If you discuss vacation travel plans with friends or coworkers, you’ll likely notice that the definition of a good vacation varies widely. Some people prefer a trip with a tour guide, a set itinerary, and clearly defined sight-seeing activities. Others like to throw everything in a backpack and head out on a flexible adventure. They have a destination, and the supplies and equipment to make it there. But they don’t plan every trail they’ll take, or every stop they’ll make along the way.
Why bring up vacations in a project management blog? To say that Agile project teams remind us of this second group: the adventurous backpackers. Agile teams don’t plan their project journey details up front. Instead, they sketch out a flexible and simple project plan and fill in the rest as they go. As a team, they have the tools and skills to finish the project. They’ll respond to changing conditions and find creative solutions as they work on the project.
If you’re on this Agile project planning track, a virtual whiteboard is the perfect tool to bring on your journey. With the Whiteboards app, you get project planning templates to help you plan and manage all of your business needs. Use the Project Plan template to get your bearings at the beginning of a big project. Plan the details of your next sprint using the Product Backlog Refinement template. Confirm your work route each morning with the Daily Standup template. In all, there are over 100 project management templates covering everything from risk analysis to retros.
To make project planning even easier, every Whiteboards template integrates deeply with Jira, allowing users to manage Jira projects right on their digital whiteboard. Convert Whiteboards sticky notes to Jira issues or import issues from Jira with a couple of clicks. Update any issue in Jira or Whiteboards and the changes sync instantly.
Sign up for a free Whiteboards Pro trial today to begin planning your next project. Keep reading to learn more about Agile project planning and get project plan templates, guides, and examples to help you chart your course.
What is Agile project planning?
Agile project management differs from traditional project management in significant ways. Traditional project planning, or the “waterfall” approach, relies on a top-down management plan and linear product development. Research, planning, development, quality assurance, and product release happen in one long sequence. A large-scale, finished product is launched after months or years of work.
By contrast, Agile teams embrace an iterative approach to project management. Research and planning happen up front, but also continue throughout the development process. A market-ready application is launched, with subsequent small releases each adding tangible value. Clients or end users provide frequent feedback throughout this process. Their input is used to refine the existing product and build new features.
To illustrate the contrast, let’s consider a business sector that uses traditional project planning: home construction. This chart contrasts Agile planning and traditional planning using real-world project plan examples:
|Building a software application||Building a housing development|
|The project team establishes a broad work plan at the project outset. Smaller work items are planned in more detail as the project progresses. Project planning is an ongoing process throughout the development of the product.||Architects and engineers create a detailed blueprint before the project starts.|
|Project success depends on the ability to adapt the original plan quickly and continuously.||Project success hinges on all parties following the original blueprint closely, from start to finish.|
|A limited application is launched that has immediate value to end users. Then additional features roll out continuously to add value and build sales.||The products (houses) aren’t transferred to the end users (home buyers) until the work is completely finished, down to the installation of window trim and lighting fixtures.|
|Agile project plans include soliciting stakeholder feedback on an ongoing basis. This feedback continues to shape the product as it is developed.||Market research is completed before the plans are drawn up.|
|The same business often plans, develops, maintains, and improves the product.||The construction business receives the plan, builds the home, and their work is done.|
|The team collaborates cross-functionally to shape the product throughout planning, development, marketing, and maintenance. Project success relies on cross-pollination of ideas among departments, teams, and external stakeholders.||The construction manager coordinates electricians, plumbers, roofers, and other contractors to come in at different stages of the project. Project success requires each team to follow a top down plan and work strictly in their lane.|
Traditional project management is appropriate for a home construction business. This business would not benefit from receiving customer feedback halfway through building a house. A detailed plan is essential up front, since changes cannot be made at a late stage without considerable cost.
Constructing software, of course, is very different from constructing houses.
What are the benefits of Agile project planning?
The traditional approach to project planning does not accommodate the fast-paced, incremental work of industries like software development. An Agile project plan serves the iterative nature of technological businesses much better. Here are some key aspects of Agile project planning and how they can benefit a software or app development business:
- Collaborative planning creates a more resilient project plan. Agile teams work cross-functionally to gather and integrate many perspectives throughout the planning process. This breaks apart siloed thinking, inspiring creative approaches and innovative solutions.
- Iterative planning means faster product delivery. Agile projects are split into short work increments with a focus on providing frequent, tangible value to the customer. End users stay engaged and appreciate the consistent, visible improvement of the product.
- Responsive planning results in quicker resolution of problems. Agile teams adjust their priorities daily to fix bugs and respond to other rising issues. Troubleshooting happens on a timeline of days or hours, not weeks or months.
