Some teamwork is better done in silence.
My golden rules for planning:
- I want to spend as little time as possible on the things which don’t matter.
- the goal of planning is deciding what to do, not how to do it
While a planning session can be a drawn out and tough experience with lengthy discussions, I like to keep the planning quick and full of energy and here’s one way of getting there.
Start by bringing up your work items on a white board or a table. *
Use categories: “do now”, “do later”, “never”, “I have a question before I can decide”
(Regarding the category “never“: some things are not relevant anymore and some you know will never be a high enough prio to make the cut. Just get rid of them, you’ll feel better afterwards.)
Ask participants to move items to in silence.
If some items move back and forth between the categories, put it in the question category.
After 2-3 minutes you will have a rough filtering of the items without much effort. In my experience, half of the items in our backlog are filtered away.
Put away the “do later” items. Read though the “never” to make sure nothing important gets lost.
Questions and Answers
Now you’re left with the questions and the “do now” items.
Go through the questions (here is where you need to bring your facilitator skills and keep it short. The purpose is to get the question “do now, later or never” answered. Be relentless!
So, finally, you’re at “do now”. Figure out how many things you can handle in the time frame until your next planning by using your throughput or velocity.
Now you want to fill those slots. If you have many more possible items than slots, I would try to avoid going through each item on “do now” and discuss them since you want to only discuss the things which you’re actually going to do. We don’t really know for sure which ones those are yet, but we can try to narrow it down.
Here you could use silence again to prioritize from most important to least important by asking participants to move the items in silence. You could also dot vote.
Double check that none of the things which aren’t in your slots is crucial during the time until next planning.
Why it works
A common mistake is to go through items one by one. There is always something to say about an item even if we agree. Especially if there is a technical challenge in solving it.
By using physical items and silence we enable the team to quickly show consensus on the things which they are in agreement on. We visualize what we need to discuss and what we don’t.
As a former tester, I put a lot of value in discussions regarding work items, the sooner the better. But in this case, I want us to agree upon which need we need to solve first, before we have the discussions on how it’s going to be done. I would say that’s a design discuss, or something for a Three Amigos meeting.
*if you already have a physical boards, this easy. Otherwise print out your cards and use magnets or write post its for them.