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6 Tips for Setting Up Distributed PI Planning

6 Tips for Setting up Distributed PI Planning

Is agile now distributed?

It’s no secret that our work has completely changed in the last two years. Today’s work environment has seen companies embracing a hybrid or fully remote business model, with studies showing that only 4% of workplaces are going back into the office full-time.

In the Agile Manifesto, one of the original principles states, “individuals and interactions over processes and tools.” While this may still ring true, we know now more than ever that our tools empower our interactions and facilitate our processes.

Multiple industries that have adopted the agile framework have shown an increase in distributed agile teams. In fact, according to the 15th State of Agile Report, 89% of agile teams are distributed. Only 3% of these teams will return to the office full-time post-Covid. This is because remote workers have better focus and productivity, are less likely to leave their job, and cost the business less.

Distributed agile is no longer a new concept but our lived reality.

How do we prepare for agile ceremonies such as PI Planning, initially designed to happen face-to-face? How do we retain the most valuable element of face-to-face communication without collocating?

The challenges of PI Planning with a distributed team

Traditionally, activities like PI Planning in agile are designed for team members in the same room to interact in person.

PI Planning is a 2-day event that brings all members of an Agile Release Train (ART) together to plan their next Program Increment (PI).

As the 15th State of Agile Report showed, 89% of agile teams are now distributed. For a distributed team, your options are to fly in employees for each PI Planning session or to support a distributed PI Planning session.

While this is nice, it can be a pricey (and disruptive) exercise for any organization, especially if you need to do it 4 or 5 times a year.

Performing distributed PI Planning also brings up a challenge with using a physical program board. Those at home cannot access or contribute to the physical PI Planning board in the same way as their collocated colleagues. As a result, their ideas can go unheard, and their ability to contribute to the program board is limited.

Distributed PI Planning - Best Practice

Instead of flying your remote team to a central location to run PI Planning in person, distributed PI Planning involves using cloud-based tools to plan and run your next Program Increment virtually.

Even if the methods are a little different from distributed PI Planning, the process and desired outcomes are the same:

  • A senior representative discusses the current state of the business
  • Product Management presents the current program vision
  • Product Owners and teams breakout separately to discuss how they’ll achieve desired outcomes
  • Teams identify and visualize cross-team dependencies and work to remove blockers
  • Everyone comes together to agree on a committed plan via your Program Board

6 tips for setting up distributed PI Planning

Distributed PI Planning is no longer a temporary exception. Whether PI Planning is distributed or not, we need to ensure we maintain the same quality and outcomes that PI Planning aims to achieve - to align all teams within the Agile Release Train.

To help you through this, we’ve prepared the following 6 tips to help you prepare for distributed PI Planning.

These tips aren’t things that we’ve just brainstormed. We’ve learned these things from speaking to our customers by trawling the forums and talking to experts in the field.


1. Get the basics right

The three basics are communication, preparation, and execution.

Let’s start by talking about communication and preparation. It is essential to provide appropriate tools for online interactions for each stage of the PI Planning process: for product managers to collaborate and facilitators to manage the process-both leading up to and during the event. We also need to ensure team members can access all relevant current information, collaborate effortlessly, and access support.

Scaled Agile recommends having pre-PI Planning meetings scheduled anywhere from 2-6 weeks in advance, depending on the complexity of your solution train.

Lastly, let’s talk about execution. The execution should flow if we are communicating well and are prepared. But we need to be prepared that some things can still go wrong. Technology will fail us. People can still have problems accessing the tools we’ve set up. Execution won’t always be seamless, but iteration is a principle of agile.

2. Set the agenda early, as early as possible

Why is that? Well, think about your employees working from home. They’re working with their pets or family around, and if they know that they have PI Planning, they need to know what is expected of them.

This allows time for employees to inform their families of their commitments for that day, set up a space with no distractions, and be mentally prepared for a few days of planning.

Also, let’s not cram the agenda full of all the events we need to hold. Let’s make sure we have enough time to schedule multiple breaks throughout the day, as studies show that humans are more likely to experience mental exhaustion after a day of video conferencing. 

While it’s essential to use the tech, it can get a little bit much. Set up rules about who can talk and when to use the mute button. This will avoid interference and background noise disrupting your team’s focus.

3. Choose your tools wisely

Distributed agile teams can simulate the best of the in-person experience by selecting tools built for distributed and hybrid teams: video conferencing platforms, team chat, virtual program boards, and interactive collaboration spaces.

Whatever tools you choose, the key is finding solutions for colleagues to connect in real-time, whether in the same room or on the other side of the world.

Set up the tools, test them, and introduce them to all participants before the PI Planning session. To avoid overload and confusion, select tools that work together seamlessly.

Tools Checklist

4. Practice

We’re not going to get this right the first time. We’re going to have to rehearse. We’ll have to work out how we do things like confidence votes. Will we use the poll function on Zoom, or will we use Slack?

Everyone prefers to finish early rather than run out of time. Let’s build some slack into the agenda.

