Roadmapping with Enterprise Agile – Balancing Capacity Against Demand

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Frequently I’m asked

There is a seemingly endless set of good ideas that are demanding capacity in our organization, how do we make our demand and capacity visible so that we can create a roadmap that will best balance demand against capacity?

This is the key question that most organizations are struggling to answer while trying to create an actionable roadmap.  I have a couple of basic rules that I use to help keep the answer simple.

  1. Identify a common unit of measure for quantifying demand and capacity, and
  2.  Identify a unit of time that best represents the period of time that will be used for planning

Rule 1: Identify a common unit of measure for quantifying demand and capacity

As you may recall, my favorite unit of measure is always currency.  That said, I find that when roadmapping its frequently helpful to use a more abstract measure that will similarly represent both capacity and demand.  Currency provides too many variations as an answer to the question “How much of this do you want to invest or how much capacity will you spend to bring idea x to fruition?”  To address this, I typically recommend that an organization either use a program team or a delivery team as the unit of measure.

With the common unit of measure set to either program or delivery teams, we can now answer the following question to help with balancing demand and capacity:

We have 20 delivery team’s worth of capacity available, how many of them are we either willing to dedicate towards bringing this idea to market or how many do you think you will need to bring the idea to market?

Rule 2: Identify a unit of time that best represents the period of time that will be used for planning

This is a great start; but, we haven’t yet applied time to the process.  To really map demand against capacity we will also need to be able to answer the question of how long are we willing to apply the team to this idea.  If a planning team needs to release items into the market within months then I tend to encourage them to plan against team weeks.  If their release plans are more oriented around quarters, half-year or year durations I will usually steer them to think in terms of team quarters.  With both the unit of measure and unit of time selected we can now map both capacity and demand for a period of time.  As an example, I may answer the above question as follows:

I am willing to allocate 5 delivery teams for a quarter to bringing this idea into the market.  That will leave 15 teams worth of capacity open for other ideas or features that I want to create as well this quarter.

Using team weeks or quarters as a unit of measure and planning duration for your roadmap enabling a planning team to simplify the capacity that is available by planning period down to a ratio of planned capacity/available capacity. (Eg.  5/20 or 25% of the available capacity for the quarter, with the above example).

Finally, when the time is right, its possible to translate the cost of a roadmap item by establishing an average cost per team (say $250,000 per quarter) and then multiplying that cost by the number of teams allocated for the period.

What are your thoughts? Have you used anything similar or different?

Thanks!

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