In today’s fast-paced business world, it can be tempting to skip the planning process altogether, especially in an Agile environment where change is constant and the future is unpredictable. However, planning is still an essential part of any successful project. It provides a baseline for future discussions, allows for stakeholder input, and helps balance the portfolio of projects.
When creating a roadmap, the team should understand that change is not only possible, but necessary. Any new change should make the plan better, whether that means adding higher priority items, dropping lower ones out, making the plan more achievable or less risky, or better aligning schedules and dependencies. The original plan sets a baseline for future evaluations and discussions. Without a starting point, it’s impossible to know if a suggested change is a good one or not. Having a baseline plan makes it easier to make value comparisons and have healthy discussions.
Another use of a baseline plan is as a communication vehicle to talk about the roadmap with stakeholders. It allows stakeholders to ask their questions at the beginning and see if they can exert influence while there is still time to do so. Being able to start a conversation by recognizing the plan is only a draft invites input and changes at a time when changes are less expensive than later in the process. Using the baseline as a mechanism to have these discussions will be a lot easier than going to each stakeholder group with a blank canvas and attempting to fill it in with each one.
Part of the job of a program or portfolio manager is to create a balanced plan; a portfolio of projects that supports the organizational strategy. To see if a plan has balance, looking at the whole plan is required. Even if each project is solid on its own, it may not be true for the entire collection of projects. Creating a baseline portfolio allows for changes based on the entire plan, not just a single project.
For instance, assume that a portfolio contains ten projects. While all ten of them may anticipate good ROI, or all seem to have solid business cases behind them, it could very well be that isn’t true for the entire collection of projects. For example, while each of the projects are good, few of them have the chance to be spectacular, and none of them have the chance of truly outsized results. This may cause a program manager to make a change to the portfolio, adding in a more speculative and riskier project, and taking out one that has a higher chance of succeeding, but a lower ceiling if it does. On a one-for-one basis, this tradeoff might not make sense, but using a portfolio view, it can be wise. Remember that the goal doesn’t hinge on the outcome of one project, but instead on the collection of all of them.
Planning is still an essential part of any successful project or program, even in an Agile environment. It provides a baseline for future discussions, allows for stakeholder input, and helps balance the portfolio of projects. Skipping the planning process can lead to directionless execution or an inability to correct course mid-stream. Having a plan in place, even a flexible one, is essential for success in today’s business world.