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The Power of PI Planning

the power of pi planning
In large organizations, bringing different teams to work together while on the same page is pretty challenging. If you want to scale and want consistent coordination, then it’s time to look forward to SAFe(Scaled Agile Framework) and leverage conducting PI planning for seamless operation.
PI planning is a cadence-based event that is an essential practice for ART (Agile Release Train) for aligning different teams and stakeholders to share a common vision. If you are skipping it then it is not SAFe for your company.
To help you with a detailed understanding of how PI can be useful for any business, we have created this blog to highlight what PI is, its benefits, goals, what you must include in PI planning, and much more.

Let’s dive into the details about what PI Planning is and the power of PI Planning


What is SAFe PI (Planning Increment) Planning?

As you might have known the Agile Manifesto has emphasized the importance of conducting face-to-face communication to convey valuable information about the project. SAFe has been successful in taking this approach to another level using PI planning.

But, with the sudden outbreak of the pandemic, Covid-19 has made it a little challenging for different teams to gather together to plan.

At first, organizations faced challenges in conveying data and reports to each other. However new technologies around the corner helped in smooth virtual communication.
Even virtual face-to-face planning is also successful as it is fulfilling the concept of being present.

PI Planning agenda includes: Sharing the business context and overall project’s vision, along with team planning breakouts. This planning session is facilitated by the Release Train Engineer (RTE), involving all ART members. It lasts two days but can be extended to accommodate different time zones without impacting other iterations in the PI.

It has become an effective approach where teams can discuss risks and work together to find a solution.

Importance of PI Planning from a business perspective Whether you are a small team or a large team of a large organization, without proper collaboration at the same time, you cannot move forward.

This was the major drawback in the previous work culture. This is why PI planning enters.

So, let’s see how PI planning can help teams come together and work together with the same mission and vision.
• Encourages communications across teams.
• Provides high-end program visibility where each member has the same understanding of the project.
• Planning helps in completing the assigned tasks faster as a team will know what to do and how to do it.
• It improves the time-to-market while maintaining the quality of the delivered product.
• Teams will have the same goal, vision, and objectives.
• Easier to identify risks and team dependencies.
• It becomes easier to collaborate among cross-functional teams.
• Clarity about different roles working on the program and understanding whom to contact for specific issues.

What should be the goal of any PI Planning?
PI planning encourages communication across teams so they can agree on one way to proceed and make things work. Apart from that the significant goals of PI are as follows.
• Formulate SMART team objectives and PI objectives that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound to guide the team’s efforts effectively.
• Develop a planning board that offers a visually engaging and readily accessible overview of the goals, features, risks, dependencies, and timelines specified within the program increment plan.

The Process of PI Planning
PI planning is a two-day event. However, preparation for the first PI would always take a lot of preparation prior to the planning event.
Preparations include multiple meetings, discussions, mutual disagreement, formation of ARTs, ART backlogs, workshops, Setting up common alignment, etc.
So let’s see what kind of preparation is required.

Preparation

PI planning is a crucial occasion that necessitates readiness, synchronization, and effective exchange of information. The RTE must arrange PI planning sessions beforehand to ensure thorough preparedness.
The active involvement of BO, PO, PM, Agile Teams, Scrum Masters, and System Architects is mandatory for PI Planning. To ensure the event’s success, preparation is essential in three key domains-

Organizational Readiness
All stakeholders, and Business Owners must come up with a strategy before starting the planning. All the roles will be assigned carefully. A few points must be prepared with are:-
• Is the project’s scope cleared, and which teams are going to plan and work together?
• Are there any priority tasks/features assigned by the business owners? If yes, then do not forget to specify them.
• Are there enough team members to do the work? Are the Agile teams ready? Are Scrum Master and Product Owner available for each team?

Content Readiness
To ensure that each team gets a clear vision and understanding of the expectations of the business owners. The following things must be ready-
• A briefing to explain the business context.
• Product management should highlight the top 10 features that need to be worked on first. It must be mentioned in the ART backlog.
• The BO, PM, or System Architect must have a respective presentation ready to highlight the Business Context, new features, necessary enablers, and Non-functional requirements.

Logistics Readiness
Organizing an event for a large audience is not easy. It involves arranging and getting the venue ready for in-person coordination. For virtual participants or a completely remote PI Planning, it also requires investing in the essential technical setup.

