Capacity management with the Agile method

planification des capacités agiles

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Let’s roll up our sleeves and tackle the thorny issue of Agile planning.

First of all, it’s a bit like making a cake: you start by trying, perhaps failing the first time, and then fine-tuning your approach. Gradually, the pastry masterpiece appears – or, in our case, the Agile planning falls into place.

The key word here is iteration: continuous improvement. Scrum Masters are not to be outdone; their planning skills sharpen from one sprint to the next. It’s a virtuous circle. Less risk of aiming too high, more real-world planning and, to top it all off, positive project results!

The Agile method is a not-so-new management philosophy. It proposes that people and companies work in very short cycles, segmented by points at the beginning and end of the project. It allows your employees to master their tools and skills, so that they can concentrate on their projects, which improves their output and their availability at the end of the day. Those very short periods when employees are the masters of their own projects are called Sprints. The Scrum is one of the most effective ways of ensuring that your employees have the tools they need to get the tasks done and it’s part of the Agile methodology.

And what about the popularity of Agile methods? We’re seeing a real surge. Look at the 15th State of Agile Report by Digital.ai : we’ve gone from 37% Agile adoption in 2020 to a whopping 86% in 2021 in the software sector. And it’s not just the development industry that’s singing the praises of Agile, oh no!

The 5th annual Agile Sherpas State of Agile Marketing Report, written in association with Adobe and IBM, reveals that 91% of marketers who are still resisting plan to adopt the Agile method in the coming year. There’s no stopping the train!

The advantages of riding the Agile steed? They’re simply palpable. Just look at what McKinsey and Co has dug up:

  • With a 93% customer satisfaction rating, Agile companies are clearly on the right track;
  • 76% of them can boast of hiring their staff like no other;
  • and no less than 93% say it boosts their operational performance.

Beware! Agile isn’t all roses either. The Agile Sherpas have done their homework and discovered that the return of some colleagues to non-agile approaches, as well as workload management and capacity planning, are major headaches for Agile teams.

  • 33% of Agile teams admit that they struggle to manage unplanned work;
  • 28% report difficulties in assessing team capacity and velocity

For this very reason, as more and more of you are getting into Agile, we’ve come up with a great guide to get you off on the right foot! We’re going to talk about capacity planning and software development, but the principles we’re going to cover apply to Agile teams of all kinds.

On your marks, get set, plan!

Are you ready to juggle Agile capacity planning?

Imagine a juggler with a handful of balls in the air. This is the essence of agile capability planning. Here, your agile team is the juggler, the balls are the various sprint tasks, and the goal is to keep this balanced dance smooth and well-managed. You may know it by another name, perhaps commitment-based or capability-based sprint planning. No need to be puzzled, it’s all about consistency in agility.

But it’s not just a matter of holding the counter and knowing how many balls are in the air. For agile teams, it’s less about how much they can do, than how much they should do. It’s a measure of their ability to honor commitments, meet deadlines and stay consistent in an atmosphere of creative chaos.

It’s more about maximizing resource commitment. We mean it’s about how you keep your agile team fully focused, making them extremely productive. Because at the end of the day, that’s what really counts – creating those product features that turn your customers into enthusiastic clients.

The role of the agile method is to help people working on projects to be able to concentrate on these projects because the planning of resources and people will have been done upstream.

It’s not just a story about how to use the tools and people at your disposal to fill the gaps in your schedule, projects where no-one is working. It’s about working out how to allocate people effectively according to their backgrounds and skills to the projects that suit them best. Allowing your employees to concentrate fully on their work is the certification of a company’s success.

Agile et la planification des capacités

Understanding the nuts and bolts of agile software development: an enlightened approach

Stop opting for frozen sequential processes, like a waterfall parade, giving the feeling that delivering a product is a never-ending wait. Change tracks and spare your thoughts towards Agile! It’s armed with carefully defined methods and timed processes that allow you to experiment with a viable product or feature at lightning speed. And as if that weren’t enough, you have to reckon with eliminating bugs, fixing shells, in a perpetual movement of improvements and cycle renewal.

What about that wonderful chaos known as the Scrum process? It’s a veritable bundle of energy, represented by a team ready to get straight to the point, working to produce a specifically defined workload (or Product Backlog) within a precise timeframe. The whole thing unfolds under the highly expressive name of Sprint.

And what happens when the sprint reaches the finish line? If the team has rigorously accomplished its tasks, then a brand-new product, sparkling feature or innovative functionality is presented, ready for testing or release.

Agile teams give their organizations the ability to keep pace. And to top it all off, they stay one step ahead in an ever-changing field, in the face of rigorous competition.

Strategy with Agile and resource planning: a seductive technological dance…

The Agile movement and its promise to adapt to the rapid transformations of the business world are surely not lost on you. In fact, it’s the key that propels companies forward, increasing their ability to do more with less. Specifically, greater added value with fewer resources leads to higher productivity and a boosted software development life cycle (SDLC). And as an apotheosis, customer satisfaction leaps like an energetic kangaroo. Don’t let the opportunity to master your business go away!

