Agile 101

Project Management, Digital Publishing and Agile Software Development

Posts Tagged ‘Project Planning’

The Rise and Rise of Pointless Project Planning…!

Posted by Tara Hamilton-Whitaker on October 2, 2009

It goes without saying that every project plan, business or product strategy is constructed off the back of a vast series of assumptions.

So, if assumptions are so important and usefull… then why do they get such negative press? E.g.

  • “Assumptions make an ASS [out of] U [and] ME”
  • “Assumption is the mother of all f*** ups”

The problem is people often cut corners when making assumptions… or base plans on assumptions that have no grounding in reality.  This is a big problem.

So, why do people waste their time building plans around totally unrealistic assumptions?

I can see a few reasons why:

  • To prove or illustrate a point
  • To compare a best case and/or worst case scenario with a more realistic option

And we must not forget (controversial but true)…

  • Inexperience
  • Denial
  • Laziness

One more (which seems to be really common!)…

  • Fear of conveying the ‘truth’

Now, please don’t get me wrong. I have no problem (usually!) with plans that are created with the best of intention, best of effort and turn out to be totally incorrect.  In fact, I embrace change… which is one of the reasons why I am an advocate of Agile working practices.

With that said, I do have a problem with plans being created and published that are based upon a series of assumptions that the creator believes are unrealistic.

It truly amazes me how often plans are created simply to pacify a Product Owner e.g. it will take five months, the PO wants it to take two months (without increasing investment or compromising quality)… so the plan is built to *look like* everything will be completed within two months…

What is the point!?

It will only take a matter of weeks for everyone to unveil the ‘truth’… At this point, both the person who created the plan and the Product Owner will lose credibility

One of the biggest challenges for a project manager is to deliver bad news in a positive way.  I admit that this is not always easy.

If you find yourself in the situation described above i.e. your Product Owner wants you become a magician, then consider the following before you give up or decide to fabricate a plan…

Few things are impossible… – most things have a price. The question boils down to whether or not you can afford the price (whether it be measured in monetary gain or reputation gain/loss etc…).

So, “don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions”…

1)      Familiarise yourself with the Project Management triangle – learn how to sell it

2)      Stress what can actually be achieved given the available resource/timescales – focus on the positive!

3)      Offer options e.g.

  1. for $xUSD we could reduce timescales to two months
  2. by reducing the complexity/scope of feature Y we could deliver in two months.

4)      Consult the business case – can you actually afford to deliver the proposition ‘safely’ by e.g. expanding the delivery team?

5)      Review the scope and determine what drives the ROI – you will often find that a small fraction of the scope drives the bulk of the value.

6)      Conduct a risk assessment e.g. what would happen if you were to fail – would the impact be less or more desirable than an up front increase in cost? How could you mitigate/eliminate these risks?

The key to successful project delivery is to manage expectations, prioritise initiatives and agree a delivery strategy based on realistic set of assumptions.

Collate the facts and present only these facts and options. You can argue with opinion but facts speak for themselves.

A Product Owner or anyone managing a P&L will be ultimately looking to deliver value – this might be in the form of market share, revenue, reputation etc.  They will be looking for the ‘best deal’… it’s your responsibility to help them find the ‘best deal’.

So, keep it real and take time out to ensure you can back up all of your assumptions.  If you don’t, you will no doubt end up with egg on your face.


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Posted in Project Management | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

Agile Epic Board – Epic Card Template

Posted by Tara Hamilton-Whitaker on August 20, 2009

The Agile Epic Board is a Project and Programme Management tool – that is, in it’s simplest form, a tangible release plan.

Although I use this board to track our development programme across multiple products, teams and sprints, the Epic Board can also be a very useful project management tool.  See The Epic Board – An Essential Project Management Tool.

This concept can work at multiple levels – i.e. a tool to track the delivery of multiple Epics associated with a particular Theme OR the delivery of a number of Stories associated with a particular Epic or Minimum Marketable Feature (“MMF”).  Bear in mind this tool is used to track progress across multiple sprints – sprint specific delivery is tracked using a Task Board.  (See: The Difference Between Agile Themes, Epics and User Stories)

Due to popular demand, I’ve put together a simple, generic, template that you can use to produce an Epic Card and its component parts. Here it is!

