After seeing Mike Cohn’s presentation on Agile Estimation and Planning, I got very excited about a technique he described as lookahead planning. A lookahead plan is simply a quick look at the next couple sprints to determine what stories are coming up, typically done at the end of a sprint planning meeting.
All you do is after the team is committed to the sprint, just take 15-20 minutes with the team to move stories from the backlog into two quadrants (butcher paper or whiteboard squares) labelled sprint n+1, sprint n+2. Indicate the velocity your team has committed to (I will used the velocity we committed on as a team in the last sprint) in each quadrant. Then, just have your product owner and team move them into the sprint until the points from the story fill up your sprint velocity buckets. Bang, you’re done.
We just tried this after our normal sprint planning, and it worked pretty well. We noticed immediately that there were a few stories that were irrelevant, and a couple missing stories that we needed to get estimates on, one story that needed more acceptance tests filled out for it and one that needed a followup on a third party vendor. This kind of work we used to wait until a few days before the sprint to do, and made our sprint planning meetings take much longer than necessary. I suspect that doing it 30 minutes at the end of a sprint planning meeting will more than pay for itself by having a more tightly run sprint planning meeting next sprint, with all the lookahead work we’ve done. I’ll keep you posted.
The best part of this, is that for the longest time, I could not figure out how to keep my release plan up to date. It would look great after maybe one sprint, but after a few would become staler than tube socks in a high school locker room. With lookahead planning, it just take a few minutes to update the most important sprints (the next two or three) from the product backlog.