The start of a new year always comes with new resolutions, goals, and a set of plans to grow in the future. The excitement and energy that a new start brings can rejuvenate a team. However, if you’re not careful, that same ambition can lead to failure. 

When you begin planning for the year, it looks a lot like any agile project. It typically starts with building a backlog, and you may try to accommodate every request, no matter how unreasonable. Requests may have no definition, scope, or prioritization, and there may not be any context for how they would affect the rest of the organization—after all, it’s just a wish list.

It’s here that a good agile product owner takes that wish list and outlines a vision, assigns milestones, and lists when user stories should get completed to meet objectives. But after that, the process can break down.

If you’re wondering why you met so few of last year’s objectives, all is not lost. This year, adjust your strategy and plan in a more agile manner.

Start with addressing prioritization

Failing to prioritize effectively means user stories can have an adverse effect on the organization’s scope, but also that you may not see any value out of the work you’re doing. When selecting which user stories to build, focus on those that bring the highest value for the organization first.

Commit to goals you can reasonably understand

You wouldn’t commit to paying a mortgage without knowing when payments would stop. So don’t commit to vague user stories with no definition.

Before an organization commits to goals with certain deadlines, it’s important that they make sure it’s even achievable. That means pulling in teams and subject matter experts to define what “done” means and just how long it will reasonably take for the organization to meet objectives. For a project to be successful, the definition of done is something that everyone on the team must determine, communicate, and agree to.

Build in some flexibility

Agile projects often break down because we try to apply too many rigid procedures on top of them. This is at odds with the very foundations of agile, which rely on the ability to adapt and respond to change. Committing to everything a year out and giving yourself no ability to adapt to changes ensures you either won’t reach your objectives, or by the end of the year, your objectives won’t be what you need.

Provide a clear direction to your teams but commit to accepting a bit of change as you go. Working with agility allows organizations to focus on the most valuable objectives and to recognize when it’s time to move on to something else.

Involve your teams in planning and trust them to see it through

It’s a mistake to try to plan in a bubble and then turn around and micromanage every activity to completion. By building shared goals that everyone can agree on, you can empower others to worry about the details. Don’t try to boil the ocean, and trust the people you hired to deliver on their commitments.

This is a repost of my blog on Techwell Insights.

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