Many organizations forget that planning is all about the planning. You’ve probably heard the saying: “The plan is nothing, the planning is everything”. For me, that means that the process of planning itself is, to a large degree, what creates belief in and understanding of the plans. The plans will break anyhow (we’ll still do our best to create them), but the more we participate in creating them, the more we believe in them, the more we take ownership for them, and the greater is the chance that we will reach our goals.
It’s both easy and hard to do this. The easy part is what typically needs to happen. The hard part is gaining acceptance for it, and facilitating the process effectively.
Gather all the people in a room. Let someone who understands the business side of things start out by explaining what needs to be achieved. Invite everyone else to ask questions. Make it safe to do so. Use your tricks of the trade to make the interactivity happen. Silent brainstorming is one powerful technique; ask participants to silently write down their questions and comments on cards, then work through these together. If you’ve ever presented something to a large group and then asked “any questions”, only to be met by compact silence, you know why a technique like this can be very useful.
With the high-level goal presented and discussed, and with questions clearly captured on flip charts on the wall where everyone can see that their concerns have been captured, go ahead and work together on the plan.
By now, there are many techniques in the agile community to make this easier. Collaborative story writing, planning poker, silent sorting, and story mapping are all popular. I’ve just started to learn about system anatomies, which seem to be a powerful way of working together on other views of the work to be done. Whichever techniques you choose, make sure to use them in a collaborative way. Therein lies the key to success.