AoAD2 Practice: Adaptive Planning

This is an excerpt from The Art of Agile Development, Second Edition. Visit the Second Edition home page for additional excerpts and more!

This excerpt is copyright 2007, 2021 by James Shore and Shane Warden. Although you are welcome to share this link, do not distribute or republish the content without James Shore’s express written permission.

Adaptive Planning

Product Managers, Customers

We plan for success.

Imagine you’ve been freed from the shackles of predetermined plans. “Maximize our return on investment,” your boss says. “We’ve already talked about the purpose of this team. I’m counting on you to work out the details. Create your own plans and set your own release dates—just make sure we get good value.”

Now what?

Valuable Increments

Build your plans out of valuable increments.

Build your plans out of valuable increments.1 Valuable increments have three characteristics:

1In the first edition of this book, instead of “valuable increment,” I used the term “Minimum Marketable Feature” (MMF) from [Denne2004]. Valuable increments are the same idea, but I’ve changed the name because not everything that’s valuable is marketable, or a feature.

  1. Releasable. When you finish working on the increment, you can release it and reap its benefits, even if you never work on it again.

  2. Valuable. The increment benefits your organization in some way. (See the “What Do Organizations Value” sidebar.)

  3. Incremental. It doesn’t do everything. It’s one step in the right direction.

Don’t confuse “valuable increments” with “potentially shippable increments,” another common term in the Agile community. Potentially shippable increments are about a team’s technical ability to release changes. Valuable increments are about changes that actually make an appreciable difference to your business.

Continuous Deployment

Similarly, a valuable increment is “released” only when you can achieve its value. Teams using continuous deployment will deploy their software multiple times per day, but it isn’t released until a configuration switch is flipped and the increment is available to its intended audience.

Valuable increments generally fall into these categories:

  • Direct Value. You build something, change something, or fix something that has value. It’s “released” when your organization can reap the benefit. For example, if you think you can improve customer retention by adding a new report, you’ve released the report when real customers can run it.

  • Learning Value. You conduct an experiment that gives you insight into how to increase value. It’s “released” when the experiment is ready to run, including decisions about how to interpret the results. For example, if you think you can increase customer sign-ups by changing your sign-up flow, but you’re not sure which flow is best, you might create an A/B test.2 The experiment has been released when the A/B test is active, the point at which the data will be evaluated has been decided, and the criteria for keeping or discarding the new flow has been determined.

  • Option Value. You create the ability to postpone or change a decision, so that you can take advantage of a valuable opportunity in the future. It’s “released” when you can safely postpone or change the decision. For example, if you think a vendor is trying to create lock-in so they can raise their prices, you might modify your software to also support a second vendor. The option has been released when you can switch between vendors at will.

2A/B testing is when you show different things to different groups of people and evaluate which one had the best results.

Learning and option increments require people to be comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity, so they tend to be used by Optimizing teams. But any team can use them.

Visual Planning
Incremental Requirements

You’ll track your increments with stories in your visual plan. For example, the previous examples might be written as “TPS Report,” “sign-up flow A/B test,” and “authentication vendor independence.” If you want to keep more detailed notes, you can, but for most product managers I meet, a short phrase is enough of a reminder. You need to be able to articulate three things:

  1. Why the increment is valuable

  2. How the value relates to the team’s purpose

  3. What “released” looks like, at a high level

The details are decided later, as I’ll discuss in the “How to Create Your Plan” section. continue reading, buy the book!

In this Section

  1. Adaptive Planning
    1. Valuable Increments
    2. Focus on One Increment at a Time
    3. Slice Your Increments
      1. Key Idea: Minimize Work in Progress
    4. Release Early, Release Often
      1. Cargo Cult: The Cattle Car
    5. Your First Increment
      1. Sidebar: An Example Increment
    6. Adapt Your Plans
      1. Key Idea: The Last Responsible Moment
    7. How to Create Your Plan
      1. Sidebar: An Example Plan
    8. Balancing Adaptability and Predictability
      1. Sidebar: Adaptive Planning in Action
    9. Adaptive Planning and Organizational Culture
    10. Questions
    11. Prerequisites
    12. Indicators
    13. Alternatives and Experiments
    14. Further Reading

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