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Agile Planning

  • Use when planning for action.

  • This tool uses both Divergence and Convergence.

What and Why?

Agile Planning is a valuable approach to address the issue of excessive time spent on planning that often fails when confronted with reality. It emphasizes the creation of short-term plans to achieve long-term goals. The process begins by identifying the desired goal and the specific outcomes to be attained. A timeline is established for the overall accomplishment of the goal, and key milestones are determined to mark progress along the way. Working backward, the first milestone within the initial month is defined. A detailed plan is then formulated to reach this milestone. As the first milestone approaches, the focus shifts to learning and adaptation. Lessons learned and feedback received are used to evaluate and refine the plan for subsequent milestones. By embracing change and continuously incorporating newfound knowledge, Agile Planning allows for a flexible and responsive approach to goal achievement in an ever-evolving environment.

Use this tool if you want to:

  • Enable flexibility and adaptability in response to changing circumstances.

  • Promotes rapid response to change, reducing the time between identifying a change and implementing a response.

  • Foster collaboration, engagement, and shared ownership among team members and stakeholders.

  • Facilitate continuous improvement by incorporating a learning mindset and feedback-driven iterations.

Facilitation Elements

A. Sequence of Steps and Time Allocation (45 minutes)

5 mins

  1. Introduce the need for an agile planning tool to the group by asking if anyone has ever had the experience where they invested hours creating a wonderfully detailed implementation plan and then they realized half way through the project implementation that the plan was either flawed or that the goal they were headed towards was no longer the right goal?

  2. Share that when this happens, groups have two choices - they can either continue to implement a plan they know is flawed, or they can once again go back to the drawing board and recreate a new plan that may or may not work.

  3. In either case, resources are wasted as time and energy invested in creating detailed plans very soon becomes a sunk cost.

  4. This is not to imply that all planning is pointless.

  5. Taking a just-in-time approach to planning however allows us to minimize the time and resources invested in planning and instead we remain flexible and adaptive which allows us to respond quickly to new information and a changing landscape.

  6. Agile Planning is a technique that uses short-term plans to reach long-term goals.

3 mins


  1. Invite the group to clearly define the goal they aspire to reach? This goal might be a solution they wish to implement or an outcome they wish to create. For example: They might have the goal to publish a research paper on the impact of encouraging graduate students to adopt a transdisciplinary approach to designing interventions for addressing food insecurity.

  2. Ask them to estimate a timeline for this goal. (In our example it might be in 2 years.)

  3. Now ask them to list on post-it notes the sequence of things that need to happen in order to get to this goal. Encourage them to list things as they come to mind and to not worry about the order or missing details. In our example these things might include:

    1. Finding collaborators

    2. Conducting a literature review

    3. Defining research objectives and questions

    4. Research design

    5. Data collection

    6. Data analysis

    7. Discussions and extracting insights

    8. Summarizing findings

    9. Writing the paper

    10. Editing and peer reviews

  4. Invite the group to organize these post-its on a timeline. Imagining the sequence in which these might need to happen. Create parallel timelines if things need to happen in tandem. Use a long paper roll on the wall to create the timeline.

15 mins


  1. Now ask the group to identify the post-it that represents the first thing that needs to happen? (In our example it might be the literature review).

  2. Ask when this would need to happen if we were to hope to accomplish our goal in the timeline we imagined?

  3. This one post-it (task) is now the first milestone in our plan.

  4. Ask the group to create a detailed plan for how they would accomplish this task. A detailed plan would include:

    1. Who does what?

    2. By when?

  5. Check with the group if they know how to get started towards their goal? What is the first next step that needs to be taken?

8 mins

  1. Ask the group to review the remaining post-its on the timeline and consider if there are milestones listed that need us to initiate action within the same timeline as the task we have committed to as our first milestone. (In our example we might need to start looking for collaborators as we conduct our literature review).

  2. Ask the group to create a detailed plan for that task as well.

8 mins

Discuss next steps with the group:

  1. Share with them that once they have deployed their plans for the first milestone tasks they identified, they need to schedule a reflection activity (perhaps using the Learning Cycle) to evaluate what they have accomplished, discovered and learned through the actions they have taken.

  2. After this reflection they would revisit their timeline and consider if the goal is still the right goal to pursue and determine what tasks represent the next milestones.

  3. They would then need to create a detailed plan for these next tasks.

  4. This cycle of planning, action, reflection and then planning again would be repeated until the desired outcome had been achieved.

4 mins

Debrief the activity. Invite the group to share what they experienced as a result of using this tool.

  • What did you observe or experience as a result of using this tool?

  • What insights did you have?

  • Can you see yourself using this tool? How?

B. How Groups Are Configured

This activity works well with groups of 5-7.

A larger group can be divided into groups of 5-7 with each smaller group working on a different goal or taking a different approach to the same goal.

C. How Space Is Arranged and Materials Needed

  • Seating for small groups of 5-7

  • Post-its

  • Sharpie markers

  • Flip chart markers

  • Flip chart sheets or Paper rolls on walls to create space for a timeline.

Tips and Watchouts

Informal Application

When tackling a complex task, ask yourself - “What is the first thing I need to accomplish?” Focus on this task and when it has been completed, ask yourself “What is the next thing I need to accomplish?”

Tips and Watchouts

  • Agile Planning is all about adapting to change. Embrace flexibility and be open to adjusting plans, priorities, and approaches as new information emerges or circumstances evolve.

  • Break down long-term goals into smaller, manageable milestones. This helps track progress, maintain motivation, and provides opportunities for early wins.

  • Prioritize tasks based on their value and impact. Focus on completing high-priority items first, ensuring alignment with the overall goal.

  • Conduct frequent retrospectives and reflect on completed milestones or iterations. Identify what worked well and what could be improved. Use this feedback to enhance future planning and execution.

  • Agile planning does not guarantee that all desired outcomes will be achieved. Ensure expectations are realistic, avoid making promises you may not be able to keep, and help stakeholders understand the iterative and responsive nature of Agile Planning.

  • Agile planning encourages learning and continuous improvement. Failing to embrace retrospectives or not acting on the lessons learned can hinder progress and limit the benefits of Agile.

  • Sometimes it is not possible to create a detailed plan because all the stakeholders who need to be involved may not be in the room. In this case do not rush the group to commit to a plan that does not include the people required for its success.

Riffs and Variations

  • After all the post-its have been generated listing all the possible tasks and milestones that need to be completed, invite the group to organize them into categories such as:

    • Tasks to be accomplished by month-end

    • Tasks to be accomplished by quarter-end

    • Tasks to be completed in next 6 months

    • Tasks to be completed by year-end

    • Tasks that need to be completed beyond year-end.

Use this process of sorting to finetune the sequence in which tasks need to be completed and to also identify any parallel timelines.



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