Most of us who practice agile have good intentions: we want to solve problems for our customers and with our colleagues. We plan our work based on how long it takes us to get it done and how fast we think we can go. High-performing agile teams, over time, become great at reliably delivering what we promise, iteration after iteration.

But when do we pause to consider whether we’re building the right things—the features our stakeholders (our customers and our business) need the most? Do we ask ourselves whether we’re delivering these features when the market demands them? Do we understand how stories and defects relate to feature delivery?

If you’re running your business off a set of stories and defects alone, then you’re missing the mark. Too often team backlogs become a laundry list of disconnected work items that may make sense individually, but in aggregate don’t add up to features that your customers truly care about. If your teams are simply checking backlog items off a list rather than paying attention to delivering feature-level value, then your teams may not understand what’s really most valuable to your stakeholders, after all.

According to Harvard Business School research, 95% of a company’s employees are “unaware of, or do not understand, its strategy.” You may have a brilliant business strategy, but it’s going to be ineffective if you can’t deliver on it. And how are you expecting to deliver on your strategy if the people doing the work don’t know or understand it? Your teams—and your business—benefit when you communicate your strategy. A valuable way to do that is to plan your work together.

Seeing the Forest for the Trees

A few months ago we asked if you’ve “Got Big Room Planning?” Big room planning is a collaborative approach to software release planning, where an entire delivery group and its stakeholders—development teams, UX, architecture, portfolio managers, business leads, outside vendors, and other roles essential to getting your software, products, or systems delivered—congregates in the same room, at the same time, to get everyone on the same page.

Customers who do big room planning have found that it not only helps teams plan more accurately and efficiently—identifying and mitigating risks and dependencies while making important decisions that otherwise could take weeks or months—it sets the business context for the work, so that everyone knows which features matter most and why. Central to this planning approach is a focus on features as the increments of value to which your delivery groups—your teams of teams—plan their work. Features deliver direct value to customers, align work to initiatives, and deliver on business strategy.  

A couple new pages we introduced last year in CA Agile Central (formerly Rally), Capacity Planning and Release Tracking, are purpose-built to support big room planning. But we weren’t finished: we had one more new page to introduce, just for teams.

Enter the Team Planning Page

How teams actually prioritize and schedule the work during big room planning is what determines the work that can and will get done. That’s why teams need visibility into the prioritized set of features they will build, with stories and dependencies shown in full context of those features. Our Team Planning page does just this. To find the page, go to the Plan menu in CA Agile Central and select the Plan page, then select "Try New Version" (see the screen above.) Here’s how the Team Planning page works.

Backlog View: Build Story Backlog > Group by Feature

Team Planning Backlog VIew

In the backlog view (one of the three icon options in the upper right) you can scope to the release (a planning timebox comprising several iterations) for which you’re currently planning and see all your features, along with your stories grouped by feature. Features are rank-ordered to help you prioritize, and the grouping gives you the full work context for each feature, including where you have dependencies on other teams.

Planning View: Plan Stories into Iterations

In the planning view, working from the set of features you’re planning into a release, you can drag and drop stories into iterations (being mindful of dependencies—predecessors and successors—as well as available capacity.) In the example above, note the red warning box for Iteration 6: this quick indicator lets you know you’ve planned over your capacity.

Planning View: Plan Holistically

Also in the planning view you've got handy backlog sorting options such as viewing all unplanned or unfinished work, all defects, all test sets, etc. to help make sure that your features, releases, and iterations are optimally planned.

Planned View: Track Team Progress and Velocity

You can use the planned view to see the team’s progress over time: this is great for retros and in determining team velocity (and capacity) for future iterations and releases.

Do Agile Planning in a “Healthy Way”

Agile is all about transparency: transparency promotes trust, which leads to high-performing teams, which yields increased productivity. Conversations about progress, risks, and dependencies help you continue to make the best decisions while planning and executing your sprints. But stickies and whiteboards have their limitations, especially with distributed teams and over the course of multiple iterations.

That’s why we set out to build a page you could use during big room planning, or just to facilitate good communication with other teams and leaders on an everyday basis. The Team Planning page can help answer questions like, “What unplanned work do you have left to do?” and, “What dependencies do you have?”

By providing feature context and empowering teams to plan their work, you reinforce your ability to get everyone on the same page, create reliable release plans together, and build the right things to deliver optimum value to your stakeholders. Walk through the new capabilities with Product Owner Steve Stolt in the video below, and try out the Team Planning page today!

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