Are your planning and analysis activities synergistic? Is their total effect on your project greater than the sum of the two activities? When done hand in glove you’ll see how planning and analysis can help groom your backlog and enable you to continuously deliver valuable software.
Agile is about the continuous incremental delivery of valuable, market-ready software.Your agile team iteratively explores and evaluates product needs—commonly referred to as requirements—by planning and analyzing what to build, defining acceptance criteria, and then building and testing product increments. A crucial aspect of your work is planning—and planning to plan—while integrating just-enough, just-in-time analysis.
Analysis and planning are synergistic. They are coordinated efforts, and one feeds the other. Analyzing requirements deepens your understanding of product needs so that you can identify and select the most valuable ones. Planning is the allocation of those product needs into delivery cycles, given your limited capacity (people, time, money, resources). Together, planning and analysis seek to maximize business value.
The Backlog: The Basis for Planning and Analysis
The backlog is a master catalog containing a prioritized list of unfulfilled product needs at varying levels of granularity. Figure 1 shows one way of categorizing backlog items.
Typically, most of your backlog items will be product requirements in various formats: user stories, one-line titles or story descriptions, drawings or sketches, and so on. Items in a healthy agile backlog are what Roman Pichler calls DEEP: detailed appropriately, estimated, emergent, and prioritized . Note that “detailed appropriately” means that, at any given moment, some items will be highly detailed and others less so.
The backlog is dynamic. Items are added, removed, altered, reprioritized, deferred, decomposed, or prepared as needed. This ongoing planning and analysis of backlog items is known as grooming, pruning, or refining the backlog. As you do this work, you must be vigilant to ensure that the backlog items align with the product’s vision and business goals, realizing that goals may change over time as the organization, market, and competitors evolve and you get feedback from users.
Grooming maintains a runway of product needs that are ready to pull into planning for the next and future delivery cycles. The trick is to balance current and future planning. We find that teams typically work two to four iterations ahead; the further ahead you’re planning, the less detailed the requirements will be.
Whichever agile or lean framework, method, or technique you use to analyze the backlog, you may also employ artifacts, such as personas, a data model, a story map, or business rules. These artifacts, kept as lightweight as possible, can be very helpful as the team explores, designs, builds, and tests a slice of the product.
Power of Perspectives
Many technical and business people think of requirements as specifications that get defined and then “thrown over the wall” to the technical people. But on agile teams, this classic view is altered. Product needs are explored and evaluated through a partnership of technical and business people so that team members can collaboratively understand and deliver business value.
It takes a shared understanding to plan and analyze product needs, including perspectives from cross-functional disciplines. The team needs to incorporate the input of the internal and external stakeholders listed in figure 2.