Planning in XP

planning loops


Project Phases

  • Scoping => SOW (Statement/Scope of Work)

  • 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

Stories vs Features

Usually a given feature has one or more stories.

There are other types of stories and tasks...

  • bug
  • spike
  • chore
  • research

Story Lifecycle

tracker story lifecycle

(this diagram is from Pivotal Tracker but the workflow applies to most Agile processes and tools)

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 logged-in user at home, 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 (non-admin) 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



☑ and prioritized

☑ in linear order

Backlog checklist

When writing stories, it is very tempting to skip one of these steps

e.g. :

  • estimating a story based on its title alone
  • prioritizing into rough clusters but not into a precise linear list
  • a customer setting an estimate or a coder setting a priority

so please try to treat the previous slide as a checklist, and push back if someone wants to skip a step, or do it out of order, or impatiently do several steps at once

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)
  • by external deadline (e.g. a conference, or a marketing season)
  • randomly! (any decision is better than indecision)

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


       v                       \   /-> new feature
in-progress -> done -> accept/reject? 
                          |        \-> new bug

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
    • 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 to each other
    • thinking through technical steps and complications with a story's implementation
    • splitting stories along technically appropriate lines
    • estimating new stories
    • maintaining continuity, esp. with coders who aren't there right now
    • thinking of related chores and external blockers

The Veil of Ignorance

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


  • the more frequent they are, the shorter they can be

  • Standard Burlington Code Academy Retro format:

  1. 5 minutes: intro and "take temperature"
  2. 10 minutes to brainstorm Happy/Sad/Confused (aka Good/Bad/Weird) topics
  3. 10 minutes to examine, cluster & vote on clustered topics
  4. 10 minutes each to discuss top two topics
  5. 5 minutes for wrapup and "appreciations"
  • Good/bad/weird is a common game, but doesn’t need to be the only one

Agile Planning Tools

  • Pivotal Tracker
  • Trello
  • Jira (if configured well!)
  • etc.

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

Project Planning with Pivotal Tracker (2)

  • 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
  • dependencies between stories are IGNORED
    • but can be captured as LINKS to other stories

Project Planning with Pivotal Tracker (3)

  • 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
  • releases are GOALS not deadlines
    • they can have a target date, but they might move past it and go red

Project Planning with Pivotal Tracker (4)

  • ICEBOX is fluid and chaotic - unordered, unestimated, for possibilities or “cold storage”
  • an EPIC comprises MANY STORIES
    • feature sets or themes, not releases
  • labels are free text TAGS
    • can be used to layer other workflows on top