Learn about agile software development project planning, and how you can implement it, in this step-by-step guide.
There’s a fine line between a complete lack of planning, and trying to “Waterfall” all over your Agile software development project plan. It’s a tough balancing act, but an important one.
On one hand, many businesses just want to take the next thing from their backlog and run with it; definition of user stories, prototypes, and designs be damned.
But on the other hand, thinking that you need to have everything well-defined before you begin a project, is not only more Waterfall than Agile, but it will lead you to making a lot of unvalidated assumptions.
Many teams struggle with breaking up software development into small increments for Agile timescales. So what can you do to make sure you’re not one of those teams?
You’ll find all the answers you need, plus actionable tips based on NaNLABS experience, right here.
In this article, you’ll find out:
So let’s get to it!
Ready to build your own custom software with a team that cares about you and your processes? We’re not code monkeys, we care about you.
Unlike traditional project planning, Agile project management approaches software development through an iterative lens.
Instead of relying on sequential project phases that don’t advance until the previous phase has been approved, Agile project management focuses on continuous releases and incorporating user feedback at every iteration.
Teams that embrace the Agile approach can increase their development speed and collaboration by limiting dependencies and building software in small increments. They also develop future-proof and elastic software faster.
For example, if a development team wants to build a new app, the Agile approach would require them to first identify and tackle the most essential functionalities, like building the main core features of the app’s Value Proposition, and then continuously iterate and incorporate user feedback.
In contrast, Waterfall projects take a linear and sequential approach of releasing the app only after months of design, development, and testing.
Development teams can adopt the Agile project management style through various frameworks, depending on the nature of the work. Let's take a look at four of the top-performing Agile software development frameworks and how they compare to each other.
Let’s start with the most commonly used and well-known Agile framework. Scrum focuses on helping teams work together to bring order to the chaos of product development.
By dividing deliverables and overall project goals into 2-4 week-long sprints, the team can stay flexible and iterate quickly. This lightweight framework helps generate value through self-organization and encourages team members to always be improving and learning.
Taking its name from the Japanese word for “card,” the Kanban framework calls for visually representing tasks on cards, which are then sorted on a digital or physical board. The cards are then moved into different categories and statuses as the project progresses.
This framework focuses on streamlining workflows and providing transparency of the project status at all times. While scrum organizes projects into sprints, Kanban is based on a continuous workflow structure.
Kanban can also be used alongside other Agile methodologies.
Originating from Toyota’s manufacturing model, this framework focuses on optimizing value, development time, and resources.
Lean software development is slightly less structured than Scrum and Kanban, and instead urges the team to release a “bare-minimum” version of their software, gather feedback, and iterate. This framework is great for teams on a tight budget.
This holistic framework is specifically designed to help implement Agile practices at large-scale companies and enterprises. Since Agile wasn’t originally meant to be scaled, SAFe was created in 2011 to be a solution to siloed teams.
At NaNLABS, we choose which Agile framework to use depending on the project. Sometimes we use more than one together. The most common combination is Kanban + Scrum.
The 5 steps of an Agile software development project plan
To create an Agile software development project plan, follow 5 steps:
Defining your vision
And daily standups
Let’s take a closer look at what each of these steps means, along with some concrete examples to help you take actionable steps towards implementing Agile.
This first step sets the direction for the other levels of planning, and it shouldn’t be brushed over or taken lightly. Your product vision will guide all the other steps of the project, and help you decide what features to prioritize, where to allocate resources, and how to pivot if any hurdles come up.
Your vision should be aspirational, but not unrealistic for your team to achieve. It should also reflect:
Your team’s unique capabilities
The project overview and purpose
Pro tip: Write your vision statement in the present tense to help readers visualize the product better. Avoid vague statements and too much technical jargon.
With a clear and actionable vision in your arsenal, you can start creating your roadmap. To help you meet the goals identified in your vision, your roadmap needs to show how you can flexibly meet your upcoming product releases and improvements.
Identify the most value-added features or milestones, and prioritize them in your software development project plan. To do this, go through your backlog to rank and prioritize the most important features or improvement opportunities.
When identifying the goals you have to tackle, ask yourself these questions:
What problems do you need to solve?
How can you improve the user experience?
What did you learn from previous sprints?
What mistakes can you improve on?
Rely on your product vision, user stories, and input from stakeholders to guide you here and help you prioritize. Take market trajectories, value propositions, and similar constraints into account and use them to express initiative and their timelines. Your roadmap should include:
The release goal
A release target date
And ranked user stories
Once you have the roadmap and vision down, it’s time for release planning.
During Agile release planning, teams focus on planning incremental releases of the product, as opposed to planning for the major release of the product as a whole. Using your roadmap and vision as a guide, break your staged releases down into smaller iterations that will be tackled in different sprints.
Start by discussing the details involved in every release, including each feature or improvement. Discuss the following questions with your team:
How much time can team members commit to?
How can your roadmap be prioritized further?
Are all stakeholders aligned on the product deliverables?
How can previous feedback be prioritized?
While the roadmap contains more high-level goals and requirements, the release plan contains the finer details of how the team can develop the product in increments. The goal is to ensure that everyone’s on the same page regarding strategy and collaboration, before actually diving into the project.
