Agile PM Process Grid–2.5 Planning Activities

John Stenbeck in his book “PMI-ACP Exam Prep PLUS Desk Reference”, he creates an agile project management process grid with 87 processes divided into 5 process groups and 7 knowledge areas.

The block of processes I am covering now are those in the Planning process group and the “Value-Driven Delivery” knowledge area.   The first process is the creation of Release and Iteration Plans, and the second process is the one covered in this post, 2.5 Planning Activities.

John Stenbeck lists 5 planning activities that can be used to get teams to work together to generate new ideas.

1. Brainstorming

This is used to generate a large number of ideas which are later whittled down to a smaller set after being analyzed through a set of criteria.    The most important thing to remember is that the brainstorming activity and the filtering activity need to be done separately, because they involved two different modes of thinking, open mode vs. closed mode.

Open mode thinking is about generating ideas creatively by turning off the critical voices which say “oh, that’s no good”, or “oh, that won’t work.”

Many typical approaches to brainstorming are:

  1. Free-for-all, where participants randomly call out any idea that crosses their mind
  2. Silent idea generation, where participants write down silently their individual ideas, which are then shared with the group
  3. Round-robin, where participants call out an idea one by one in a circle (as opposed to randomly as in the free-for-all)

2. Ishikawa (fishbone) diagrams

This is used for identifying potential causes of errors or defects, or the potential source of problems.   The problem to be addressed goes at the “head” of the fishbone diagram, and the “spines” along the fish skeleton represent the primary categories of causes, and the bones along each spine represent specific potential causes or symptoms of the problem that belong to each category.

3. Force field analysis

Force field analysis was developed in the 1940s by an American social psychologist named Kurt Lewin.  But the more I read about the technique, it reminded me of a technique Ben Franklin described in his autobiography whenever it came time to make a tough decision.  He described it as follows:

.. my Way is, to divide half a Sheet of Paper by a Line into two Columns, writing over the one Pro, and over the other Con. Then during three or four Days Consideration I put down under the different Heads short Hints of the different Motives that at different Times occur to me for or against the Measure. When I have thus got them all together in one View, I endeavour to estimate their respective Weights; and where I find two, one on each side, that seem equal, I strike them both out: If I find a Reason pro equal to some two Reasons con, I strike out the three. If I judge some two Reasons con equal to some three Reasons pro, I strike out the five; and thus proceeding I find at length where the Ballance lies; and if after a Day or two of farther Consideration nothing new that is of Importance occurs on either side, I come to a Determination accordingly.

The issue or problem is listed at the top of the diagram, and then the desired state or solution to the issue or problem is listed underneath it.  Then those factors which would drive the team towards a solution are listed on one side, whereas those factors which would restrain the team from that solution are listed on the other.   Those factors which the team is able to influence, either to enhance the driving forces or reduce the inhibiting forces, are listed and plans made for the team to implement them.

4.  Prioritize with dots

When there is a backlog and a decision must be made which items need to be done first and which need to be dropped altogether, a good exercise to do is to prioritize with dots.

Each participant is given a supply of dots and instructions on how to allocate them.   For example, the procedure could be that if you give everyone 10 dots, and instructions that if they give an item 4 dots, then that item should get top priority.   3 dots means second highest priority, and so on.   Everybody goes to the list and makes his or her vote on which items have the top four levels of priority.

If clear winners emerge, then the group proceeds with processing those items that got the top votes for priority.   If there is not a clear winner, then a secondary round of voting may be needed.    But in the end, a priority will emerge that is agreed upon by the group democratically by virtue of this process.

5.  Learning Matrix

This is used in retrospective meetings to generate lessons learned.   Here a diagram with four quadrants is drawn up with each quadrant representing a different theme such as:

  • What went well
  • What to improve
  • What to find out
  • Who to thank

That is just one scheme; others are possible.   After everyone in the meeting understands the heading of each of the quadrants, the team adds ideas under each category with sticky notes until the flow of ideas slows down or the time limit for the exercise is reached.   Like the Ishikawa diagram, this is way to generate ideas that have a pre-set structure to them.

These are just some of the ideas for team meetings, but again I want to emphasize that it must be done in the spirit of the open mode of communication.   For an entertaining demonstration of what this open mode of communication requires, look up the video by John Cleese on YouTube entitled “John Cleese on Creativity”

The next post will cover the next process 2.6 decomposition.


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