I found this interesting article in the agile blog. We normally think of agile planning in 3 levels… Release Planning, Iteration Planning and Daily Planning.
It is extended into 5 Levels by adding Vision Planning and Release Roadmap planning.
The idea behind the Five Levels of Planning is that we focus on estimating relative to the horizon. We ask ourselves, based on what we know today, what is the most reasonable plan? Since agile teams work with systems of unknown complexity, estimation effort must be relative to what we know today. Ultimately, we only know what we know, and no amount of preparation and planning will give us ‘better’ estimates. That’s why they’re called estimates. [I digress by stating here that there certainly are techniques to improving estimation practices, and we use and coach on these all the time, but that’s another blog for another day. The idea here is that there is a point of diminishing returns when trying to ‘perfect’ estimates.]
The five levels of planning and their resulting estimations, combined with the built-in inspect and adapt mechanism of agile, ensure that the business and development teams communicate to ‘make the product happen.’ If an estimate if off due to a technical pothole or a technical advancement, development and product owners discuss the issues, the resolutions, and possible changes to the backlog. The five levels of planning provide developers and product owners (and the business!) a platform and a context to facilitate constructive communication. Effectively engaging all parts of the organization, part of scaling agile is scaling the planning responsibility.