Visual planning meeting with multiple teams

As you may already know, I’m a big fan of visualization! This week I will tell you about a visual planning meeting we performed in front of a whiteboard, with multiple teams, and a lot of stickies. I will also tell you how this type of visual planning meeting differs from a regular sprint planning meeting in Scrum.

Visual planning meeting with multiple teams

””Visual

I have separated how we did in simple steps that easily can be followed. They are listed below:
0. Preparation
1. Set the timeline
2. Decide on milestones
3. Iterate to find activities
4. (Break down to tasks)
5. Find dependencies
6. Set responsibility
7. Final result

Now it’s time to dig a little deeper into each one of them.

0. Preparation

To run any successful meeting, you need to prepare. This is what you should do for a visual planning meeting:

  • Prepare material to be used – Stickies in at least three different colors and a good black pen to write with (meeting participants must be able to read the stickies from some distance).
  • Pick a good moderator for the meeting – One that can run the meeting and steer it in a productive direction (avoiding side tracks), and also know a great deal about what is planned.
  • Make sure that key stakeholders attend the meeting – If that is not possible, arrange with them to at least come by and participate in parts of the visual planning meeting.
  • Prepare some stickies – Write down activities to get the initial discussion going (x number of persons staring at one stressed guy writing >10 stickies is not a good start of a meeting).
  • Decide on a timeline – For how long time the visual plan shall span. Maybe a month or a quarter is a good timespan for your business.
  • Send out the invitation  – To all participants in good time before the meeting. Note! For practical reasons we did not invite all the team members to this visual planning meeting. Each team was represented by their two agile captains.

1. Set the timeline

Start the visual planning meeting by dividing the whiteboard into vertical sections to reflect your decided timeline. Preferably three sections for ”short”, ”medium” and ”long” time. In our example that meant ”Two weeks”, ”Two months” and ”The remaining time of the release” (which was about another 3,5 months).

2. Decide on milestones

””Visual

To be able to find activities you must have some milestones to relate them to. It could be deliveries or demonstrations as well. In this example we knew that we needed to perform demonstrations of running software at certain points on time, so we used demos as our milestones. We used red stickies to represent demos.

3. Iterate to find activities

””Visual

With the milestones placed on the whiteboard, the discussion can start to find the activities you need to reach them. Start with the prepared red stickies with activities to get the discussion going. The moderator is a key person here to get the meeting to find all the needed activities. This is done by knowledge (”if we do X, we must also do Y”) and by putting out a lot of questions to the participants to make them think (an example ”If we have done X, is that all we need to reach milestone A? Is more things needed?”). We used yellow stickies to represent activities.

 
4. (Break down to tasks)

””Visual

I’ve put this step within parentheses. It all a matter of how detailed you want the visual plan to be, and how long time your are willing to spend on the meeting. If you want to, you can break down all activities into tasks. Or you can select some key activities and break them down to tasks at the meeting (leaving the others for later). The latter is the approach that we used. We used green stickies to represent tasks.

5. Find dependencies

With all activities (and possible tasks) visible, it’s time to find out how they relate to each other. Example: ”X must be done before Y can be started, therefore we have a dependency between them”.  We used an orange whiteboard marker to represent dependencies.

6. Set responsibility

If you want to point activities to teams you can draw ”swim lanes” (one for each team you have) on the whiteboard and start to move around the activities (and redraw the dependencies). This can be bit of a hazzle, but a clever moderator thinks about this early on to group activities together an place them on the whiteboard to later fit into a team ”swim lane”. For practical reasons you may only want to decide on teams for the things you should do next, in our example the ”coming two weeks”, and leave the rest for later.

7. Final result

So now you have your final result – a visual plan covering the activities for the upcoming X months! Are you done? No, you just have started 🙂 Now you need to keep this visual plan updated and ”alive”. We do it by discussing and change it on a weekly planning meeting.

Differences between this and a sprint planning meeting

Here are the main differences between this visual planning meeting and a ”regular” sprint planning meeting in Scrum:

  • The planning spans activities targeted for multiple teams.
  • The planning covers more than one sprint.
  • Focus is on finding dependencies (and get the teams to start the discussion to handle them).
  • No estimation (other than judgements like ”This activity is not needed for the first two week, it can wait to later”).

Summary

I found this visual planning meeting very useful. You should really try it out! Invite the right people, write things down on stickies, put them up on a whiteboard, get the discussion going and you should end up with a much better understanding of what you need to do in the coming time period! It has similarities to the sprint planning meeting in Scrum, with some extra elements added.

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist

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