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What is PI Planning?

It goes without saying that for any organization scaling agile and adopting the SAFe framework, the key challenge is running a smooth and frictionless PI Planning process. Irrespective of the industry or business size, a successful PI Planning offers to implement a culture of transparent action-oriented alignment. It truly is a cornerstone event for SAFe.

How to conduct PI Planning?

If “how to conduct PI Planning” is your problem statement, then in this comprehensive PI Planning Guide you will find all your questions encompassed within this loaded query answered.
In the five sections that follow, we will elaborate on the following questions:

  • What is a successful PI Planning session?
  • How to run a great virtual/distributed/remote PI Planning?
  • How to overcome PI Planning Challenges?
  • What is a PI Planning Preparation Checklist?
  • Can you provide a PI Planning Template?

In the end we share with you an editable and downloadable Step-by-step guide for your PI Planning.

PI Planning 101 What is a successful PI Planning session?

Program Increment (PI) Planning session is a time-boxed event where Teams of an Agile Release Train united by a shared vision, meet and plan new features, discuss dependencies and risks, and chalk out the future course of action. Without it SAFe cannot be implemented.

In fact, building on the idea from SAFe, PI Planning is the singular magical ingredient of the scaled agile framework.

When a project spreads out to multiple cross-functional teams, knowledge infrastructure tends to get compromised. This costs the organizations poorly made decisions, Value Chain weaknesses and Capacity-Load disagreements.
PI Planning addresses this by bringing across-the-board visibility, thorough alignment, and expressed commitment to a shared vision.

To correctly understand the goal of your PI Planning is half the problem solved.

Borrowing SAFe’s interpretation:
PI Planning is the critical, cadence-based synchronization point for every ART.

What do you gather from this?
The goal of a successful PI Planning is to provide for teams in the Agile Release Train (ART):

  • synchronization,
  • (cross-team and cross-ART) collaboration,
  • alignment (on business context workflows, objectives, vision, and more),
  • social network,
  • system architecture evaluation,
  • eliminating excess Work in Process (WIP),
  • efficiency in decision making,
  • transparency for predictability and agility.

A successful PI Planning event ticks all these boxes, on top of managing to show a ‘Working Software’ at the end of the iteration.

Put simply, if your PI Planning has succeeded in providing these two outputs, your PI Planning event has met its goal:

  • Committed PI Objectives
  • Where the PI Objectives identify a set of SMART objectives created by each team making up the ART, with the business value assigned by the Business Owners. PI objectives commitment is the holy grail of your ART.
  • Program Board
  • A compilation of data presenting the most accurate picture of your ART situation, highlighting the new feature delivery dates, feature dependencies among teams and relevant Milestones. It is the crystal ball of your ART.

Program Board

Kendis PI Planning board example (Click on image to modify online)

In SAFe’s PI Planning the role of a Release Train Engineer is quite significant. The RTE is the driver and the servant leader of the PI Planning session. Maintaining the frontiers, an RTE is responsible for running the show, ensuring collaboration alignment amongst the attendees of the PI Planning session. What Scrum masters are to the Agile teams, the RTE is to the ART.

Following is a summary of roles of the PI Planning participants:

Roles
Function

Users
Evaluate the user centricity of the solutions

Stakeholders
Assess the degree of success for each participant unit

Agile Teams
  • Break User Stories into tasks during the Team breakouts;
  • Create Iteration plans and Team PI Objectives;
  • Identify/address risks;
  • Give the Confidence Vote

System Architect/ Engineering
  • Presents the ART architecture vision;
  • Helps establish inter-team dependencies and risks

System Team
Defines integration and tests backlog items

Business Owners
Provide the Business Value and approval to Team PI Objectives

Scrum Masters
  • Assists the team in preparation for ART activities, System Demos, and the Inspect and Adapt;
  • Guides the team in establishing normalized estimates;
  • Helps the team understand how to estimate Features and Capabilities

