freeform, simultaneous collaboration
  • Collaborative versions of task-specific tools, where possible, such as Figma for UX and UI design
  • A document store, such as DropBox, Google Drive, or a wiki
  • Inexpensive tablets for collaborative whiteboard sketches
  • An additional monitor or tablet for videoconferencing so people can see one another and work at the same time

Cheekily, as he does in many places throughout the book, right after that list, James Shore suggests:

As with an in-person workspace, do not purchase Agile Lifecycle Management software or other tracking software.

We’ve been using most of those at my work since well before everyone went remote, but one thing I have yet to see much of is a Virtual Whiteboard. There is a lot of untapped potential in that area, both for more collaborative planning and for having something that feels like a shared space for a team, which has been quite challenging to replicate in the remote world. I’ve been using Miro a fair bit and find it incredibly intuitive and flexible as a virtual whiteboard, so I’ll demonstrate how you can go about using it (or something similar) for all your virtual planning needs.

Planning Horizons

James Shore suggests you build your plan from ‘Valuable Increments.’ That is, pieces of work that are:

  • Releasable. When you finish working on the increment, you can release it and reap its benefits, even if you never work on it again.
  • Valuable. The increment benefits your organization in some way.
  • Incremental. It doesn’t do everything. It’s one step in the right direction.

These increments form the backbone of ‘The Planning Horizons.’

Planning Horizons

The planning horizons are a series of time windows illustrating what level of detail your planning should take, depending on how far out you look. There is no right size for these windows, but we’ll look at what is suggested as a starting point in the book. These windows are:

  • Purpose: This is expected to be unchanging for the sake of the planning horizons. The book also has excellent material on chartering a team’s purpose and mission, though we won’t go into that here.

  • Possible Valuable Increments: Enough high-level possibilities that fill the most extended planning window. Six months of work.

  • Smallest Valuable Increments: A more refined list, with possibilities broken down into their smallest conceivable valuable increments. Three months of work.

  • “Just Right” Stories: Stories that have been sized so the team can deliver 4-10 per week. One month of work.

  • Tasks, Detailed Requirements: Tasks are a few hours of work each, obtained from breaking down the highest priority stories. One week of work.

Next: Generating the Possible Increments

Please continue onto the next post in this series, where we’ll explore how to generate that initial set of possible valuable increments.