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3. Analysis at Multiple Horizons

3.3 Predictive, Iterative, and Adaptive Planning

Agile Extension to the BABOK® Guide

There are many ways in which business analysis practitioners plan. At the highest level, there are three most commonly used approaches to planning: predictive, iterative, and adaptive.

This chapter discusses these three planning approaches in their basic and root forms. Business analysis practitioners and the organizations in which they work may employ any combination of these planning approaches that suits their context.

Predictive planning involves performing detailed analysis and planning and then acting on that planning. An economic driver for predictive planning is the “cost of change” curve. It suggests that the later a mistake is found, the more it will cost to fix it. This in turn suggests that it is cheaper to spend more time analyzing information early on, so as to provide the fewest possible misunderstandings, gaps, and defects as possible before more work is done.

Figure 3.3.1: Cost of Change Curve


Predictive planning attempts to predict scope and risk at the beginning of a project. The planning horizon of predictive planning is the duration of the project, and project managers will therefore construct a detailed plan for the entire duration of the project. Deviations from the plan are seen as risks and a considerable body of practice exists for getting a deviant project "back on track". Feedback and learning can be suppressed in favour of maintaining the original plan.

A well prepared planner may identify potential risks and develop contingency plans based on good analysis. The challenge is that the cost of change can be high if a potential issue or opportunity means changing a substantial amount of detail as well. An unforeseen event can disrupt the plan, or worse, an opportunity cannot be accommodated because the work involved in changing the plan makes it impractical.

Iterative planning is an approach that is frequently used when long-term planning is rendered ineffective by rapid change and great uncertainty: the next step in the plan is based on the latest learning.

This suggests that each hypothesis should be tested before planning what to do next, since the hypothesis might be right, wrong, or partially right. In this situation, stakeholders and subject matter experts are learning what they need at the same time as planning is occurring. This suggests that plans are only viable for the immediate future, potentially the next one to four weeks.

Business analysis practitioners identify opportunities and threats as they emerge through the constant testing of assumptions. They are able to react to potential

risks because the plans are resilient and constantly evolving.
In a rapidly changing, large, or complex context, not all information is immediately apparent or fully understood. Business analysis practitioners might find they have insufficient time to analyze an idea that impacts many parts of the solution, or they may find that they are doing a lot of rework as they discover new information or needs.

Adaptive planning requires both long- and short-term planning. Long-term plans are subject to change though and are easy to change. Short-term plans take into account and inform the long-term plans of the organization.

This comes at a cost. It means that the organization is constantly both planning and analyzing. This creates confusion, mistakes, and wasted effort if there is a lack of transparency, trust, and collaboration. Adaptive planning creates a context that supports an agile mindset and the adoption of agile approaches to business analysis.

Adaptive planning is central to agile business analysis. Organizations produce both long-term and short-term plans, but it is not planning in a linear way.

Adaptive planning (sometimes referred to as rolling wave planning) treats each plan as a hypothesis to be proven. Feedback and lessons learned are used to adjust the plan in real time. Newly discovered information may change the hypotheses on which the plan is based and cause a change in the plan. If not, business analysis practitioners continue to uncover better ways to achieve the plan as they execute it.

Adaptive planning is an effective approach when there is value in fast feedback and learning, and also in long-term planning. Higher level planning horizons (strategy and initiative), are longer and information more abstract than the lower planning horizons (initiative and delivery). Resistance to change is lessened because there is less detail to change.

Table 3.3.1: Summary of Planning Approaches