This is a revisit of my earlier blog on the same topic.
A lot of companies struggle with developing a more agile approach to planning. They are quite comfortable with creating and following project plans. This blog explores the advantages of doing quarterly planning instead.
Every quarter, everyone from management to individual contributors gets together and discusses the next quarter’s priorities. This enables individual contributors to ask questions and suggest changes to the business plans for that quarter. This is practically unheard of in traditional planning.
In the traditional model, often using waterfall, senior management would feed deliverables to front-line management, who would in turn feed it to the individual contributors. Things like the amount of effort, risks, dependencies, ambiguity, etc would never be considered, often resulting in poor execution.
When you get everyone in the room, and you allow interactive discussions, it becomes clear to everyone what the teams can commit to that quarter.
Sometimes people get caught up in the possibilities of what can be delivered, and fail to put in a reality check, particularly in regard to dependencies. That’s why it’s important to identify and track dependencies throughout the quarter.
This tracking doesn’t need to be complex or time-consuming. For example, a physical board using post-it notes is just fine for this. But it may be better to put this in software so this is visible to more people and readily available to everyone.
Shared services will often have commitments outside the business group, often serving several business groups. They almost always have their own roadmap including such things as systems upgrades, the retirement of old equipment and software, security updates, as well as other commitments that need to be taken into account.
The best way to address this is to include them in your planning and have them determine their own commitments.
When you talk about inviting individual contributors such as developers, QA, etc., it is advisable to push back the perceived reduction in productivity.
I have also received persistent positive feedback when individual contributors participate. This feedback includes understanding what the larger business unit does, understanding what they’ll be working on, and accepting suggestions on how to change business goals to make them better.
Adding to the above, not only is everyone invited but they also have a say in the quarterly goals for the team.
This sense of ownership is powerful because it helps further cement their commitment than if they were simply being handed down orders.
Final Thoughts: Doing Prep Work in Advance to Planning Can Make or Break It
Some companies have a variety of complex regulations and are unable to plan in real time. One previous client, for example, could walk into a room, discuss some ideas from the ideation phase, and have staff iterate the idea and come up with feasible MVPs for the quarter.
Yet for another client, I had to develop a customized framework to accommodate their unique situation, making their prep work all the more important. During a planning session, if you hear a lot of “I don’t know” blockers that could prevent you from moving forward, it’s an indication that more prep work is needed.