Re-thinking Thinking and Planning

In the tutorial, Hooray We’re Agile Testers! What’s Next?, Janet Gregory apologized a couple of times for saying upfront thinking or planning. I know Janet wanted to let the audience know that she isn’t a fan of massive test plans or documents written way ahead. But her remarks got me wondering. Why in the agile community is it a taboo to recommend or admit to doing any upfront thinking or planning?

When you incrementally build production code and tests you do come to a deeper understanding about your software’s capabilities and what your stakeholders want. As a consequence, if you are thoughtful and reactive, it’s natural to adjust and adapt to feedback. But it’s also natural to do some upfront thinking [there, I went and said “upfront thinking”, not just thinking or speculation, and I was cringing ever so slightly as I wrote those words] before expending a lot of time and effort. Sometimes you need to think about and discuss what you should be doing so you don’t waste time doing the wrong things.

As someone who embraces agile values, I expect to readjust my ideas and plans as I learn more. I get it that too much upfront anything results in much wasted effort. But there’s a distinction I’d like to make between too much and enough thinking and preparation.

If you have an agile mindset, you recognize that plans have limits. You let go of any illusion that you’re in control of your destiny simply because you have a plan. You are open to change. But being responsive to change doesn’t obviate the benefits of planning. Especially if your project has to mesh together the work of several teams.

I’m tired of having to apologize for upfront thinking, effort expended in creating a project or product roadmap, defining an initial product landing zones, or exploring options. Give thinking a chance. And find the right balance.

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