Product Owners
  • Provides backlog prioritization;
  • Presents the vision, which highlights the proposed features of the solution;
  • Shares any relevant upcoming Milestones;
  • Breaks Features into User Stories

Release Train Engineer
  • Presents the planning process and the expected outcomes;
  • Facilitates the Management Review, Problem Solving session and retrospective. Due to this, an RTE is responsible to conduct a PI Planning session

A Program Increment lasts for about 8-12 weeks.
Keeping this range in mind, PI Planning sessions are done quarterly, and the usual timeline is:

  • Q1 PI Planning: December
  • Q2 PI Planning: March
  • Q3 PI Planning: June
  • Q4 PI Planning: September

They are planned in advance following a regular and fixed schedule. Invitations are sent out before time as well so that all the preparations can be done timely.

Typically, an in-person Program Increment Planning session lasts for two days with a predefined agenda and specific, scheduled events. The event agenda is described below:

Time Zone AEST
Day 1 Agenda
8:00 – 9:00 am
Business Context 1 h

9:00 – 10:30 am
Product/Solution Vision 1 h 30 min

10:30 – 11:30 am
Architecture Vision & Development Practices 1 h

11:30 – 1:00 pm
Planning Context & Lunch 1 h 30 min

1:00 – 4:00 pm
Team Breakouts 3 h

4:00 – 5:00 pm
Draft Plan Review 1 h

5:00 – 6:00 pm
Management Review & Problem Solving 1 h

Time Zone AEST
Day 2 Agenda
8:00 – 9:00 am
Planning Adjustments 1 h

9:00 – 11:00 am
Team Breakouts 2 h

11:00 – 1:00 pm
Final Plan Review & Lunch 2 h

1:00 – 2:00 pm
Program Risks 1 h

2:00 – 2:15 pm
Confidence Vote 15 min

2:15 – 4:00 pm
Plan rework (if required) 1 h 45 min

4:00 – 6:00 pm
Planning Retrospective & Moving Forward 2 h

A sample schedule for a typical in-person PI planning event spanning two full days.



In case of Distributed or Remote PI Planning, however, the agenda remains the same, however the schedule of events depends on numerous variables which are discussed in the section below.

Program Board

BONUS TIP I

For an in-person PI Planning session, you have two heavily packed days with fewer breaks and lots of human interaction and noise. In a virtual environment, however, the entire experience has to be designed for screens, with lots of focus on keeping participants engaged. It may be better to extend the event to three-four days with lesser time commitments to avoid screen fatigue.

Distributed PI Planning How to run a great distributed/remote PI Planning?

Agile Manifesto states in most clear terms:

  • The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.

Contrary to popular belief, the core strength of PI Planning is not rooted in the co-location of your teams. It is in structuring and empowering the driving mechanism to an extent that physical proximity, or lack thereof, is no longer a factor in carrying out a fluid, transparent communication.

It is true that historically PI Planning has been practiced as an in-person event only. However, there are a number of factors which make this exercise unsustainable in the long run:

  • Maintaining logistics for a handful of multi-site, multi-cultural teams,
  • Regional travel restrictions in lieu of the pandemic
  • Providing an environment of psychological safety in an unfamiliar setting
  • Finding a venue, big enough, right enough, for the event,
  • And last, but certainly not the least, the financial and time costs of all this elaborate arrangement.

Conducting a virtual PI Planning session is not a piece of cake either, agreed. However, if sufficient thought is put into crafting an experience of a social construct where your Agile teams feel seen, in their work as well as their person, the ROI of your remote event can actually be better than that of the one in person.

Just make sure that you take home all the experiential wisdom and practical knowledge offered in all the sections of this guide and the Bonus Tips.

There are certain focus areas that you must consider while planning your Remote PI Planning event:

  • Planning Locations: Minimize the number of dispersed locations by determining the number of locations needed.
  • PI Planning Agenda: Creating an inclusive PI planning agenda to accommodate multiple time zones for the participating teams.
  • Facilities: Setting up the appropriate physical space to conduct the planning.
  • Working Agreements: Meeting the needs of the event attendees to optimize the experience for each member of the ART.
  • Tooling: Employing adequate technology to support the range of planning activities.
  • Facilitation: Executing a successful distributed PI planning event.

To be honest, this may vary from organization to organization (and time zone to time zone), but this schedule may give you some clarity of idea about how to schedule your remote PI Planning session with minimum fatigue and exhaustion.

Zone 1 AEST
Zone 2 CET
Day 1 Agenda
3:00 – 3:20 pm
7:00 – 7:20 am
Opening Introduction Followed by a 10 minute break 20 min

3:30 – 3:50 pm
7:30 – 7:50 am
Business Context Followed by a 10 minute break 20 min

4:00 – 4:20 pm
8:00 – 8:20 am
Product/Solution Vision Followed by a 10 minute break 20 min

4:30 – 4:50 pm
8:30 – 8:50 am
Architecture Vision Followed by a 10 minute break 20 min

5:00 – 5:20 pm
9:00 – 9:20 am
Development Practices Followed by a 10 minute break 20 min

5:30 – 5:50 pm
9:30 – 9:50 am
Planning Requirements Followed by a 50 minute meal break 20 min

6:40 – 8:30 pm
10:40 – 12:30 pm
Team Breakouts Scrum of Scrum Checkpoints 1 h 50 min

Zone 1 AEST
Zone 2 CET
Day 2 Agenda
3:00 – 3:20 pm
7:00 – 7:20 am
Team Breakouts (If required) Followed by a 10 minute break 20 min

3:30 – 3:50 pm
7:30 – 7:50 am
Team Synchronization Followed by a 10 minute break 20 min

4:00 – 4:20 pm
8:00 – 8:20 am
Draft Plan Review Followed by a 10 minute break 20 min

4:30 – 4:50 pm
8:30 – 8:50 am
Management Review & Problem Solving (+ 10 minute break) 20 min

5:00 – 5:20 pm
9:00 – 9:20 am
Planning Adjustments Followed by a 10 minute break 20 min

5:30 – 5:50 pm
9:30 – 9:50 am
Planning Requirements Followed by a 50 minute meal break 20 min

6:40 – 8:30 pm
10:40 – 12:30 pm
Team Breakouts Scrum of Scrum Checkpoints 1 h 50 min

Zone 1 AEST
Zone 2 CET
Day 3 Agenda
3:00 – 3:20 pm
7:00 – 7:20 am
Team Breakouts (If required) Followed by a 10 minute break 20 min

3:30 – 3:50 pm
7:30 – 7:50 am
Team Synchronization Followed by a 10 minute break 20 min

4:00 – 4:20 pm
8:00 – 8:20 am
Final Plan Review Followed by a 10 minute break 20 min

4:30 – 4:50 pm
8:30 – 8:50 am
Management Review & Problem Solving (+ 10 minute break) 20 min

5:00 – 5:20 pm
9:00 – 9:20 am
Planning Adjustments Followed by a 10 minute break 20 min

5:30 – 5:50 pm
9:30 – 9:50 am
Planning Requirements Followed by a 50 minute meal break 20 min

6:40 – 8:30 pm
10:40 – 12:30 pm
Team Breakouts Scrum of Scrum Checkpoints 1 h 50 min

A sample schedule for a remote PI planning event for two time zones and split across three half-days with frequent breaks.

Program Board

BONUS TIP II

For a distributed or remote PI Planning session, always keep in account the time zones of multi-site teams. The success of your PI Planning depends on the quality of experience you design around clarity of objectives, alignment of direction, transparency in teams, and the time sensitivity plus structure of your sessions. Allow sufficient time margins for asynchronous activities, and be considerate in picking hours for synchronous activities. Be ready for an extra day in case of an unseen spill-over.

PI Planning: Challenges How to overcome PI Planning Challenges?

Among the strategic challenges faced by teams participating in the Program Increment Planning, the significant ones are the following:

  • Transparency and alignment across the ART,
  • Effective collaboration,
  • Efficient and impactful decision making,
  • Meaningful communication,
  • Purposeful engagement.

In terms of execution, these challenges translate as:

  • Poor data assimilation,
  • Manual collection of information with time costs and error proneness,
  • Losing track of business objectives,
  • Ill-timed sessions,
  • Long heavy session,
  • Technical failures,
  • Ill prepared session management.

For an RTE with Jira teams, the biggest challenge for conducting an in-person and/or remote PI Planning, is to ensure a smooth, hassle-free, real-time, bi-directional integration between their planning board and Jira.

Some organizations employ a visualization tool for their planning board. At the onset, this may seem to be an easy way out for conducting PI Planning, but can result in serious implications during the PI Planning event and the post PI Planning scenario.
The most common hiccups faced are:

  • Jira performance

    During the PI Planning, when groups of people access a visualization board with many connected cards, the SAFe community has documented cases of Jira performance becoming remarkably compromised.

  • Limited edit allowances

    Since the visualization tools are not inherently designed for the purpose of PI Planning, there are certain limitations; one of them being the number of users allowed to edit the board.

  • Manual transfer of data

    Data from, and to, the ALM tool has to be backed up and transferred manually, which has time and accuracy costs.

When scaling agile, there are heavy price tags attached to these challenges. Time lost and financial cost are only the measurable ones among these. The disappointment/demotivation of the team members and the trust deficit among the ART teams is often an unrecognized and mostly an irrecoverable damage. Thankfully, with Kendis these challenges can be taken care of effortlessly.

Program Board

BONUS TIP III

Rehearse the facilitation to be aware of the range of issues you may have to encounter. Ensure that the team responsible for organizing is like a well-oiled machine in conducting PI Planning. You need their experience in managing the event, dealing with the people, fielding common concerns and braving the general pressure that comes with events at such scale.

PI Planning: Preparation Checklist What is a PI Planning Preparation Checklist?

Everyone and their dog can brief you about all that you need to prepare for the success of your PI Planning. The art lies in structuring the entire preparation process into systemized chunks, as is befitting for any organization adhering to scaling agile.

According to the guidance provided by SAFe, there are three major areas of PI Planning preparation that require deliberation:

  • Organizational readiness: Strategic alignment,and teams and trains setup
  • Content readiness: Management and development preparedness
  • Logistics readiness: Considerations for running a successful event

Based on these three themes, here is the list of considerations you should be particular about:

  • Planning scope and context: Has the scope (product, system, technology domain) of the planning process been identified? Do we know which teams need to plan together?
  • Business alignment: Has there been a common understanding of the priorities among the Business Owners?
  • Agile teams: Do all our Agile teams have dedicated team members, and an identified Scrum Master and Product Owner for each team?
  • Executive briefing: A briefing that establishes the current business context for all the participants
  • Product vision briefing: Is the Product Management briefing about the top 10 features in the Program Backlog?
  • Architecture vision briefing: Has the CTO/Enterprise Architect/System Architect briefed about the new Enablers, features, and Non-functional Requirements (NFRs)?
  • Locations: How many planning location do we need to maintain?
  • Technology and tooling: Coupled with our ALM tool, Kendis will take care of our real-time PI Program Board, PI Objectives, ROAMing Risks, Dependency Management and PI Planning ceremonies, including: Scrum of Scrums, Confidence Vote and Inspect and Adapt. What other tools do we need to support distributed planning or remote attendees? (Hint: The answer is none. You’re good to go!)
  • Communication channels: Primary and secondary audio, video, and presentation and conversation channels for an effective personal experience.

You must have noticed that the checklist heavily relies on contributions from all participants of the ART, as reflected in the section above documenting the PI Planning Participants and their roles.

Program Board

BONUS TIP IV

Provide in advance: A document with contact information for access to team leaders; a list of communication channels and when to use each one; contingency plan/Plan B incase some tool did not work out as per the need of the moment.

PI Planning: Step-by-Step Guide Can you provide a PI Planning template?

Whether your teams use Jira or Azure DevOps/TFS as their ALM tool, Kendis enables you to conduct your PI Planning with the finesse which can not be offered by any other solution in the market. Try it for yourself!

To help you prepare better for your PI planning, we have prepared a step-by-step guide that you can use to set up your boards, invite users and make sure all the important steps are done before the actual planning event.

This guide helps you get an overview of all the ways Kendis facilitates you during your PI Planning, irrespective of your and your Teams’ locations.

The powerful digital board Kendis offers for the PI Planning uses an optimised bi-directional, real-time sync with your Jira board. This eliminates the need to transfer any data manually, from and to Jira, because when you make a change to an item on the Kendis Program Board those changes are synced to Jira instantly and vice versa.

Jira users

Pre PI Planning

  • 01 The RTEs set up the PI Board at Kendis, defining the PI dates and duration
  • 02 Connect with your Jira boards
  • 03 Create your color-coded Teams
  • 04 Define the Sprints for the Program Increment
  • 05 Get Features from Jira onto your Kendis Board, using Jira filters or JQL with no performance impact to Jira
  • 06 Team Stories in Jira, that are already linked to the Features, are fetched automatically at your board
  • 07 Map your teams in Kendis to Jira boards
  • 08 Now, invite your teams to your Kendis Board
  • 09 Start setting up the planning by defining the business context through Business Values and prioritizing the Features.

PI Planning Day

  • 01 During the Team Breakouts, the Scrum Masters set the capacity of each team for every Sprint in their specific team areas at Kendis
  • 02 Pull Features from the prioritized Program Backlog at your Jira board to the Sprints on your Kendis Board
  • 03 Expand the Features Card and Create Stories, with a title and estimate of story points. These Stories instantly appear on your Jira as well, linked to the specific Feature and assigned to a Sprint
  • 04 Visualize the color-coded Dependencies using drag and drop, labelling the status, link types and description. Track the resolution of your Dependencies as their visualization changes on the board
  • 05 Use the Business Value of your Objectives, linking each to your Features
  • 06 Measure the progress of each Objective in your PI
  • 07 At the Plan Review stage, the Product Owners use the Kendis Board to communicate the state of dependencies, highlight the risks, explaining their plan
  • 08 View the Feature completion dates for each team
  • 09 Evaluate the Capacity-Load relationship of each team with their Sprints
  • 10 ROAM your risks using the Risks Register at the Kendis Board
  • 11 Employ the Confidence Vote facility on your Kendis Board, to cast vote for your PI, or Teams, or both
  • 12 Conduct the Inspect and Adapt session using the Inspect & Adapt module at your Kendis Board. Measure the program performance, evaluate the program delivery, and
  • 13 Once the planning part is done, change your Kendis Board state to Tracking
  • 14 Export the Kendis Board data to shareable formats in excel, csv etc.

Post PI Planning

  • 01 Using Kendis Board’s strong visual management capacity, track progress of your Dependencies and Objectives
  • 02 Use Scope Change Tracker for automated tracking of your PI progress
  • 03 Identify the Features added/edited, Stories that changed their Sprints, to predict Scope increases, understanding how and when any deviations occur in execution compared to the original PI Planning.

Kendis supports a seamless, real-time, bi-directional sync for Azure DevOps in its Cloud version and for TFS in its Self-hosted older version. The core strength of Kendis Program Board lies in making the entire process of PI Planning smooth, like a well oiled machine.

Azure DevOps

Pre PI Planning

  • 01 The RTEs set up the PI Board at Kendis, defining the PI dates and duration
  • 02 Connect with Azure DevOps or TFS by providing relevant URL and API token
  • 03 Create your color-coded Teams
  • 04 Define the Sprints for the Program Increment
  • 05 Get Features from Jira onto your Kendis Board, using existing queries or type new Wiql
  • 06 Determine how the Stories are related to the Features
  • 07 All the child-item Stories of the Features you got through the queries, are automatically fetched at your Kendis Board
  • 08 Map your teams in Kendis to Azure DevOps
  • 09 Now, invite your teams to your Kendis Board
  • 10 Start setting up the planning by defining the business context through Business Values and prioritizing the Features

PI Planning Day

  • 01 During the Team Breakouts, the Scrum Masters set the capacity of each team for every Sprint in their specific team areas at Kendis
  • 02 Pull Features from the prioritized Program Backlog in your Azure Devops to the Sprints on your Kendis Board
  • 03 Expand the Features Card and Create Stories, with a title and estimate of story points. These Stories instantly appear in your Azure Devops as well, linked to the specific Feature and assigned to a Sprint
  • 04 Visualize the color-coded Dependencies using drag and drop, labelling the status, link types and description. Track the resolution of your Dependencies as their visualization changes on the board
  • 05 Use the Business Value of your Objectives, linking each to your Features
  • 06 Measure the progress of each Objective in your PI
  • 07 At the Plan Review stage, the Product Owners use the Kendis Board to communicate the state of dependencies, highlight the risks, explaining their plan
  • 08 View the Feature completion dates for each team
  • 09 Evaluate the Capacity-Load relationship of each team with their Sprints
  • 10 ROAM your risks using the Risks Register at the Kendis Board
  • 11 Employ the Confidence Vote facility on your Kendis Board, to cast vote for your PI, or Teams, or both
  • 12 Conduct the Inspect and Adapt session using the Inspect & Adapt module at your Kendis Board. Measure the program performance, evaluate the program delivery, and
  • 13 Once the planning part is done, change your Kendis Board state to Tracking
  • 14 Export the Kendis Board data to shareable formats in excel, csv etc

Post PI Planning

  • 01 Using Kendis Board’s strong visual management capacity, track progress of your Dependencies and Objectives
  • 02 Use Scope Change Tracker for automated tracking of your PI progress
  • 03 Identify the Features added/edited, Stories that changed their Sprints, to predict Scope increases, understanding how and when any deviations occur in execution compared to the original PI Planning

Program BoardProgram Board

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Program reports and analytics

Program reports and analytics

Collaborate for the completion of a Release Train with a wholesome overview of all activities on your Program Board summarized into graphical and tabular formats.

Dependencies Management

Dependencies Management

Summarize all your PI dependencies into one meaningful and simple dynamic solution that automates dependency status updates throughout the PI according to the triggers you select.

Risk Register Tracking

Risk Register Tracking

Address and visualise the present and upcoming risks of your Program Increment, sprint or iteration to swiftly identify and smoothly mitigate them.

Feature Tracking

Feature Tracking

Visualise features progress, development, addition and removal, across sprints and teams in a simple and easy manner.

Scope Change Tracking

Scope Change Tracking

Track your PI’s scope and other changes post-planning, saving yourself hours of manual work and eliminating the possibility of human error.

Solution

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Collaboration, communication and transparency lie at the heart of Kendis. It brilliantly reduces all the painful efforts and makes the entire process of planning your Program Increment a very easy task.
PI Objectives Tracking
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Dependencies are essential in recognizing, identifying and correctly mapping factors that are affecting your progress. In Kendis you can create multiple dependencies across your Program board and track them.
Dependencies Management
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With Kendis you can transparently address and visualize the present and upcoming risks of your Program Increment, sprint or iteration in a way that makes it painless to identify and analyze.
Risk Register Tracking
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Create objectives for each team or for your Program and link those with any item present your board. This allows you to choose precisely what features and stories are contributing to the objective.
Feature Tracking
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An extremely vital and powerful feature that gives an overview of all the recent activities that are being done. Presented in graphical or tabulated formats, you obtain all the necessary information in just a glance.
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