It’s not a magic story, but many enterprises have taken this method to the next level. It requires training, help to specialise and cocentrate on many hours of work. The person who undergoes intensive training will be rewarded because surveys show that these people gain in productivity, points within their companies, which greatly helps companies to grow.  Keep your person concentrate and trained and the reward after a period of training can take the form of quality certification. Sprints are used in that way and many surveys showed sprints as one of the best tasks you can add to help your enterprise.

You may have missed it, but a recent study by Digital.ai analyzed the results of a survey of 1382 software specialists spread across the globe. What did they learn from their dazzling commitment to the Agile method? Here are the winners:

  • Top of the list, at 64%, is the ability to adapt to ever-changing priorities.
  • Ex-aequo at 64%, a staggering acceleration in software delivery.
  • Hot on their heels, at 47%, was a meteoric rise in team productivity.
  • With a score of 42%, a remarkable improvement in software quality.
  • And last but not least, with 41%, an improvement in delivery predictability to anticipate like a visionary.

As capacity planning specialists, we can only exclaim, “Well, that echoes our practices!” Why? Quite simply because these results reflect the expectations of well-thought-out resource planning.

For the less familiar, what does resource planning mean? Here’s a primer to get you started. Simply put, it’s about organizing your resources to meet your business objectives.

A good capacity plan is like an algorithm that is refined over time. The concept is simple: you capitalize on your experiences by integrating them into your future orientations, and you make continuous progress, while accurately forecasting your deliveries and dealing with reversals of priorities. A fine balance! It’s worth noting that, with careful resource management, your teams are mobilized judiciously, exploited optimally and remain productive without ever flirting with overwork. This is the key to optimum quality of work, which translates into happy teams.

So, do you see the connection? Agile and capacity planning are two sides of the same coin. By blending these two approaches, we obtain a powerful transformational tool, a cocktail charged with energy: agile resource planning.

Team speed vs. team capacity: what makes the difference?

Focus on the velocity of an agile team…

In the vast world of agility, a team’s velocity refers to the amount of work it can deliver in a given timeframe. Do you have a backlog of orders? Don’t panic! Velocity helps you estimate how much of this work the team can tackle in a two-week sprint. How handy is that? But keep in mind that the interpretation of velocity can vary greatly from one team to another. So don’t compare teams! We use it strictly to assess your team’s progress. But the number of hours worked is not necessarily synonymous with productivity and quality. Concentrating on your work without a methodology will not help you.

And what about the capacity of an agile team?

The capacity of an agile team, on the other hand, tells us how much quality work a team can produce during a sprint. And it’s not just a basic multiplication of team members by hours worked per day, and by the number of days in the sprint, oh no! Then you’d have a 100% run rate – who wants to let it run out at that rate? So, capacity is that famous amount of work that team members can realistically accomplish without reaching the end of their strength. We’ll come back to this in a moment.

And the winds of change are blowing…

Velocity and capacity aren’t concrete, they can change from one sprint to the next. Capacity can depend on a number of factors, such as annual leave, vacations, other priorities… As for velocity, this can vary if the team is tackling a more or less well-known task, or if it’s working on particularly specialized user stories. That’s why planning a sprint based on capacity can be a real challenge. Not all periods are conducive to scrum periods. In the same way, scrum cannot be spread out over too long a period. No-one would be able to concentrate on a project or task intensively.

Have you ever wondered where Agile capacity planning fits into the Sprint process?

Agile capacity planning makes its grand entrance during the sprint process, not once, but twice. First it makes its presence felt during the sprint planning phase, then it kicks in during the sprint retrospective. Here’s what you need to know:

They call it “sprint planning”.

The Agile capability planning race therefore starts at the Sprint Planning Meeting. This is the comforting meeting of the team as they sit down together and determine which elements of your backlog will charm the current Sprint. What’s more, they begin to develop an achievable plan. To do this:

  • Analysis of order book items (or should I say “candidates”) to work on.
  • This involves reviewing the priority levels and estimating the time required for each.
  • Team capacity forecast for this particular Sprint (can we juggle that much or not?)
  • Agree on what they can confidently deliver.

Review and retrospective: the litmus test!

During the sprint, our Scrum team usually gathers for daily meetings to discuss progress, find solutions and be there for each other. And when the sprint ends, the team holds a review or “retrospective” to reflect… and check how far we’ve come. During the introspective retrospective, the Scrum Master has fun dissecting :

  • Have they delivered all the items in the order book that they thought they could?
  • How accurate (or inaccurate) were their assumptions?
  • If their “Velocity” has changed speed, why?

All this knowledge is crucial for the next Sprint planning session. It’s all hands on deck to ensure that the next Sprint is planned intelligently with a balanced workload and a reasonable list of commitments.

