Thinking Together for Release Planning

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Thinking Together GroupI’ve been noodling on the phrase “Thinking Together”. Thinking Together is one aspect of the mindset that Product Owners need to embrace. I have been using this phrase with new Product Owners to explain why many Agile practices work. But each time I start to write about this simple idea, it gets complicated because I get into process steps and roles and responsibilities.

Yesterday, I returned to a big company with a pretty complex product portfolio where we had done quite a bit of work including starting up multiple Scrum teams. I recalled our first release planning with this group. There was a lot of uncertainty and even some anxiety about this “lightweight” approach.

They were missing their requirements and specification documentation. They were hesitant to assess the value and size of the features, concerned they might leave something out. I prepared a Release Planning agenda for them to follow. I also prepared a list of roles and responsibilities. And I had some one page cheat sheets on the activities for release planning. They needed some process rules initially to learn how to think together.

When I ran into a Product Owner from this big company months later, the changes they had made were obvious. He was facilitating release planning and was excited to walk me through it.

My friend the product owner brought me into the conference room where they were wrapping up their release planning. There were some product managers, the product owner, some tech leads, QA and even a project manager. They were taking a break chatting and smiling. There were some architectural sketches on the white board. There were four flip chart sheets with sticky notes representing epics and features. The flip chart sheets represented the work completed for the past release, the plan agreed to for the next release, and planning for the following release. They had one more sheet with parking lot items.

The product owner showed me the result of their Thinking Together. They had discussed the epics written on blue stickies and wrote all the features they might need on purple stickies and put them under the epic. Then they thought together some more and rated each feature with business value, complexity and sizing. They added some acceptance criteria and clarified assumptions as they went. They did this for several epics. Then they started adding features to the flip chart sheet representing the next several releases.

Now, they realized they would not get everything done that the product managers wanted. So they moved some lower value features to the parking lot and rearranged the features on the flip chart sheets until they agreed on a plan. By Thinking Together in planning the next couple releases, they pretty quickly learned together and gained a shared understanding of the work they would do for the next six months.

They had learned to Think Together to get the end result: a solid release plan.




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