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The Great Agile Paradox: Why We Can’t Seem to Let Go of “Finalizing the Plan”

Published 3 months ago • 4 min read

The Agile Compass

by Matthias Orgler

Hello Reader,

last week we talked about why Product Owners shouldn't spend so much time writing user stories. This week we'll look at the paradox of well knowing how much waste big upfront planning is, yet still insisting on doing it.

Before we dive into why we can't let go of planning to plan the plan, here are other articles you might have missed:

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The Great Agile Paradox: Why We Can’t Seem to Let Go of “Finalizing the Plan”

Let’s face it: the term “finalizing the plan” in the agile universe is as ironic as a penguin in the Sahara. It’s not just an oxymoron; it’s a whole saga that underscores a profound misunderstanding of what agility truly embodies. Today, we’re diving deep into this paradox, armed with humor and a dash of sarcasm, to unravel why the quest for a bulletproof plan is not just futile but fundamentally against the agile grain.

The Planning Conundrum

Imagine you’re planning a road trip with the precision of a moon landing. Sounds thrilling? Hardly. This is what happens when we mistake the map for the territory. Planning, in its essence, is about charting a course, knowing full well that a fallen tree, a new road, or an unexpected detour could change everything. The value isn’t in the plan itself, but in the act of planning—exploring scenarios, anticipating pitfalls, and preparing to pivot. Locking down a “final” plan in the agile world is like trying to script a conversation. Spoiler alert: It doesn’t work.

The Real Culture of Fear

Now, onto the elephant in the room: the culture of fear and the lack of trust, but not in the way you might think. It’s not about overzealous micromanagement; it’s deeper, more insidious. It’s about the fear lurking in the hearts of those tasked with planning. These planners aren’t afraid of deviating from the plan; they’re terrified of being scapegoats if reality dares to defy their meticulously crafted script. This fear isn’t unfounded; it’s born from past scars, harsh judgments, and the all-too-familiar corporate blame game. The result? An obsession with crafting the “perfect” plan, a safety net woven with the threads of detailed tasks and iron-clad deadlines, designed not to guide, but to shield.

The Misguided Quest for Perfection

In their quest to bulletproof their plans against reality’s unpredictability, planners often end up building a fortress. Every possible scenario is mapped, every stakeholder’s input is triple-checked, and every conceivable outcome is accounted for. This isn’t planning; it’s prophesying—a futile attempt to control the uncontrollable. The irony? This exhaustive effort to avoid responsibility for “plan failure” often leads to the very rigidity and inflexibility that doom projects in the dynamic agile landscape.

Embracing the Good Enough

Here’s a radical idea: embrace the “good enough” plan. It’s not about cutting corners or lowering standards; it’s about recognizing that adaptability trumps precision. Set clear goals, yes. Establish guiding metrics, absolutely. But then, let the team navigate the waters. They’re the sailors; the plan is just the compass, not the ocean. Allow them to chart the course, adjusting to the winds and the waves. This is how you foster innovation, creativity, and, yes, real progress.

Building Trust, Not Fortresses

Fixing this culture starts with trust. It’s about creating an environment where planners feel safe to propose flexible, adaptable plans without the fear of retribution if things go awry. It’s about leadership that values adaptability and learning over rigid adherence to a plan. And for external partnerships, it’s about aligning incentives and building relationships based on mutual trust, not detailed contracts designed to apportion blame.

Conclusion

In the end, “finalizing the plan” in an agile context should be seen for what it is—a well-intentioned but misguided attempt to navigate the unpredictable. Let’s ditch the quest for the unattainable perfect plan and instead focus on fostering an environment where adaptability, trust, and clarity of goals lead the way. Remember, in agility, the beauty of the journey lies not in following a fixed path, but in discovering the route together, one pivot at a time. So, let’s keep our plans open, our goals clear, and our spirits ready for adventure. After all, that’s where the real magic happens.

Thank you for reading The Agile Compass. I'm Matthias, here to help you help those around you become agile.


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The Agile Compass

by Matthias Orgler, MSc

Agility is more than agile frameworks – it's about humans. Learn what creates high-performing teams, innovative products and thriving businesses.

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