The strategic conception of capacity within Agile collectives

The efficient organization of human resources, the cornerstone of any successful business, is undeniably a tricky business, especially in the context of an Agile approach. Here’s a step-by-step approach to optimized planning:

  1. Estimate the sprint timeline. In the Agile world, a typical sprint lasts between two and four weeks. However, be careful not to confuse these time frames with a simple conversion into days. The trick here is to count only actual working days, i.e. excluding weekends, public holidays and other temporary interruptions.
  2. Aggregate the total hours per day. This will require you to look carefully at the composition of your team and the configuration of their schedules. Let’s take an example: you have three employees on a full-time working pattern and two others working on a part-time basis. Let’s assume that your typical day lasts seven hours. In sum, you then have 21 working hours for the full-time members (3 employees x 7 hours a day) and 7 hours for the part-timers (2 employees x 3.5 hours a day). This makes a total of 28 hours per day.
  3. Incorporate disruptive elements that may affect availability. It’s crucial to take into account factors that may force your collaborators to be absent during the sprint, such as the simultaneous management of another project. It’s by integrating these kinds of variables that you’ll arrive at an accurate calculation of your team’s capacity.
  4. Set a reasonable exploitation rate. Let’s face it, there’s one reality of office life: no one is able to give their full potential 100% of the time. What’s more, the amount of time an employee can really devote to his or her sprint is far from absolute, due to unavoidable interruptions such as e-mail, meetings or even bathroom breaks. An optimal resource utilization rate would therefore be around 80%. However, for members less experienced in sprint tasks, this figure could be reduced to 60 or 70%, given the extra time they may require.

Managing an Agile team is not just about imposing a fast and flexible pace, it’s also about taking the time to organize our human assets in the best possible way. That’s how we achieve successful results.

Why use agile capacity planning?

Deciphering the future: prepare for disappointment

Imagine for a moment a spaceship navigating the vastness of the universe thanks to precise data – that’s what your project looks like when it’s powered by Agile methodology. By carefully studying your past performance, it scans the distant horizon of your future, enabling you to constantly optimize your actions and weave a web of predictability for your deliveries. And what could be more reassuring than to set out on the road ahead with a reliable and precise compass?

Armed with this valuable feedback, made up of brilliant successes and lessons learned, you’ll not only be able to fine-tune your future performance – a mere formality in the next sprint – but also establish reliable forecasts for your projects. Nothing less than a declaration of autonomy for your team, who will no longer have to plunge headlong into a sea of uncertainty. By avoiding the pitfalls of unrealistic expectations and botched tasks, you can guarantee the impeccable quality of your products and avoid being caught out by schedule or budget overruns.

Nurturing a happy, committed team

The other major advantage of agile capacity planning lies in its judicious management of your team’s workload. This method is a true balancing act between maximizing productivity and minimizing the threat of burnout. In short, it allows your team to give their best without being overwhelmed by a flood of tasks. The result is a warm atmosphere of psychological security, where everyone feels respected and protected. The logical consequence: high morale and lasting commitment to your team. Morale and stress have become major issues within companies: a person who can’t concentrate on a project or task, a new employee who can’t settle in, a manager who is too controlling. All these elements do not contribute to a healthy atmosphere and impact on the scrum.

Set the pace and priorities with confidence

Who among us has never been overwhelmed by unplanned work suddenly emerging from nowhere?  Or had to calculate every time what tasks people were working on? Focusing on planning is only possible if you know how to do it, with the right tools. According to Agile Sherpa’s State of Agile Marketing Report, no less than 42% of those surveyed admit to having encountered difficulties in managing these unexpected events. Obviously, this is not a task that can be done quickly. In the best-case scenario, someone who knows the process can spend part of their time planning the tasks of several people. In the worst-case scenario, planning can represent the work of one person. In order to save time and money, it is important that the people in charge of planning undergo training to align them with the Scrum objectives. With agile capacity planning, adopt a resolutely proactive rather than reactive stance. Based on evidence, you can set clear expectations around what your team is capable of achieving. Your time is then carefully invested and evaluated, often on a day-to-day basis, giving you decisive leverage in the face of unplanned work.

Better still, by presenting management with these capacity issues backed up by tangible data, you create a genuine culture of realism and respect for everyone’s time. Not only can you perfectly prioritize the ad hoc tasks that sometimes arise, but you can also improve project results – whether the work was originally planned or not.

The ace of planning in Agile mode: Teambook, Project Resource Management software

With Teambook, capacity-based sprint preparation is easy, sweat-free and, above all, highly accurate, thanks to dedicated planning software.

Perfect in its role, Teambook software is a true Swiss Army knife of Agile resource planning. Whether your team numbers 10 or 100, whether your organization manages 10 or 100 projects, Teambook will help you.

And the icing on the cake? You can get started for free, for 14 days, with unlimited functionality. And planning with Teambook is free for up to 10 projects! Ready to go?

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