- User-centered planning produces products customers want. Agile teams frame features as user stories to see the product from the customer’s point of view. They use continuous feedback loops to integrate user input, tailoring the product to evolving customer preferences.
- Adaptable planning mitigates risk up front. Agile teams start with a simple project plan focused on current end user requirements. They expect these needs to change and are prepared to respond quickly to such shifts. This flexibility prevents the team from wasting resources on a long-term plan that’s outdated before it’s even finished.
Of course, Agile planning isn’t a magic bullet. It needs to be done well to reap these benefits. To brush up on Agile management principles, see our beginner’s guide: How To Go Agile the Right Way and Avoid Costly Mistakes. Keep reading to learn more about the specifics of a solid Agile project management plan.
Who creates an Agile project plan?
In contrast to traditional project planning, a broad group of stakeholders contributes to an Agile project plan. Many teams self-manage and plan collaboratively. If there is a project manager, they do not simply dictate a project plan for the team to follow. The project manager works closely with the project team to create a plan together. The team reconvenes frequently to review and refine the project plan.
Agile project teams are cross-functional, meaning the developers do not just work inside their departmental silo to create the software. An Agile project team might include designers, marketing team members, and other internal and external stakeholders.
Before beginning a project, decide who will participate in project planning and management. Our guide Stakeholder Analysis for Project Planning can help walk you through this important planning step. Use the Stakeholders Analysis template to plan how you’ll incorporate relevant stakeholders into the project. Identify who will form the core project team, who will play support roles, and who will contribute periodic feedback. Establish a communication schedule to keep everyone looped in.
Remember that Agile principles prioritize “individuals and interactions over processes and tools.” Assembling a well-rounded project team and clarifying team member roles is key to project success. Not everyone will invest the same amount of work, but each contributor plays an important role in a good project plan.
How do I create an Agile project plan?
Cover your bases with our comprehensive project planning checklist.
There is no official set of steps to Agile project planning, but the following list can help you account for the basics. Keep in mind that these project plan steps may not always be strictly sequential. Adapt them to fit your business size and project management structure. Follow the links to templates and guides that can support you through the more complex parts of the process:
- State your project goal clearly. However you frame your project goal, keep it short, simple, and tangible. One good option is to describe your project in the general form of a user story: “As a customer, I want an app that identifies a plant or tree when I take a picture of it with my phone, then gives me fun and relevant information about that type of plant or tree.” You’ve stated what the customer wants — your project goal is to deliver that!
- Establish your project scope. You want your project plan to be adaptable but not ever-expanding. List what features your product will include. Clarify your plan further by naming what it won’t include. Anticipate likely avenues of scope creep and head them off early. Manage expectations by ensuring the team and client are on the same page from the outset.
- Carefully consider the competition. How will your finished project fit into the competitive landscape? Will it provide unique value to the market? Have you compared your project plan feature by feature to successful competitors? Our guide Staying Ahead of the Curve shows how you can answer these questions systematically using the Competitive Analysis template.
- Account for all stakeholders. What teams, departments, and individuals should be involved in the project? What external stakeholders will contribute or be impacted by it? Do a thorough stakeholder analysis to plan how you will include and communicate with everyone involved, as discussed in the previous section.
- Estimate total project time and cost. If you’ve done comparable projects, use that data to help estimate the project’s required labor. Collaborative “magic” estimation can also go a long way toward making reliable predictions. If you are working for a client, estimate project time conservatively so you don’t oversell and disappoint. Focus the discussion on how you will deliver continuous value every few weeks (or more often).
- Assess and mitigate risk. Do a risk assessment early in your project planning. Risk analysis is especially important if the project type or scope differs substantially from previous projects your team has done. Perform a structured risk assessment following our guide to identifying and managing business risk.
- Describe and prioritize project features. Don’t get into all the details right away. Do divide the project broadly into its proposed features, written as user stories. Use the Value Effort Matrix template to establish which features are essential, which can be added later, and which should be eliminated altogether. Add this prioritized list of user stories to the project backlog. To monitor large-scale product development, your product team can use our Guide to Creating Strategic and Flexible Product Roadmaps. A long-term product roadmap helps guide individual project teams as they prioritize releases and plan release schedules.
- Map your timeline on a project planning template. Study your prioritized features from the previous step. Use them to create one high-level project overview to frame your ongoing planning work. We use the Project Plan template to walk you through this process in the project plan example below.
