Essential Scrum
Essential Scrum

Multilevel Planning in Scrum: Chapter 15

This chapter provides a high-level, top-down description of the various Scrum planning activities and how they are interrelated. The next several chapters explore portfolio planning, product planning (envisioning), release planning, and sprint planning in greater detail.

Multi-Level Planning in Scrum: An Overview

On Scrum projects, teams plan at multiple levels of detail and at multiple times throughout product development. Formally Scrum defines only sprint planning and daily planning (via the daily scrum). However, most organizations also benefit from portfolio planning, product planning, and release planning. The different levels of planning on Scrum and Agile projects are illustrated in the picture that follows.

Planning on Scrum and Agile Projects Happens at Many Different Levels

Although the highest level of agile planning is strategy planning, a discussion of strategic planning is outside the scope of the Essential Scrum book. This chapter focuses on agile approaches for portfolio, product, and release planning.

Agile Portfolio Planning

The goal of agile portfolio planning is to determine which products to work on, in what order, and for how long. Agile portfolio planning is an activity involving stakeholders and product owners and tends to focus on a horizon of a year or more. Its primary inputs are newly envisioned product ideas from product planning. The primary outputs are a portfolio backlog and a collection of in-process products. Learn much more about planning at this level in “Portfolio Planning: Chapter 16.”

You might also want to view my presentation on agile portfolio planning: Agile Portfolio Management.

Agile Product Planning (Envisioning)

Agile product planning, also called envisioning, is intended to capture the essence of a potential product and to create a rough plan for creating that product. The product owners and stakeholders who gather to plan new products tend to focus on a horizon of many months or longer. The participants consider the vision for a particular product and the evolution of the product over time. The primary outputs for envisioning are a vision, a high-level product backlog, and a product roadmap. These outputs become inputs for the higher-level portfolio planning.

  • Vision. A product vision provides a clear description of the areas in which the stakeholders, such as the users and customers, get value.
  • High-Level Product Backlog. The high-level product backlog includes broad, starting-point ideas, large features, and improvements the stakeholders envision for the new product.
  • Product Roadmap. A product roadmap communicates the incremental nature of how the product will be built and delivered over time, along with the important factors that drive each individual release.

Product Roadmaps Are Optional in Scrum

Nowadays, many organizations strive for continuous deployment, where they deploy working features into production as soon as they become available. Organizations that do this might not need a product roadmap per se. However, even these organizations can still benefit from thinking about the larger collection of features, constraints that might dictate which features should be done around the same time, and when certain features should be available.

Envisioning / Product Planning: Chapter 17” covers all of the elements of this level of planning in greater depth.

Release Planning in Scrum

In Scrum, release planning is about balancing customer value and overall quality against the constraints of scope, date, and budget for incremental deliveries. A release is typically planned for three to nine months in the future, though for some organizations a release might be even sooner. Release planning in Scrum should involve the entire Scrum team (development team, ScrumMaster, product owner) as well as stakeholders. Most Scrum development efforts do release planning after envisioning (product planning) and before the first sprint begins.

One of the primary outputs of release planning is the initial release plan, which balances how much you can develop in the release against when the release will be available. The release plan, in turn, helps to fill in the blanks in the product roadmap. Before the group can create this release plan, however, they need to create and estimate a sufficient number of product backlog items.

Once the top-level, high-priority product backlog items have been created, a simple way to visualize the release is to draw a line through the product backlog that represents a candidate set of features. The items above the line become the ones planned for the release; the items below the line are not. This line can move up or down as the team gains better insight into the product. “Release Planning: Chapter 18” goes into more detail on how to determine the position of this line.

In Scrum release planning, the group draws an initial release line through the product backlogs, which separates a product backlog into one or more releases. This line can move as the team learns more about the product. The release plan either indicates the number of sprints required to delivered a fixed scope, or more commonly, the set of features that are projected to be delivered by a fixed date.

Sprint Planning in Scrum

In Scrum, sprint planning happens at the beginning of each sprint. The entire Scrum team meets to determine the specific set of product backlog items that the team will accomplish in the next sprint. The outputs of sprint planning include a sprint goal and a sprint backlog: a description of the task-level work that has to be completed to get the product backlog items done. Sprint planning in Scrum is discussed in much greater detail in “Sprint Planning: Chapter 19.”

Daily Planning in Scrum

The most detailed level of planning occurs during the team’s daily scrum meeting. This is the activity where the team members get together, and each person takes a turn sharing yesterday’s accomplishments, today’s plans, and any obstacles. The daily scrum is where team members collectively describe, in a highly visible way, the big-picture plan for that day. The daily scrum is described in “Sprint Execution: Chapter 20.”

Multi-Level Planning in Scrum: A Summary

Planning in Scrum happens at multiple levels: portfolio, product, release, sprint, and daily. The chapters that follow discuss all of these levels in greater depth.