How Marketers Can Improve their Agile Capacity Planning in 2023

Agile marketing offers transformative solutions for marketers tired of unpredictability and feeling overworked, with Agile capacity planning being one of the most significant advantages.

Neglecting capacity planning can gradually undermine your team’s effectiveness. Being overworked can lead to frustration, disillusionment, high turnover, and even health problems, leading to more sick days.

So why did our latest State of Agile Marketing Report find that while 21% of Agile marketers had difficulty estimating team capacity, only 23% use planning poker or a similar game to improve their estimation?

21% of Agile marketers had difficulty estimating team capacity, only 23% use planning poker or a similar game to improve their estimation

Clearly, lots of Agile marketers need help with estimation yet neglect demonstrated techniques for improving it. That’s why we’ve put together a short guide to help you improve your Agile capacity planning so your team can achieve its full potential this year.

What Is Agile Capacity Planning?

It's worth understanding what capacity planning is, whether you're a Kanban practitioner or a marketer new to Agile.

To start, we can break Agile capacity planning into three stages:

  1. Decide how much work will be required to complete items in the backlog.
  2. Decide the team's capacity during a set period (usually a sprint).
  3. Match the two to decide what work can be completed during that period.

The three stages of Agile capacity planning

Because Scrum is broken up into sprints, capacity planning is already an essential step. So when it comes to Kanban or hybrid approaches that don't break work into sprints, how does capacity planning work?

Agile Capacity Planning for Kanban

Because Kanban work isn't typically broken into sprints, the best way to incorporate capacity planning is by using time periods like weeks, months, or quarters instead. You'll then follow the three steps outlined above.

One key difference is that you'll be looking to improve throughput – or how much work you can get done during those periods. Ideally, the Kanban software you use can automatically calculate this for you. Over time, you'll want to optimize your throughput while avoiding overburdening any team members. It's a careful balance, but the advice below will help.

Why is Agile Capacity Planning So Important?

As we mentioned in the intro, bad capacity planning tends to make us Agile marketers miserable. We can't function properly when we're stressed about deadlines, overburdened, and unable to adapt flexibly to changes.

One of the key benefits of Agile is its ability to distribute work in an optimized way to help prevent these problems, so poor capacity planning deprives you of that benefit. On the other hand, nailing capacity planning translates into productive marketers who have a balanced workload and are ready to shift gears when necessary. 

Ideally, at the end of every sprint or in occasional retrospectives, you'll ask everyone on your team how their workload was during the most recent sprint, week, month, etc.

How to Improve Agile Capacity Planning

Once you've identified that your Agile capacity planning could use some improvement, what can you do about it? Here are three simple things you can do to make your team happier and more effective.

Don’t Aim for 100% Utilization

Don’t Aim for 100% Capacity Utilization

Trying to have marketers run at 100% capacity as often as possible does not mean you're making them 100% efficient. In reality, it means you're burning the candle at both ends and actually making your marketers less effective. This is the single biggest mistake most teams make when it comes to capacity planning.

100% utilization should be reserved for real emergencies! If you have a "real emergency" every week, that's something that needs to be addressed separately.

So, how much utilization is appropriate? In our experience, the 60-80% range is ideal, depending on the person's experience level and how much they can reasonably handle. At this level, people don't feel useless or underutilized, but they also don't feel overburdened. It's a nice “goldilocks level” that enables people to operate at their best in most situations.

Use Retros to Evaluate Previous Performance

As mentioned before, every once in a while, it's vital to take time to check on how your capacity planning is functioning. Otherwise, you have no idea whether your team members are operating at 40% or 100%. 

Sure, you can guess, but actually asking is important because capacity isn't solely about metrics. It's also about how people feel. One person's 90% may be another person's 60%. This is why it’s so important to take time in retros to ask everyone about their capacity. Consider doing this anonymously – ahead of time. That way, people have some time to think about their answers, which can help them avoid feeling embarrassed in front of colleagues if their utilization is low.

Try Planning Poker

Another major challenge involved in Agile capacity planning is accurately judging how much work tasks will take. Unfortunately, most people are just very bad at estimating time; often, the first step is simply realizing that reality.

The good news is that there are proven strategies, like planning poker, that help make teams much more accurate. Planning poker is a game that has been studied by researchers who found that it markedly improves teams' ability to accurately estimate how much time a task will take.

Using planning poker will enable your team to gradually improve its accuracy over time, better enabling you to hit previously mentioned capacity targets.

Looking to Improve Your Agile Marketing This Year?

Good capacity planning is essential for Agile marketing success. Neglecting it will inevitably lead to overloaded team members and work that doesn't get done on time. This is a recipe for disaster. Team members can become disillusioned with Agile and view it as simply another imposed management technique instead of a new way to empower them.

But by using techniques like Planning poker to improve accuracy, aiming for 60-80% capacity for team members, and spotting potential issues through retrospectives, teams can improve their performance markedly. Just as critically, this can make team members genuinely feel like their input is critical to the team's planning and ultimate success.

After all, Agile marketing is built on continuous improvement, so you've already taken an important step towards a better-performing marketing team just by reading this article. But there are still a lot more ways you can supercharge your team's effectiveness!

To help you do just that, we've put together a set of self-paced and instructor-led courses you and your team members can use to improve your Agile marketing abilities. It's called The Ropes and has everything you need to get your team performing at its best.

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