- Create detailed plans closer to execution. Don’t waste time with task details at the project outset, only to have to adjust them later. If your team works in sprints, save task planning for sprint planning events. If you use a continuous workflow model like Kanban, hold regular backlog refinement sessions. We examine sprint planning and backlog refinement more below.
- Build feedback loops into your plan. Plan to test each new feature, solicit feedback from appropriate stakeholders, and review this information to update the project plan. Hold regular retrospectives to gather team input and continue to reassess priorities as you move forward.
How do I use the Project Plan template?
Follow this step-by-step project planning template example.
Project planning is a complex process that can be difficult to visualize abstractly. Let’s track a hypothetical software development business as they create a project plan.
In this project plan example, the business is planning a large-scale project. They will develop an app that guides users through yoga practices. Video of poses and audio instructions will simulate an in-person yoga class. The app will create a unique blend of poses each time the user starts a new session.
Our example project team has completed the assessments listed on the checklist in the section above. Now they’re ready to sketch out a visual project timeline. The team includes a project manager, designers, developers, and a marketing team representative. It also has outside subject matter experts to manage the yoga-specific content creation. Their job is to produce videos of hundreds of yoga poses, and audio for the accompanying voice instructions. These external stakeholders will coordinate their work closely with the design and development teams.
The project team starts their planning meeting by adding the Project Plan template to their virtual whiteboard. They copy-paste columns to add additional months, then enter month names. They expand and label their swimlanes to represent broad project phases. These phases include content creation, app design, back-end development, app launch prep, and additional features development. The different phases will overlap considerably, as will the teams involved in each phase.
The team answers these questions to establish the basics and plot their timeline:
1. What is the project goal?
The project manager creates a text box above the template and adds the project goal there, to keep it front and center. The team’s goal is to provide the solution to a broad user story: “As a customer, I want an app so I can take a customized yoga class at home at any time.”
2. What is the project scope?
The team confirms what they will do and what they will not do during this project. They will create an app that uses video to demonstrate yoga poses for the user. They will coordinate this with audio instructions. Algorithms will change up the series of poses for each practice. Users can customize each session by selecting options from various menus.
The team refines its scope by listing what the product will not include. For instance, the app will not offer live instruction sessions. All video and audio will be pre-recorded so the app is self-contained and requires no outside coordination.
3. What are the main product features?
Market research has shown our example team app features are important to the target customer and lead to the most sales. The team plans to build the highest value features into their initial product release. They have a list of additional features that will add incremental value to meet or exceed competitor offerings. Their plan is to roll these additional features out in the months following the initial release.
The team adds their features to virtual sticky notes in the form of user stories. They group these notes into two sections near the template:
|Initial release features “As a user I want to…” see video of an instructor doing yoga poses so I can follow along visuallyhear detailed instructions that coordinate with the video so I do each pose correctlyhave music options so I can hear music I like in the background of my practicechoose a skill level so the practice isn’t too easy or too hard for meadjust practice length so I can do shorter or longer sessions to fit my schedulereceive a different sequence of poses each session so I don’t get boredread about different poses so I can understand their uses and benefits||Roll-out features “As a user I want to…” choose from different instructor voices so I can find one I like bestselect a practice focus so I can concentrate on certain parts of the bodyhave a built-in calendar so I can track past practices and get reminders to manage my exercise goalschoose from additional yoga styles so I can do a wider variety of practicesload my own playlist in from my music app so I can listen to my favorite musicsave practice sequences I like so I can do the same practice at a later date|
4. Who will contribute to each part of the project?
The design and development teams will be working closely with each other. They will also coordinate with the contracted expert producing the video and audio for the app.
The marketing team will need to coordinate their work around the feature releases. They will also continue engaging end users to support the development team with customer feedback.
The Project Plan template is designed to accommodate overlapping stories. Each user story is added to one of the adjustable horizontal bars on the template grid. The small circles on the bars represent which team or individual will contribute to that user story. Each team or individual is assigned a color to represent them visually on the template.
5. What is the project timeline sequence?
Our team’s project will have a lot of moving pieces. Many of these pieces can be worked on simultaneously. Certain work items cannot be started until others are finished. For instance, the copywriters will create informational content about the different poses. They can’t do this until the subject matter expert has delivered a final list of the poses the app will include.
The team discusses each user story to determine its work dependencies. Since the developers will do the bulk of the work, their team capacity is also a limiting factor. The team uses all this information to arrange the user stories in the swimlanes and establish the project plan timeline. They locate the vertical “launch” line to designate their first project milestone: the initial product launch. Then they add the post-release features to the right of this line. Each feature release gets an additional “launch” line.
