Agile Estimating and Planning – Mike Cohn

Front CoverAgile Estimating and Planning

Mike Cohn has 20+ years in the tech sector and is a founding member of the Agile Alliance and to say he knows Agile inside-out is an understatement.

The book is structured over 7 major sections, each with a series of chapters that dig into each section in detail.

While Cohn has made the sections flow together, he still allows you to just dive in as needed if you just want to refresh yourself on one section.

The 7 major sections are:

  1. The Problem and the Goal
  2. Estimating Size
  3. Planning for Value
  4. Scheduling
  5. Tracking and Communicating
  6. Why Agile Planning Works
  7. A Case Study

Section 1 starts with what the problem is; why we plan, and why historically we’ve had such problems with it, and why Agile can help us out here. Cohn sets the scene for digging into an Agile-based solution. Each section logically follows, so we start with meat and gravy of estimating; how do we calculate the initial size and duration of the project, and critically, that these should be kept separate. Cohn then delves into how ‘Story Points’ are used to gauge size (and an introduction to Planning Poker) and how to re-estimate when needed. Next, he looks at the pros and cons of using either story points or ideal days as the measure. Although Cohn has a clear preference for story points, he still gives an uncolored view into the use of ideal days.

With a list of project features in hand, Section 2 then walks through the factors that help you identify the features that will bring the greatest value and also how to measure the potential financial benefits behind the features. The idea is to use this to help prioritize the features.

With the features identified, prioritized, and with their respective size and duration in hand, the Section 3 delves into how we schedule the work. By starting with a small, single team view we are introduced to what determines the optimum size of an iteration, and how to estimate the initial velocity. From this foundation we then move to more complicated projects, and then onto how to plan work with larger multi-team projects.

With our plan in place, the Section 4 is where we cover how we communicate this plan to the wider organization. Starting with communicating the iteration plan, and then the release plan, we work up to how we communicate progress outside the team.

The next section, 6, is just a single chapter where Cohn goes into why “Agile Planning Works.” Although it builds on Section 2 it also spends some time detailing why more traditional methods fail.

Finally, the last section, again a single chapter, is a case study that draws the previous work together with a walk-through from the initial planning and identification of features and their associated value to the project, then through the iteration and release planning followed by the communication to the managers, including a delay in the release date.

Overall, I found the book readable and useful. I can see this being one I pull down several times to dip into as the structure makes it easy to find what you’re after.

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