Agile Development:


Planning in XP

planning loops


Project Phases

  • Scoping => SOW

  • Discovery

    • Research
    • Prototyping
  • Inception

    • Story Mapping => Backlog
    • Bridge between discovery and development
  • Development

    • Release Planning
    • Short iterations
    • Regular process adjustment through Retrospectives
  • Production

    • Bugs start rolling in
  • Maintenance

    • If/when feature development slows down

This is not waterfall! These phases often overlap and recur.

Recurring Meetings

  • Standup (daily)
  • Planning Meeting (at least once per iteration, up to several a week)
  • Acceptance (can be weekly, semi-weekly, ad hoc, or any combination)
  • Demo (often coincide with Acceptance, but not always)
  • Retrospective (weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly)
  • User Testing sessions
  • Others?


  • A story:

    • provides business value (*)
    • is readable by a non-coder
    • is independent
    • is testable
    • is estimatable
    • is prioritizable
    • can be implemented within 1 iteration
  • (*) chores and spikes do not directly provide business value, but improve knowledge or reduce debt or increase simplicty

Story Types

  • Usually one story per feature, bug, spike, or chore

Story Independence

  • Stories are independent
    • Pretend that dependencies between stories do not exist
  • If a dependency does exist, you can say that Story B will cost more points if implemented before Story A
  • No dependencies makes planning much easier,
  • and helps focus attention on business value, not technical problems

Story Body Template

Story titles should be brief; story bodies should follow this pattern:

AS A ____      [role]
I WANT TO ____ [action]
SO THAT ____   [motivation]

Notes: * If you write "As a user" you're probably doing it wrong -- use a more specific role name instead * "I want to" should be an action, not just a desire

Acceptance Criteria

  • Each story should have a list of conditions by which we know when it's done
    • A story is called a story because it has a beginning, a middle, and an end
  • If well-written, Acceptance Criteria can turn into Acceptance Tests

Acceptance Criteria Template

GIVEN ____ [precondition]
WHEN ____  [action]
THEN ____  [postcondition/assertion]

Sample Story

Title: Sign Out

Body: As a user, I want to sign out of the application, so that my other family members can't use my account

Acceptance Criteria:

Given I am signed in as a normal user
When I look at the nav bar
Then I see the "Sign Out" button

Given I am signed in as a normal user
When I click on the "Sign Out" button
Then I am returned to the home page

Given I am signed in as a normal user
When I click on the "Sign Out" button
Then I cannot view the "Edit Profile" page

Given I am not signed in
When I look at the nav bar
Then I do not see the "Sign Out" button


A backlog is a list of stories

that have been written,


and prioritized

in linear order

Planning Meeting

  • A planning meeting is focused on the upcoming work
  • In a planning meeting, you
    • introduce, estimate, and prioritize new stories
    • re-prioritize, split, or delete any stories
    • (re-estimate old stories only if new information has come to light -- and never re-estimate stories that are already in progress)
    • look over upcoming stories, check if any need more research or design
  • Often combined with Acceptance (but not always)
  • Often called "Backlog Grooming"

Estimation and Prioritization

  • Estimation is a technical task, prioritization is a customer task
    • (except with chores)
    • (and sometimes bugs)

The customer gets to say how soon; the coders get to say how hard

  • Estimation and Prioritization go hand in hand
    • You shouldn’t prioritize until there’s an estimate, but you shouldn’t estimate until you know it’s near the top of the (unestimated) pile
    • Sometimes unexpectedly high or low estimates will change the priority


  • Estimate the relative effort of stories
  • Points are arbitrary but consistent
  • Choose a point scale that works for your team
    • 1-2-3 and 1-2-3-5-8 are popular
  • High estimates should make you consider splitting the story

Easy as 1-2-3

In general...

  • 1 point = 1 pair-day or less
  • 2 points = a few pair-days
  • 3 points = maybe a whole week; try to split into several stories
  • 0 points = actually a few minutes, like changing button text

A point is not a promise of time, but is an estimate of effort

Points can also be awarded for complexity or risk or mystery


  • Prioritize as "A-B-C" at first
    • high-med-low or must-have/nice-to-have/meh
  • Write detailed stories for A's first, then B's, then C's
  • Then try for linear prioritization
    • You all know exactly which story is next
    • And which stories may need more design or research

How to Prioritize?

It’s up to the customer, BUT here are some guidelines:

  • by business value (higher value first)
  • by risk (higher risk first)
  • by effort (easy wins first)
  • by simplicity (technical merit first, e.g. code quality or UI consistency or system stability)
  • by theme (a bunch of similar features together)
  • by cost (but weigh dev hours against cash expenses or profit/loss/ROI)
  • randomly!

Acceptance Meetings

  • customer is presented with stories that have become "done" since the last acceptance meeting
  • problem stories can be Rejections, or become new Bugs or Features, or be deprioritized
  • be careful not to hastily prioritize or estimate new or split stories (including bugs) —
    • put them in the Icebox or Inbox for later examination and get back to accepting the rest of the Done stories
  • Acceptance doesn’t need to include the whole team, but if the right people aren’t in the room, invite them or wait until the next meeting
    • face-to-face is always better than high-latency channels like email or Tracker

Acceptance Meetings: Coders Welcome!

  • shy or impatient coders may want to skip Acceptance meetings since they feel like project management, but it's very important to have coders in the room for...
    • explaining technical details
    • demoing features
    • watching the customer attempt to use their features
    • understanding why a story was rejected
    • understanding steps to reproduce bugs
    • splitting stories along appropriate lines
    • estimating new stories
    • maintaining continuity, esp. with coders who aren't there right now

Planning Meetings: Coders Welcome!

  • shy or impatient coders may want to skip Planning meetings
  • PMs will try to groom the backlog before a planning meeting
  • but coders are still needed during the meeting, for...
    • understanding user/customer requirements
    • explaining technical details to the customer and each other
    • thinking through technical steps and complications
    • splitting stories along appropriate lines
    • estimating new stories
    • maintaining continuity, esp. with coders who aren't there right now
    • thinking of related chores

The goal is for any coder to be able to work on any story (maybe with help from the right pair partner).


  • the more frequent they are, the shorter they can be
  • good/bad/weird is a common game, but doesn’t need to be the only one
  • see Agile Retros book for a good structure and lots of games
  • or just use the Happy/Sad/Confused Game
  • Great book: "Agile Retrospectives" by Derby and Larsen

Project Planning with Pivotal Tracker

  • BACKLOG is ORDERED by the customer
    • order by value, or risk, or learning
  • a feature story delivers VALUE to the customer
  • feature stories are ESTIMATED and TESTED by the developers
  • features are ACCEPTED by the customer
  • velocity is MEASURED by counting only the stories accepted in an iteration
  • iterations are BOUNDED by date and velocity
    • not by scope or deadlines
  • velocity is an APPROXIMATION (prediction) of work per iteration
  • dependencies between stories are IGNORED
    • but can be captured as LINKS to other stories
  • Project Planning with Pivotal Tracker (cont.)
  • ICEBOX is fluid and chaotic - unordered, unestimated, for possibilities or “cold storage”
  • an epic comprises MANY STORIES
    • feature sets or themes, not releases
  • releases are GOALS not deadlines
    • they can have a target date, but they might move past it and go red
  • labels are free text TAGS
    • can be used to layer other workflows on top
  • tasks live inside a story and do not deliver value on their own
  • stories can be SPLIT at any time as needed
  • chores and bugs are POINTLESS (unestimated) and do not deliver value
    • they pay off debt or increase knowledge


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