Factors to consider are:

3 Important areas to be considered while working towards the Logistics of the PI Planning are :
Locations – Venue details with appropriate infrastructure to hold 125+ on ART during a 2-day PI Planning event.
Technology and tooling – Technology tools/platforms to support in case of remote planning/attendees. If anyone is joining remotely then all connections need to be tested already and allow real-time access to the information being shared.
Communication Channels – Audio, video, and any applicable communication channels to be validated and should be made available.
Standard Agenda of PI Planning
Below is the standard PI Planning agenda.

pi planning agenda
img Source: Scaled Agile Inc.

It is not confined to 2 days, it may extend depending on the team’s availability mainly due to distributed teams over different geographical locations. For distributed teams or larger groups, you may need to be flexible with the schedule.
Some meetings take more time and may need to extend beyond 3-4 days to accommodate multiple time zones. In the case of your PI Planning event, go with the standard agenda, and gather feedback.
Now, let’s focus on what occurs during the initial hours of day 1 in a PI Planning session.

Day 1 Agenda
• The business owner or senior executive states the business context and shares the portfolio vision.
• Product management highlights the top 10 features.
• The System Architect or Engineering manager describes the architectural framework that needs to be followed by different teams across the ART. Also, the best engineering practices like a Unit test in development through automation, DevOps, CI/CD, etc. would also be explained.
• Then the RTE will share the planning process and expected outcomes.
• During breakouts, teams will identify their capacity, and refine backlog items(Scope/descoping requirements) with the help of PO/PM, and then draft a plan for each iteration. The plan should be visible to everyone across the ART.

art board showing features & dependencies
img Source: Scaled Agile Inc.

After identifying associated risks and dependencies, teams will create their PI objectives segregating them as “Committed Objectives” and “uncommitted objectives” (not done due to unknown risks).

• Teams will review the draft plan including their capacity, risks, and dependencies, and then it will be reviewed by owners, product management, and stakeholders to provide any necessary input.
• If there is any issue regarding the draft plan, then changes are made to solve the problems like resource constraints, risks, and scope. The RTE ensures that stakeholders stay in connection till issues are addressed/discussed the necessary actions.

Day 2 Agenda
• The day starts with the potential solutions suggested by the management regarding the planning scope, people, and available resources.
• Then teams work together to make the required changes to finalize the objectives. Once done, the business owner will assign values to these objectives, as shown below.

pi planning objectives
img Source: Scaled Agile Inc.

• During the session, all teams share their plans with the group. After each team’s allotted time, they mention their risks and obstacles and discuss the risks with the ART and the RTE for later use in the ROAMing exercise. Then, the team checks with the Business Owners if the plan is acceptable.

If it is, they display their team PI objective sheet at the front of the room for everyone to see the overall objectives as they develop in real time. In case the Business Owners have concerns, teams can modify the plan to tackle the identified problems. Finally, the team presents its updated plan.

• All the identified risks and impediments will be later resolved in the broader management context one by one and are resolved.

• After addressing the risks associated with the ART PI, teams proceed to vote on their level of confidence in achieving their respective team PI objectives. The voting process can be conducted using either the “first of five” method, where team members indicate their confidence level, or through a digital tool for remote events.

If the average confidence rating is three or higher, management can accept the commitment. However, if the average rating falls below three, the team needs to revise its plan. Individuals who vote with two fingers or fewer are allowed to voice their concerns.

These concerns may contribute to the risk list, necessitate plan adjustments, or provide additional information. Once every team has cast their votes, the entire ART repeats the process, allowing everyone to express their confidence in the collective plan.

• Then the team’s rework of the plan is necessary in the case of a lack of confidence to move forward.

• Then, RTE discusses with the entire ART the key points of the PI planning defining what went well, what did not work, and what can be done next time to improve the process.

• The planning ends with entering objectives into ALM (Agile Lifecycle Management) tooling, reviewing ART event calendars, and finalizing iteration planning.

Wrapping up
The PI Planning meeting holds immense significance in uniting the entire ART team, fostering a collective understanding of the upcoming tasks.

It serves as a platform for the Business Owners, who hold leadership roles in the organization, to communicate how the upcoming PI will contribute to the overall goals and visualize the future of the Solution to be delivered.

In addition to discussing the broader picture, this meeting allows teams to address practical considerations by identifying interdependencies and devising effective strategies to overcome them.
Through the formulation of PI objectives, teams develop a strong sense of ownership and dedication toward achieving them.

What makes the PI Planning meeting particularly noteworthy is its seamless integration into the last iteration of the PI, known as the Innovation and Planning Iteration.

This integration eliminates the need for scheduling it separately.

This meeting fulfills the team’s desire for valuable perspectives that may be challenging to acquire.

It empowers teams by decentralizing planning and control, recognizing their ultimate responsibility for delivering results.

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