Thursday, April 5, 2007

Can you really plan for the long-term future?

I attended a "planning conference" last night as part of my involvement in Cub Scouts with my son. The purpose of this meeting according to the leader was to "knock out the schedule" through summer of 2008 and we had the next 4 hours to do so. Initially, as we focused on the next few months things went pretty well. However, things begin to break down quickly the further out we went. One of the primary reasons is that the next scouting year would begin in the Fall of 2007 and that will cause some changes with kids, parents and leaders in that process. Therefore, it was difficult to firm up dates because the people involved by that time will be different. Yet, we were told by the leader to just give it our best shot and go on. The other reason that became frustrating is that the leader wanted particular dates and times that we would have different events. It was easy for the group to determine particular months, but much harder to nail down days and almost impossible to determine times. Why? Because who knows their own schedules a year from now (much less the next month). In the end, we created our "project plan" of activities but it left everybody a little frustrated, very tired, and most everybody skeptical that the plan would reflect reality a year from now.

I don't place blame on the leader of this because she was doing what had been done before. It was my first time, and knowing the problems I have had in the past with long term software project planning I was perhaps a little more sensitive. But, I had to ask myself, was it really worth spending hours on something that was probably only good for a few months of accuracy? Sure, there are probably some events we need to reserve well in advance because others are asking for it. However, we really didn't know if we would do these events until we get closer. There were just too many unknowns in the equation and things that could happen between now and summer of 2008. Despite our best planning, we can't really predict what will happen to the day and time. Plus, we already know that the people will change and they may want to do some things differently later on.

That's the beauty with Agile. It puts a shorter "time box" on everything. Let's focus on the next few months with a greater precision in the short term, and intentionally leave the future as fuzzy as possible. When we absolutely have to make decisions, let's make them at the last responsible moment. All the time changing the plan to better reflect the current state of things. Then, when people change (or change their minds), you can change the plan with it. I don't know what I will be doing at 10 am on June 1st of 2008 but I can give you a better idea of what I will be doing in the next six weeks.

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