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It's a Trap.. Why long term projections in Agile Scrum do not work

Updated on April 4, 2014

A wise lesson from Admiral Ackbar

It is one of my favorite scenes in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. As the rebel fleet is deeply engaged in all out attack of the new Death Start and things seem to be going well, the fleet leader Admiral Ackbar has a revelation that they have been deceived and have walked into a massive trap. If your organization is new to adopting Agile Scrum or have been practicing for a while but are starting to struggle you may have been lulled into a Trap. So put on your Han Solo vest and lets dive into this common pitfall.

The Admiral

You know you want to say it
You know you want to say it | Source

Almost too simple

Agile Scum can greatly simplify your estimation process. With enough time and collection of metrics you can start to play "what-if" games against your backlog and create projections against large collections of features. While this practice can have value for determining if you can reach company goals or objectives, it opens up a slippery slope to the dark side.

There is a draw to start to use these projections as absolutes to when features will be completed. The speed at which these projections can be completed can lead to management wanting to find the best possible combination to plan out the next few years. Within the blink of a eye these seemingly innocent projections can be turned into fixed objectives complete with revenue dependencies locked to their completion.

As we know in software development, the further you get from work happening today the greater the level of uncertainty that exists in the need or ability to complete it. In scrum we continually re-evaluate the next highest priority based on Value in return to decide what to deliver next. If an organization falls into "the Trap" of long term forecasting and planning based on the current backlog bad things happen. Often by the time you notice major corrections are needed to set things right.

Fear leads to anger

I am going to steal another famous Star Wars quote. Yoda is discussing the path of progression to the Dark Side. "Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering" There is a parallel progression within your organization that will happen when long term projections are abused.

Once features are places on a fixed road map with an absolute projection, it is common to become so focused on keeping them on schedule that the discussion about is there still value in building them is lost.

Once a company stops actively discussing what next feature has the highest value in return they will lose focus on the market demands of their product.

Once a company looses focus on where there is value in the market, the product will become less valuable to the end users.

Once a Customer stops seeing value in a product they will stop using it.

Once a Customers stops using it incoming revenue will be reduced.

The response to reduced revenue is to make a drastic response to correct the product.

Because development is already underway corrections and changing course will be painful and lengthy depending on how far off course the product vision has drifted

One of the main drivers of this behavior is fear. The other is lack of trust. Fear or uncertainty that there is a plan for generating new revenue. Lack if trust in the companies ability to detect and respond appropriately to the needs of the market. The most common response is to seek comfort in designing a foolproof plan to schedule and project future revenue.

The reality is that the projection of revenue does not equal cash in hand and is a false comfort. True revenue is only generated upon completion and delivery of value to the market; which then respond with payment.

The correct but unnatural response to this is to focus efforts into listening to the market and respond with solutions that solve today's needs. Buy making your offering more valuable to the market buy solving the issues they have today. If you are not someone else is, and the market may not wait for you.

How far out


How far our do you have detailed plans for your product

See results

So how far out can you plan?

Realistically 90 to 120 days. Which is about the length of time it takes to mature a feature from concept to "ready" to develop. Anything beyond that you must treat with an increasing level of skepticism and be willing to shelve or postpone it if the market changes direction. In today's tech driven society things change too fast. The pace of change and adoption consumers expect today happens faster then at any previous time in history. If you are planning in absolutes any further beyond this with anything more than line items or boxes you are wasting time and focusing on the wrong things.

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