Your MAP for Agile Planning using the Kanban Ace Method

A classic map

The Problem with Planning & Estimation

In the 1950’s Cyril N. Parkinson noticed a curious trend in projects assigned to the British bureaucracy: working hours would always expand to fill the time available for it’s completion. Today his conclusion is known as Parkinson’s Law. A funny, but quite truthful observation that seems to extend to all walks of life, the more time we assign to planning, or to do anything, the more time we need!

Because of this fact Agile methodologies, including Open Kanban, regard planning as a potential black-hole for productivity. After all, if planning only delivers useless paper, why do it? Especially when “Planning can expand to the point that nothing gets done” (Kanban Ace Corollary to Parkinson’s Law.)

The Need for Planning

The fact is however, that unless you are dealing with short tasks that take less than an hour you need a plan.

Furthermore organizations and businesses deal with medium and large efforts to deliver value to customers, those large efforts translate to either Projects or Operations that need planning.

So we are caught between a rock and a hard place, we must plan, but if we do it fully we will waste valuable time, however not making any plan at all is also a recipe for disaster. What can a business do to perform Agile planning?

MAP - The Kanban Ace Way for Agile Planning

The key objective behind Agile planning, is to make it a truly useful activity, one that adds value to your project, or business. To achieve this the Kanban Ace Method suggests you use MAP.

MAP stands out for Minimum Actionable Planning.


Keep your plan simple and short. Toyota and many Lean companies are famous for limiting many of their planning efforts to an A3 paper. An A3 paper covers the size of approximately 2 pages. Can you fit your strategic plan in a couple pages? Great, stop there! Going beyond two pages will most likely be a waste of your time and effort.

Notice that the 2 page limit we mentioned was specific to strategic plans. And if you need a template outside of A3 we recommend you consider the Business Model Canvas, or the Lean Model Canvas for strategic level planning. But what about what about other plans, like plans for a new software feature, or a new mobile app for your business? Simple, just follow these two rules:

  1. Limit length. Whatever the level of planning you are making, make sure your plan is a maximum of 2 pages.
  2. Limit scope. Before writing lower level plans ask yourself, and the team: would this extra level of planning add value? Do we truly need it? No, then stop. Following YAGNI is the spirit of MAP, don’t write or plan anything that you won’t need.

What do we mean by lower level plans? We mean all the more detailed plans that are related with your business. The Kanban Ace method identifies the following levels where planning can be beneficial: Strategic, Portfolio, New Product or Service, Releases and Minimum Marketable Features.


Once you’ve contained the size of your plan, is time to make sure it is functional and pragmatic. Agile plans must lead to concrete actions, and those actions must deliver value.

In the world of IT and Software Development probably the best way to know if your plan is actionable is to ask your development team if they can act on it. If they can’t find enough details to execute your plan you need to make it more concrete, and probably visual. Mockups and diagrams can go a long way to make your plan actionable, use them.

The next step to make sure your plan is actionable is to make it fully ready to be executed. The Open Kanban method suggests that you decompose again your plan into doable stories, or “Reduce BASE”. By the way stories are those nice small cards that specify exactly what needs to be done, they are used in Kanban boards like the one below.A Kanban board with Stories


When is planning effective? When is it valuable and Agile? Patton, an American general famous for his victories against difficult odds in World War II said “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.” This takes us to our two last principles for MAP:

  1. Immediacy.
    • Planning becomes valuable when it leads to immediate action. A plan that stays in a shelf decreases in value rapidly.
    • In the fast changing world of IT, plans on a shelf are hardly of any use after a few months. If your plan will not lead to action now or in a few days, we suggest you don’t waste time to write it.
  2. Connectedness.
    • A plan that is disconnected from reality is not useful. That is the reason why plans need to always be linked to reality, and they need to be updated by people who are close to the customer.
    • Taiichi Ohno, the genius behind the Kanban System and TPS called this vital connection “Genchi Gembutsu”, or go see for yourself whether your plans make any sense, or go find out what is happening on the shop floor. Steve Blank, a leading voice in the Lean Startup movement calls it getting out of the building, to mean that in our offices, far from customer we can’t truly plan anything well. Good products need to be connected to reality!

And there you have it, in under 5 minutes the essence of the Kanban Ace MAP technique for Agile planning. Remember without a MAP, you can’t get anywhere, and never mistake activity with achievement!

On a future post we will explore the world of Agile Estimation using MAP, Kanban Ace and Open Kanban.


Are you talking about applying the actual A3 template or just using some other technique and just writing it down on an a3 size paper?

Kurt, you may use the A3 Template or not. The main idea of the Minimum part of MAP is to restrict the length of your planning to a maximum of two pages, or one A3 page this way you don't waste time over analyzing, or doing excessive planning.
If you have experience with planning you don't need any template, just answer the main planning questions in under two pages: What do you want to accomplish? Where are you now? How can you make it happen?
Then of course apply the other parts of MAP: Actionable Planning, as mentioned in the article.