Experiences in Release Planning: Two Days in the Life of an Agile Newbie

Figure 2: Our initial release plan  

It seemed pretty loaded, but not impossible. We couldn't say for sure that we could do it all, but we couldn't say for sure that we couldn't, either. We took a short break and then went back into the big meeting room where everybody was in the process of placing their release plan (i.e., stories packed in iterations) on the wall in the room.

15:00 - 17:00 Draft Release Plan Review

The next part of the meeting was simultaneously boring and fascinating. Each team was given 15 minutes to describe its release plan to others. A delegate from each team went to the board and described the actual plan, not story by story, but in summary form ( thankfully!). If a team had an issue that was outside its control, or something it did not understand, the facilitator placed the item on the issues or "parking lot" list on the wall in full view of everybody (see Figure 3). This prevented each presentation from diving into problem solving, although a little of that happened anyway.  

Figure 3: Example parking lot list

My team was second, so there was a lot that I didn't know about the other plans when I presented. As I presented, people listened, and yet many folks in the room walked to their release plans and moved some stories around during my presentation. Sometimes they added them, sometimes they trashed them, and sometimes they handed them to other teams. I got the idea that they were all making adjustments based upon the plans that I was presenting. I had one issue for the list, which was that my team had no one available to document and then teach the API that we were developing for the other dependant teams. Excluding that issue, the leader asked me if we could commit to the objectives for the release, I said that we were heavily loaded but we had fit most everything we could think of, so while we couldn't say for sure we could do it, but we would surely try. ( I had some other ideas for responses, but this was the one I thought I could get by with! )

After the two hours had passed, everyone had presented their plans and some things were blindingly obvious:

  1. There was a longlist of unresolved issues on the parking lot.
  2. Some teams were way overloaded, (even more so than ours) and yet one team had almost no work to do.

Most importantly, it was obvious that, there was no way in heck that we were going to be able to deliver the release objectives on time!

There was a palpable sense of disappointment, and perhaps even a little fear, in the room. I saw many downcast and downright grumpy looks from product managers, engineering managers and some of the executives present.

17:00-18:00 The "What are We Going to do Now" Meeting

For the next hour, we reviewed the issues list as a group and discussed how to meet the objectives of the release. Some minor scope was cut. From the look on their faces, a number of people's sacred oxen apparently got gored and some resources were moved from team to team. (Fortunately, my team was largely unaffected as our scope seemed to fit in the time box, other than our documentation/training problem, which was still an issue). At the end of the hour, we still weren't there, so Jan took the helm again and said:

"Ok, this still doesn't fit. I'd like you to all go away this evening and

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