With their user stories plotted on the timeline, the team is ready to make their project plan official. They convert their user story sticky notes to Jira issues on the whiteboard. They create an update zone on the whiteboard to update all the issues at once and assign shared project attributes. With Whiteboards-Jira integration, these issues are now live in Jira under the project name Yoga App. They are ready for breakdown into smaller work items in Jira or Whiteboards. Either way, updates will sync to keep Jira and Whiteboards aligned throughout the ongoing planning process.
How do I add more detail to a simple project plan?
Follow our example project team as they refine their project plan into tasks.
As discussed, it’s important not to get into too much detail in the initial project planning phase. In the last section, our example project team scheduled their project timeline in broad strokes on the Project Plan template. They will revisit this timeline regularly to plan shorter work increments in detail. Our team follows the Scrum framework, so they do their detailed planning during sprint planning sessions. Even if you don’t use Scrum, you’ll still do regular backlog refinement. Use this project plan example whether you work in sprints or not.
Let’s jump ahead a few months and celebrate our example team’s progress. They’ve successfully completed their initial product release. Users are happily practicing yoga and providing feedback as invited by the marketing team.
Our example project team now addresses the project backlog. They need to review the features they planned to add after the initial product launch. They hold a sprint planning session to schedule their work plan for the next two weeks. They follow these steps to plan the upcoming sprint:
1. Prioritize the project backlog.
Our team has six large user stories in their backlog — the features to be rolled out after the initial product launch. These user stories were added to the Project Plan template during the broad project planning phase. They are also in the team’s project backlog in Jira. Using Whiteboards’ import zone, the team pulls these user stories from Jira onto the virtual whiteboard.
In consultation with marketing, the team agrees that they should reprioritize their feature releases based on recent customer feedback. They start working on the user story, “As a user, I want to select a practice focus so I can concentrate on certain parts of the body.”
2. Break epic user stories down into smaller user stories.
The team breaks their larger user story down into smaller stories, which they add to virtual sticky notes. For instance: “I want a yoga session that focuses on chest and shoulder stretches.” The developers discuss the process of fulfilling this user story.
On the front end, the team will add a menu option for the new set of “practice focus” choices. On the back end, developers will account for how each possible user choice influences the algorithm that creates the custom practice sessions. They will need to work with the subject matter experts to categorize the app’s different poses.
The team continues to sketch out the work and its dependencies to assess the complexity of each smaller user story.
3. Estimate development time for the smaller user stories.
In Agile project management, estimation is often a team activity. Experienced developers know best how long a given feature will take to develop. Our team uses the Magic Estimation template to determine how much time each story is likely to spend in development. They decide which stories they can expect to develop, test, and release in the next two weeks.
The team determines it will require 3-4 sprints to release a complete menu of “practice focus” options. In order to deliver value sooner, they will develop the first three options during this sprint. Then they will release a limited menu at the end of the two weeks. The marketing team will showcase this new feature and announce that expanded options are coming soon.
4. Break the smaller user stories down into tasks.
The team’s next step is to break this sprint’s user stories into very small work items. Their goal is to create tasks that can be accomplished in one day or less. The team subdivides the stories and adds the individual tasks to sticky notes.
The team converts these tasks to Jira issues on the whiteboard. These task cards are then batch-edited to assign the project name and issue type. The team adds relevant notes, establishes task dependencies, and assigns tasks to individual users.
With Whiteboards’ native Jira integration, scheduled tasks appear instantly in Jira, ready for the next sprint. The team’s sprint plan is launched in Jira without leaving the virtual whiteboard.
Last notes on Agile project planning
Keep your project management plan on track with daily standup meetings.
Now you’ve seen how to plan an entire project, and how to refine that project plan for an individual sprint. The third and smallest increment of planning happens on a daily basis. Hold a 15-minute daily standup meeting to check in and confirm the day’s work plan.
If you’ve done your other planning well, this part is easy. And even if you don’t use the Scrum framework, daily check-ins are a valuable tool. Use the Daily Standup template each morning to communicate about the day’s tasks. Confirm the project plan is on track, make any last-minute adjustments, and put everyone’s mind at ease.
Get on track with project planning templates from Whiteboards
Wherever you are in your project timeline, treat planning as an ongoing process. The Project Plan template is just one of over 100 Jira-synced templates included with a Whiteboards account. Use Whiteboards templates to guide any type of planning session. Store finished templates on your endless Whiteboards canvas for quick reference later on. Manage Jira issues right on the whiteboard and all your updates sync automatically in Jira. Whatever project you tackle, flexible templates and built-in Jira integration take you seamlessly from planning to action.