For example, many social media platforms consistently add new features and updates based on user feedback. In 2021, Twitter announced many incremental changes in their roadmap, including developing status updates, audio spaces, and “super follows.”
Pro tip: while your release plan does require some hard limits, it should also remain flexible and not overestimate the team’s ability to tackle a huge release in one go. Don’t be afraid to break the release plan if absolutely necessary.
Iteration planning is one of the most important phases as it allows you to define your increments. It helps the team and all the stakeholders involved scope out:
How much work needs to be done by the end of each sprint?
What’s the task load?
What’s a realistic scope for each sprint?
You’re also going to decide how you can measure the Agile software development metrics you’ve set for your team. Keeping track of these metrics helps you keep an eye on the team’s capacity and workflows, while still resolving issues before they impact your project.
Pro tip: Your team might benefit from capacity-based planning, where each team member commits to only the number of hours they realistically have available. 6 hours a day is the maximum average industry standard.
These standups are daily meetings with your team, where each individual can discuss the tasks they’ve completed the previous day, and what they can accomplish today.
They’re called “standups” since team members are encouraged to stay standing. Since no one has the comfort of sitting down, this format keeps things running quickly and smoothly.
A Daily standup isn’t the place to debug a problem or discuss how it was debugged. If you see that a team member’s status update is turning lengthy, ask them to put a pin in it, and dissect it after the standup is over.
Rapidly and efficiently discussing what’s been completed, what has to be done, and where team members have hit a snag, strengthens the team and helps speed up the daily work.
To avoid miscommunication and wasted efforts, schedule your daily standups at the beginning of the day, during a time slot that works for everyone, and limit them to 15 minutes.
An example of some statements Agile team members can use during their daily standup status updates.
Pro tip: You can use GeekBot to optimize standup meetings and conduct them synchronously or asynchronously on Slack or Teams.
To improve your Agile project planning, here’s a few best practices to keep in mind:
Keep the whole team engaged in planning the product and its features. One of the many good things about Agile is that teams are self-organizing, and the work isn’t assigned by one leader. This is a team effort, so when planning Agile projects, share your rationale and thought process so the rest of the team can participate as well.
Define concrete goals for each and every meeting to avoid wasting time and resources. Nothing’s worse than endless meetings where the same issues are repeated over and over again, because the team couldn’t reach any actionable next steps last time. Meetings should be time-boxed to keep all team members motivated.
Find a balance between defining project milestones and staying open to change. The nature of Agile calls for elasticity, so make sure that while you’re planning, you’re also planning to remain flexible.
We’ve covered a lot, so let’s take a look at an Agile project plan example to help you visualize everything better.
Imagine your team is going to develop a native Android app to empower retailers.
1. Your first step would be to nail down your product vision. Who is your app going to help, and with what? What sets your app apart from competitors, and ultimately, what are your business goals for the app?
2. Then, it’s time for roadmapping. Meet with your customer and other stakeholders to create a high-level list of all the features your app needs to have. Does it need social media integrations? Advanced search and filtering capabilities?
Chunk these features into groups that can be delivered in each sprint, and then prioritize that list one more time. Create your roadmap and include a release goal, release target date, and ranked user stories.
3. Plan releases and iron out the details of which features are the most important, and how you can feasibly allocate your resources to accomplish those deliverables. For example, is the new UI more crucial to develop first as opposed to social media integrations?
4. How are you iterating? With your release plan done, focus on iteration planning. Get in touch with your team about how long each sprint can realistically take, what bottlenecks might be caused, and how you can tackle them before they happen.
5. Schedule daily standups to briefly discuss each member’s status updates. Daily standups make sure everyone’s on the same page and get team members the support they need. Is your backend team experiencing some problems with app security? Are loading times too long? Having a plan in place for when you’re reviewing and analyzing your workflow allows you to continuously improve.
The Agile approach to project planning is highly iterate and urges teams to focus on continuous releases, and incorporating user feedback at every iteration.
This helps software development teams to release smaller increments of software more quickly, and limit dependencies.
But planning and definition need to be happening consistently across project execution. You can’t just go through vision definition, roadmapping, release planning, and iteration planning once before you begin your project, and just expect your team to remain Agile.
If your team needs some help with Agile project planning, NaNLABS can help! We live and breathe Agile, and we’ve accomplished fantastic results for our clients. Take a look at how we increased organic traffic by 10x for Propersum, or how we helped HyreCar migrate to a micro-service oriented architecture.
Ready to build your own custom software with a team that cares about you and your processes? We’re not code monkeys, we care about you.
The pros and cons of Agile software development are:
Agile planning is an iterative approach to project management where instead of relying on a fully mapped out and in-depth plan from the start, teams can break up the project into smaller chunks, while keeping the big picture in mind. Agile project planning allows for higher flexibility and adaptability to change.
The Agile approach is perfect for smaller-scale and dynamic projects with a high degree of complexity and tight deadlines.
The five levels of Agile planning are
Defining product vision
Traditional project management approaches, such as Waterfall, don’t allow for changes or iterations after starting. When looking at Agile software development vs. Waterfall, there are quite a few differences to pay attention to. Waterfall includes
However, the Agile methodology is highly iterative and allows for developing deliverables in small rapid cycles called sprints that include regular feedback loops. Because of the nature of the sprints, any changes and alterations are not only welcome, but can be easily adopted after the initial start.