Get Better at Planning (Without Trying to get Better at Planning)

I was triggered by a recent conversation.

If you are an Agile Coach / Scrum Master / etc you have probably been asked some variant of this question:

Can you help us get better at pointing stories?

Now, the correct answer to that question is one word, and that word is “no.”

But you’re a good Scrum Master, so you don’t stop there. You ask why. Why do you think you need to get better at pointing stories?

And the answer is always the same. Some mix of:

  • We keep having undone / carry over work at the end of each sprint (so what?)
  • We always blow through our deadlines (interesting…)
  • We’re underestimating things (duh…)

If you keep digging at those, what you will usually find is a desire for better predictability. And I promise you, no amount of extra planning or “better story points” will help with that.

Instead, you need to focus on the other side of the coin. You don’t need to get better at planning. You need to get better at delivering value. And when you do that, all of your plans will suddenly be, well, better.

The amount of time you have to focus on improvement efforts is always going to be limited. There is an opportunity cost to every decision you make. Any energy you spend on trying to get to the perfect story point estimate is energy you can no longer spend on improving the flow of value through your team.

And the truth is improving flow is something you can actually do. You can measure it, experiment, and measure it again. You can’t really do that with Story Points because Story Points are literally made up numbers that have no bearing on how long it takes to get something done.

So if you want to be busy, go ahead and try to “get better at planning.”

But, if you want to actually get better at planning, try to get better at doing.

p.s. here is a good place to start.