An agile development plan is a project management solution that prioritizes incremental iterations over a well-defined software development plan that has in-depth requirements and goals. Agile software development has grown in popularity over the years, and recent estimates suggest that most companies are utilizing agile project management in their software development projects. Agile project planning outperforms the traditional project management approach because it is more flexible and adaptable to shifting priorities.
These days, the pace of change in project planning is lightning fast. If you have a detailed upfront project plan at the beginning and follow it all the way through, the requirements usually change by the time the solution is developed and tested. As a result, you risk wasting 6-12 months (or more) on a software development plan that is no longer viable. Instead, with agile methodologies, you leverage short-term planning to discover insights that can help you improve along the way.
Unfortunately, a common misconception of agile project management is that it avoids long-term planning in favor of only planning a few weeks out. Using agile planning doesn’t mean you don’t have a future plan or a clear idea about the goals and objectives of your development project—it just means that you’re more flexible about the path you take to get there. Successful agile teams focus strongly on strategy and understand their long-term business objectives.
While agile doesn’t support highly detailed long-term plans up front, it still accounts for the future. For example, with agile planning, you outline your high-level business goals first, consider the six-month and twelve-month plan, focus on problems over solutions, abandon timelines, and leave room to adjust priorities as you work towards the established goals. Does that sound like a project management approach that fails to account for the future?
In short, when you utilize agile planning, your organization and development teams are not held hostage by an outdated software development plan. Agile planning is fast becoming the industry standard among all other project management practices because iterative development is better for building software than traditional project management methodologies.
But the question remains: How exactly can you plan for the future with agile development? It’s certainly easy to get swept up in the short-term iterations and lose sight of the main objective in agile projects, but there are ways your organization can combat this reality of agile planning.
Here’s how your organization can utilize an agile project plan without losing sight of long-term objectives:
Develop a Product Vision
Every product you develop needs a clear vision. The task of developing a product vision should be assigned to the product owner. The product vision is a broad picture of the future—it summarizes the major benefits and features the product will provide. This vision is long-term and usually spans at least a year or more into the future.
Why it’s important: the product vision defines the product users, and the overall goals and helps form your software’s elevator pitch. In addition, a compelling product vision guides the scrum team and aligns stakeholders and customers. Therefore, it’s essential for the long-term success of your product.
The agile methodology is great for software development, but your team needs a clear product vision to work off to succeed. You might think that a long-term product vision is antithetical to agile principles, but this is not true. Without a product vision, your agile team members won’t have a baseline objective to track the project’s progress or employ an iterative process from.
The ultimate success of your organization’s development project depends on communicating a clear product vision to the entire team. The agile planning process leaves room for an iterative approach, but the project team still requires a clear understanding of the ultimate goals to deliver a successful product.
Are you interested in learning more about developing an elevator pitch for your development project?
Here is how you can form an elevator pitch: Use Geoffrey Moore’s positioning statement exercise to form the elevator pitch by answering the following:
- For (target customers)
- Who must (solve a specific problem)
- Our service is a new (new service/product category)
- That provides (key breakthrough benefit vs. the current way of doing things, solves a dilemma)
- Unlike (competitor in a new category)
- We have (whole product most relevant for you)
How to Develop the Product Vision:
Now that you know how important a product vision is to an agile plan, you will be interested in how to develop a product vision that presents clear objectives but still leaves room for constant feedback and iteration.
A good product vision will answer the following questions at a high level:
- Who is the target customer?
- Which customer needs will the product address? What problems does it solve?
- Which product attributes are essential to satisfy those needs?
- How does the product compare to other existing products? What are its unique selling points?
- What are the target timeframe and budget for developing and launching the product?
With clear answers to these questions, a project manager can make a justified case for the product and decide if and how the project plan should proceed. Project execution requires a product vision. Without a departure point, the iterative planning process of agile development cannot be effectively utilized.
Create a Product Roadmap
After you define your organization’s product vision, it’s time to input it into a product roadmap. The product roadmap outlines when products are scheduled for release and includes a list of the key features and characteristics the product needs to deliver to fulfill the product vision.
Again, as the project progresses, some of these features and characteristics could shift as the team identifies better solutions or opportunities during agile processes. But, first, it is important to establish a product roadmap to get key stakeholders and team members on the same page regarding organizational objectives.
The agile method leaves room for iteration and adaptation as the development process unfolds. Most software developers know that it is difficult to build working software without making slight changes to the initial product vision. A product roadmap helps keep development teams and task owners centered even when adaptations and iterations occur.
Follow these four steps to creating a product roadmap:
- Identify your product requirements
- Arrange product features into themes
- Estimate and order the product’s features
- Determine high-level timeframes for task completion
The product backlog is the list of desired features that need to be built. The features must be prioritized in the product backlog because the success of an agile project depends on the early delivery of the highest priority features. Along the way, priorities might shift as the development team and business learns more about market trends, consumer desires, etc.
Agile planning makes room for changes to occur in the development process. A product roadmap serves as a guidepost for the organization and development team as the development process unfolds and iterations occur. It is vital to start any development project with a clear product vision and roadmap if you want it to be successful.
Once an initial feature list is identified, prioritized, and estimated, it’s time to start release planning. A release is a set of development increments released to the customer. Release plans look ahead to several iterations (agile sprints) into the future and can stretch over six to nine months. The further out the release date of a feature, the more likely it is to change.
Releases are defined by date, theme, and planned feature set. The goal is to estimate which features will be delivered by the release deadline. The most important features for product functionality will be released first, and additional features will be rolled out in subsequent releases. The feature release plan is determined by the team’s velocity (the amount of work they can complete in a sprint) and the size estimate of the work.
Once you have determined how fast your development team will be able to deploy new features, your organization can prioritize which releases will be most important and get released first and which ones can wait for later updates. Core functionality should be the focal point of early releases, and add-ons and updated features should be the focus of later releases.
Agile development accounts for the uncertainty and rapid pace of change in today’s world. If you are interested in implementing agile methodologies in your development process, the steps above will help you start planning for the future with your agile development project. As you can see, the agile development process is filled with planning throughout each stage instead of a long, detailed plan at the beginning.
Even though the long-term plan is more general and open-ended, you can still lay out the main objectives and work towards them. Throughout each iteration and release, it’s important to keep those goals and objectives in mind.
Has your company struggled when planning for the future with agile development? What have been some of the pitfalls? Have you tried incorporating a product vision, product roadmap, and release planning? You don’t have to sacrifice future planning in the name of agile development. It is possible to establish long-term goals and practice agile planning.
If you want to learn more about implementing agile methodologies and the benefits agile development can have for your business, reach out to an experienced app development partner to craft a solid agile development plan.