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5 kinds of Agile bandits. Planning Bandits

January 19, 2024

Unveiling the Agile Burndown Trap: A Fresh Perspective on Sprint Planning

Agile teams often rely on burndown charts to monitor progress throughout a sprint. Initially, this approach seems logical, a straightforward way to track how tasks diminish over time. However, after years of working with various teams, I've come to realize that this method is not as effective as it appears. In essence, it forces teams into a rigid, plan-driven approach, which is paradoxical to the Agile principles of flexibility and adaptation to change.

The reality is that product development is inherently unpredictable. The Standish group’s Chaos Report data supports this, showing that a substantial portion of features developed are rarely used by customers. This suggests that the effort invested in detailed sprint planning might be misdirected. Instead, what Agile teams need is a more fluid planning approach, one that focuses on the immediate, the necessary, and the adaptable.

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When we talk about planning in Agile, it should be about having just enough to get started. Over-planning not only wastes resources but also becomes quickly outdated in the fast-paced world of software development. A burndown chart, with its linear progression from top left to bottom right, implicitly demands a complete plan from the outset. This is unrealistic and often leads to teams being stuck in a 'planning for planning's sake' rut.

What we propose instead is a shift in focus. Agile teams should concentrate on the continuous flow of value, which means planning should be minimal yet sufficient. This approach aligns with the core Agile principle of responding to change over following a plan. By planning only what is necessary to begin a sprint, and then adapting as new information and requirements emerge, teams can deliver more effectively and efficiently.

In summary, the traditional use of burndown charts in Agile sprints is a trap, one that lures teams into over-planning and rigid adherence to initial plans. The alternative, a more minimal and flexible approach, not only aligns better with Agile principles but also with the realities of software development.

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