Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Anatomy-Based Planning workshop with Erik Lundh

Erik Lundh of Compelcon held a workshop on Anatomy-Based planning. Erik was kind enough to invite me. I jumped on an early morning train from Gothenburg, just barely made it off the train at the station in Lund, and found my way to the Lund Institute of Technology where the workshop was held.

The workshop was well worth getting up early for. Anatomy-based planning offers a neat way of coordinating large projects involving several agile teams. The method is designed to get all stakeholders onboard with an overall plan before going into detailed iteration planning.

It is a very fast planning method. All stakeholders are brought together, write the desired capabilities, or "money-making features" on Post-It notes, and build a network diagram showing "in order to have Y, we must first have X" type dependencies between the features.

Anatomies are an implementation of the Blackboard Strategy pattern, an approach to collaborative problem solving. Because it is a very fast planning method, it fits with agile software development very well.

Anatomy-based planning was originally developed by Jack Järkvik at Ericsson in the 1980s. Jack was understandably annoyed with large projects that fell to pieces due to a lack of coordination between stakeholders and because features were introduced in not-so-logical order, making the systems both expensive and fragile.

One of the projects that prompted an early version of Anatomy-Based Planning was the development of a weapons system for a corvette class warship. The system often crashed when the power was turned on. If it survived the startup procedure, it crashed whenever anyone touched a trackball...

I won't go into detail about how to create anatomies (but do ask Erik). I will mention a feature that I particularly like: Anatomies have expiration dates!

In all its simplicity, this is a brilliant feature. Plans tend to go stale, and it is easy to skip updating a plan. By putting an expiration date on an anatomy, you ensure that the stakeholders must meet again to update it. At the same time, the simplicity, speed, and not to forget, the fun, of the planning process, makes this one kind of meeting people can actually look forward too. Just make sure someone brings snacks.

I am very glad I went to the workshop. I learned something new, met some great people, and had a thoroughly enjoyable day.

Erik and I keep in touch, so expect more articles on Anatomy-based planning in the near future.

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