Agile Epic Card

Here’s a snippet of the template, which you can download below. Note that it is sized to allow you to stick it to a 5″x8″ index card (if you should so wish!)


This is the title of your Epic – just enough to act as a reminder of what it represents.


This elaborates upon the higher-level goal/objective to which the Epic contributes.  E.g. If the theme is to Increase Traffic, the Epic could be ‘Launch a Video Section on X site’.

Product Owner



Some Epics will be deadline-driven, others will not be.


A top-level overview of what this Epic is about – the main outputs etc.  It may include a sketch or dev notes etc.

Effort Points

This is a measure of the relative amount of effort required to deliver this Epic vs. other Epics using Story Points. You may use T-shirt sizing to establish this value. (See: Agile Estimation and the Cone of Uncertainty)

Value Points

This is a measure of the relative amount of value delivered by this Epic vs. other Epics using Value Points – You could also use the T-shirt sizing concept to establish this value. (See:  Value Points – Estimating the Relative Value of a User Story)


In a sense, the point score could be looked upon as the ‘Profit’ delivered by this Epic – it is calculated as follows: Score=Value-Effort

This score helps with prioritisation at a top-level – it is not an exact science, just a useful little tool to drive conversation.

To Do List

This list acts as a reminder of what you need to deliver in order to ‘complete’ the Epic.

We use it in numerous ways – for example:

  1. A list of User Stories (not the full story, just a reminder) required to deliver the Epic.  We then differentiate between the ‘Must-Haves’ and the Nice-to-Haves’ OR we sub-divide by MMF.
  2. A list of products/sites involved in a plugin upgrade – we need to check each off as we test/release/upgrade them.

This template produces an individual card for each item on the To-do list – these cards can then be grouped into sprints on the Epic Board – (See: Introducing the Agile Epic Board – for pictures).

We re-visit this card at the end of each sprint (at the Programme-level planning session/Sprint Review) and check off whatever was completed.

You could also generate a release-level burndown chart off the back of the card without too much trouble. I might offer an upgraded version of this template that allows you to do just that – leave me a comment below to let me know if you’d like this, then subscribe to my RSS feed to be notified when I do.

For a more detailed view (and some photographs) on how to build and use an Epic Board, check out the Agile Epic Board channel on Agile101.

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Download: Agile Epic Board - Epic Card Template

Download: Agile Epic Board - Epic Card Template



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Sprint Backlog Template with Objective-Level Burndowns

Posted by Tara Hamilton-Whitaker on August 19, 2009

A Sprint Backlog Template is used to track progress against Sprint Commitments.

This Sprint Backlog template is slightly more complex than your bog-standard template as it also allows you to track Stretch Tasks and Sprint Progress at a Category/Objective-Level.

Standard Features of a Sprint Backlog

  • List of User Stories that the Scrum Team committed to delivering at the Sprint Planning Workshop (See: Scrum Sprint Planning Meetings – Who, What, When, Where, Why)
  • List of Tasks associated with each User Story that are then estimated in hours
  • A burndown chart tracking delivery progress
  • The total number of hours remaining at the end of each day (this drives the burndown chart)

Additional Features included in this Sprint Backlog Template

  •  Assign tasks to categories e.g. a particular sprint objective, an epic, a theme, a product or product owner
  • Produce category/objective-level burndowns
  • Track Burn up on Unplanned work e.g. Stretch tasks and/or scope creep (See: Minimising the Impact of Sprint Disruptions)
  • Track cost against each category based on the Sprint cost / Percentage effort assigned to each category
  • Print a  1-page overview of the sprint that can be circulated to stakeholders

More on Scrum & Agile Templates or Scrum Backlogs

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Download the Sprint Backlog Template with Category-Leve Burndowns

Download the Sprint Backlog Template with Objective-Level Burndowns

Posted in Scrum Backlogs, Scrum Templates | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »