Program Increment (PI) Planning session is a time boxed event where Teams of an Agile Release Train that are united by a shared vision, meet and plan new features, discuss dependencies and risks. It is truly a cornerstone event for SAFe; without it SAFe cannot be implemented.
In this article we will explore 10 insightful facts about PI Planning that will help you better understand what it is all about and surely in one glance you will attain an idea of all the core concepts of PI Planning.
1. Aims to Deliver Transparency and Visibility
Large organizations may have hundreds or thousands of participants that may be spread amongst different teams. These teams may be working on something different than the other but might be dependent on one another. If planning was done in the presence of one team then it would leave the other teams completely unaware of what is being done. Thus these dependencies need to be discussed and understood and there needs to be proper alignment so that all the teams are focused on one goal.
PI Planning helps brilliantly bring together all the members of the team under one room where apart from having fruitful discussions, you get to plan the future of the product you are building. It helps in creating a culture of increased visibility and to promote communication and clarity into what will be done.
2. Focuses on Empowering and Trusting the Teams
A Release Train Engineer cannot and never will dictate the multiple teams of the Agile Release Train. They have to empower the teams and give the space to grow and allow them to be empowered in such a way that the teams become self-managing and efficient on their own. But before they can empower the teams, the Release Train Engineer has to trust the teams. It is the stepping stones towards empowerment.
3. There Can be Hundreds or Even Thousands of Participants that Attend PI Planning
Organizations that have implemented the Scaled Agile Framework are usually big companies such as DHL, Standard Bank, Cisco, Fitbit, Sony Interactive Entertainment, Philips and many more. These companies usually have multiple teams located in one either one country or even spread out in different countries.
With PI Planning, all of the teams of the Agile Release Train are perfectly aligned and brought under one roof where they get to communicate about the dependencies that exist. The participants that attend the PI Planning session include:
- All the teams of the Agile Release Train
- Scrum Masters
- Product Owners
- Business owners
4. It is Led by a Release Train Engineer who is a Servant Leader for the Agile Release Train
The Release Train Engineer is at the front of facilitating the PI Planning session and ensures that a seamless and smooth PI session is done. They are at the front of ensuring smooth collaboration and alignment amongst the huge audience that attends the PI Planning session.
In the Scaled Agile Framework, the Release Train Engineer is called the Servant Leader. For a servant leader, their main goal is to serve their teams in the best way possible. Supporting and encouraging the personal growth of the people that they are leading is kept a priority. The needs of the team come before the leaders themselves.
These servant leaders are always there to guide their teams through difficult times. They are always eager to help in identifying problems and to find a solution for them.
5. Lasts for 2 days
PI Planning is a huge event for SAFe. It usually lasts for 2 days. Unlike scrum meetings that normally last for roughly 4 hours and are finished in one day, every element when planning the Program Increment takes a lot of effort and insight. The events that take place are described below.
- Business Context
- Product Solution Vision
- Architecture vision
- Planning context and lunch
- Draft Plans
- Review by management and problem solving
- Planning adjustments
- Final Plan review and lunch
- Planning risks of the program
- Confidence Vote
- Rework if needed
6. Physical or a Digital Program Board is Used for Visibility
You have a Program Board that helps in displaying all the objectives and features that need to be covered. This Program board helps jot down all that needs to be done in the coming Program Increment. You can choose to have a physical board, similar to one that is used in a traditional scrum meeting with sticky notes and red string or you can use a digital board that can be displayed with the help of a projector.
7. A Vote of Confidence is Done for Risks using ROAM
No matter how large or small your scope is, there is no denying that risks exist for every organization. They can not only affect your Program Increment’s progress but can be a serious threat to your company’s repute, if not identified and mitigated properly.
After being identified on the first day of the PI Planning, the risks are further worked upon on the second day. The ROAM method which is an abbreviation for Resolved, Owned, Accepted and Mitigated are categories in which risks are put into for effective management.
These categories are further described below:
- Resolved – The risk is not a problem
- Owned – A member of the team takes ownership of the item as it was not resolved in the meeting
- Accepted – The risk cannot be resolved so it has to be understood and accepted for what it is
- Mitigated – Formulate a plan to eradicate the risk
After the risks have been set in the above categories, a vote of confidence is taken from the team members. Team members raise their hands and with their fingers indicate if the risk is worth working on or not. Anything less than 3 fingers suggest that the risk needs to be addressed and worked on.
8. An Activity is Planned after Planning is Done which is Mandatory
After the PI Planning session ends, an activity needs to be planned. This activity can be like a casual dinner, drinks at a bar or any outing where the members of the team can be with each other in a more relaxed environment. This is helpful in building stronger inter team relationships that could also benefit in resolving some issues that might have been missed during the PI Planning session
9. Pre and Post Planning is done Before and After the PI Planning
Pre and Post PI sessions are needed because a single PI Planning session does not suffice to cover all the massive aspects of the work that needs to be done. These sessions have to be organized by the Release Train Engineer where they can work towards providing a follow up and ensure a higher level of consistency, alignment and accuracy when having the PI Planning session.
10. Can be Done with Distributed Teams
In a situation where teams are not located in one location or can not be brought together, then Distributed PI Planning can be done. In order to make this happen, there are a few factors that have to be considered to make the PI Planning session as smooth and engaging as it can be.
- Try and bring the teams to one location as much as possible to one location.
- If the teams are spread across in different countries, then you need to make sure that the time zones are kept in mind and that the PI Planning session is done on a time that is suitable for everyone. The time for PI Planning should be kept in a way that it respects people and their culture and it does not affect their daily routine.
- The PI Planning can last for 2.5 or 3 days
- Use the latest communication, collaboration and ALM tools.
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