Acknowledge that there’s always room for improvement and build that into our planning. Let’s give our people a chance to communicate back to us, whether by a retrospective or by opening up a channel for feedback. We’re not just getting feedback on how the last planning session went but also on how we are finding working together more generally.

5. Make it accessible

When dealing with different time zones, you should extend the PI Planning agenda from 2 days to 3-4 days to ensure all critical parts of the PI Planning session are placed at a reasonable time for all time zones.

Set up each meeting via Google Calendar or any calendar device your team may already be using. Ensure each meeting is named, followed by a description, so attendees know what to prepare and which tools are relevant for this meeting. Make sure the correct attendees have all been sent invitations to the forum before the event.

We’ll have trouble setting up people on new tools and getting them access to their needed resources. It will be great if tech support is available throughout PI Planning. That will be easier for some people than it is for others. But it’s crucial if things go wrong.

We’re going to need a backup in place. Your tools will need to be reliable, and you will need tech support to help fix them quickly.

We will need more facilitators than we usually do to be able to answer all of these questions throughout the week.

Some people may not be used to using the tools that we’re suggesting that they use. So is there training available to help them get up to speed?

6. Level up the human experience

Seize opportunities to ensure agile teams feel as if they are working together when they are actually apart so that members see themselves as part of a community with:

  • Shared understanding – Clarity of vision, mission, purpose, and visibility into what team members are doing, facilitating learning loops among colleagues.
  • Shared empathy – Forging human connections with our tribe creates the psychological safety to learn, grow and iterate.
  • Shared experience – Creating a sense of team place, identity, and building together.

How to excel at distributed PI Planning with Easy Agile Programs and Welo

The most challenging part of distributed PI Planning is providing the positive aspects of the in-person experience to a distributed team: fluid movement around and between rooms to collaborate, easy ways to contribute to brainstorming sessions and keep whiteboards up to date and accessible, and natural social interactions that build trust and camaraderie.

Easy Agile Programs offers a complete PI Planning solution that makes scaled cross-team planning and execution easy. With a seamless Jira integration, it’s a powerful yet simple-to-use tool to scale planning and maintain alignment across distributed, hybrid, or remote teams during planning and throughout execution.

Welo offers interactive collaboration spaces that amp up the human experience for distributed and hybrid teams. It replicates the in-person experience of fluid interactions, effortless collaboration, and human connections among colleagues–beyond the isolated video. Welo’s visual orientation enables each person to be present in the context of space and to navigate to be with people and groups as they choose.

With these two tools, you can set your Agile Release Train up for success for PI Planning. Here’s how:

Select professionally-designed virtual spaces

Bring online the best of the brick-and-mortar spaces you used for in-person PI Planning–from plenary to break-out rooms to spots for casual socializing.

Welo

Rather than feel confined to a static rectangle, people see themselves and others in context, move themselves in and between spaces to connect with colleagues before, during, and after PI Planning events.

Welo

Welo spaces also provide PI participants ready access to up-to-date, relevant resources, such as Jira and Easy Agile apps used across all events.

Welo

Establish the Business Context

All Agile Release Train members can access information about the program in Easy Agile Programs. For example, in the objectives section below, you could link to a pre-recorded video of the business owner addressing the company-level objectives. Hence, teams know that their team-level objectives must ladder to this. This ensures that all members of the Agile Release Train see your business owner face to face in that distributed way and that they always have access to this video throughout PI Planning.

Objectives section on the program

After viewing the information about the program, the Product Manager can create features in Jira ahead of the PI Planning event to be discussed and broken down in planning. Easy Agile Programs seamlessly integrates with Jira, so there's no need to double-handle the work. They are ready to schedule onto a visual timeline for everyone to see what the team has committed to during PI Planning.

Set up your SAFe Program Board

The SAFe Program Board is a critical tool and output of PI Planning; It is a visual summary of features or goals, cross-team dependencies, and other factors that impact their delivery. Not only does this help with transparency, but it also increases flexibility, which helps minimize delays and unhealthy dependencies.

Ensure you have a digitized SAFe Program Board set up before the PI Planning session. Easy Agile Programs replicates the physical program board. A board that everyone has the same view of and can access. Learn how to set up a SAFe Program Board with Easy Agile Programs here.

The Program Board

Prepare your Team Planning Board

The Team Planning Board represents a scrum or kanban board which is included in the Program. This is where the teams will plan their work in the team breakout sessions during PI Planning.

If you have set up your Program Board with Easy Agile Programs, prepare the team Planning Boards by adding each team to the Program ahead of PI Planning. Once teams are added, Planning Boards are automatically created and ready for team breakout sessions. Teams can create team-level PI objectives, break down features into user stories, estimate issues to understand capacity, and create dependencies with other teams.

Team Planning Board

Moving forward

With distributed PI Planning a reality for nearly 90% of agile teams, the good news is that new solutions are being developed to work with your current tools–powering employee engagement, fluid collaboration, and efficient processes critical to successful outcomes and career satisfaction.

Equip your remote, distributed or co-located teams for success with a digital tool for PI Planning.

Easy Agile Programs
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