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


it was about time that that team stepped up to some delivery milestones. The net effect was that the Beemer team went off right then to figure out what it WOULD deliver in IR1.

By the end of this session, there were ten sets of plans in the room, all of which (including team Beemer) had the same profile as ours, i.e. heavily loaded in the first few iterations, and more lightly loaded at the back end.

It all looked sensible. We thought we were done, but Bill and Jan though differently.

13:00 - 14:00 The Issues Parking Lot

Bill and Jan turned their attention to the parking lot. Amazingly, as if by magic, many of the issues from the day before were crossed out (just like ours). And yet, some issues remained and some new ones had been added to the list. We spent most of the next hour going though the items one by one. It became clear to me that we weren't going to be able to leave this meeting until every issue on the parking lot was either:

a) Resolved by the team in that very meeting, or

b) Had an "owner" who accepted responsibility to resolve the issue outside of the meeting and beforeit could impact the release schedule.  

(I also noted with some satisfaction that a number of the issues on the list had evidently been big problems for some time and that the managers and directors present were assigned to most of these items). Any process that really tackles those issues, I thought, is a good process by me.

 The Fist of Five Commitment
Finally, and thankfully, we approached the end of the meeting. Jan told us about the "visual fist of five" commitment metaphor. Simply, each of us was to vote in full view of all the others with confidence factor in a show of fingers ranging from zero (meaning that there was no way we were going to do this plan or anything like it) to five (meaning slam dunk, it shall be so).

I was guessing we'd get five fingers across the board after all that work -- and all the visibility with all those execs in the room, who had magically reappeared just for this part! But, dang the honesty of all those engineers in the room, we didn't. When the hands went up, Jan and Bill averaged them and reported an average result of 3.8. For a moment, I was depressed and thought we'd be doing it all over again, but amazingly enough, Jan said,

"I would have hoped for higher, but this is software, after all, and we've never worked on a mobile platform. That's good enough for now and we'll check again at the first iteration milestone. If necessary, we'll adjust the plans then. But before we go, the Product Managers have asked for 30 minutes."

The Roadmap
At that point the head of product management got up. It was clear that he wasn't thrilled with the first deliverable and what that implied for the release. It seems like those people always want more, more, and more I thought to myself . But then again, I'm not sure I'd want to work anywhere where they didn't! He said that they would be moving forward with the plans we had laid out, and would be committing the first game for customer evaluation at IR1. They would not commit the second game to the customer due to my team's critical bottleneck, but they hoped they would be able to surprise the customers with more, rather

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