Adding Agility to Project Planning


Over the past decade or so, agile development has become a major point of emphasis in organizations worldwide, helping teams develop requirements and deploy solutions more quickly. However, agile development has been truly beneficial only during the execution phase of project work. When enterprises set out to increase their agility – and implement DevOps, for example – they almost always overlook development’s predecessor: planning.

More often than not, companies that set out to fix the problems they face in developing, testing and deploying code have just as many issues with their planning practices. Some of the most common mistakes are:

  • Setting goals that are poorly defined or overly-restrictive (e.g. must use x to achieve y)
  • Managing projects that are too large or not properly segmented
  • Prioritizing without appropriate methodology or datasets
  • Failing to prevent scope creep
  • Not knowing when to throw in the towel on an idea.

Here is the good news: these problems are neither unique to any one organization nor are they uncommon. And there is a solution built with the principles of agile development in mind. It is called GIST.

GIST stands for goals, ideas, step-projects and tasks. It is a project planning methodology that has been shown to improve consistency and velocity, increase autonomy and create better overall solutions. It follows four principles:

  1. Set attainable goals that are void of vague statements and free of predefined solutions.
  2. Have all the project stakeholders submit ideas that are potential solutions. Capture and prioritize these ideas using evidence and data. There are many prioritization methodologies that can help.
  3. Create step-projects to develop and test the goal-oriented ideas. After a week or two, evaluate each step-project to see if its idea is a viable solution or a contributor toward the overall goal.
  4. Set the tasks to be accomplished in each step-project.

The graphic below shows how development teams can work concurrently on four ideas that belong to two departmental goals. The teams have completed the first step-projects for Ideas 1 and 2 and, after a successful review, the teams can continue developing these ideas. The first step-project in Idea 4 is not successful, and that idea is dropped, thus freeing up the teams’ bandwidth to work on the remaining three ideas.


As your organization strives to improve the speed at which it integrates and develops new solutions, remember that planning must match that speed. GIST is one method that allows your team to continually contribute ideas, test at a rapid pace, discard those that don’t work and pursue the ones that do.

ISG helps enterprises increase agility in planning, development and more broadly across the entire value stream. For more information about how GIST can be used, or how any of ISG’s Enterprise Agility offerings can help you, please contact me.


About the author

Zach Branch

Zach Branch

Zach Branch is a Senior Consultant at ISG.