The Future of Big Room Planning: 8 Strategies for Virtual Teams

by Caitlin Mackie, Graduate Marketing Coordinator

01 Jun 2021

Big room planning helps teams of all types and sizes align around goals, business objectives, and customer needs. Generally, it’s a quarterly gathering that brings everyone together — from software developers to stakeholders — to complete essential planning.

Often, teams that complete big room planning do so with more than 100 people at a time. Yikes! While this may have been possible pre-2020, the new reality of remote and distributed teams means that big room planning needs to occur virtually.

Distributed PI planning poses a number of challenges and requires advanced preparation. There are virtual tools to implement, time zones to contend with, and employees to corral who are used to working on their own schedule — to say nothing of the inevitable tech glitches.

Learn more about the critical benefits of big room planning, and read our strategies for doing virtual big room planning right. Whether you’re new to this large-scale event or a seasoned master, agile pros are always searching for new ways to improve their systems.

What is big room planning (BRP)?

big room planning: GIF of a happy man

Big room planning, or PI planning, is typically a two-day event that brings together all of the teams on an agile release train, including product owners, facilitators, developers, and outside stakeholders. It’s traditionally a face-to-face planning session that, for some teams, puts more than 100 people in the same room to align on goals, business objectives, and an overall direction moving forward.

It’s part of a scaled agile framework that implements agile practices for enterprises. Agile teams use repeated workflows for informed planning, efficient execution, and continual delivery of stakeholder value.

Although PI planning events often take place in person, the increased number of remote teams has forced businesses to find virtual solutions for this large-scale event.

The benefits of a big room planning event

Whether big room planning occurs in-person or online, this two-day gathering provides a number of critical benefits. It’s an integral part of the SAFe that keeps businesses aligned on common goals and objectives, and it sets various teams on a strong path for upcoming sprints.

Here are some of the main big room planning benefits:

  • Helps all team members visualize the big picture
  • Builds team trust, rapport, and cohesion
  • Promotes collaboration between different business teams
  • Reduces cross-team dependencies
  • Grounds the team in reality with clear goals and timelines
  • Ensures the backlog represents business objectives and customer needs
  • Prioritizes product or project goals
  • Reiterates key business objectives
  • Sets teams up for success in upcoming sprints
  • Makes the sprint planning process more straightforward and effective
  • Brings stakeholders into the fold for valuable feedback and collaboration
  • Realigns the team on the most important business values
  • Helps teams spot issues and dependencies before they slow workflow
  • Improves the effectiveness of decision making
  • Prevents big failures from occurring down the line

Virtual big room planning strategies

GIF of a monkey using a mouse

There are some notable and unfortunate trade-offs to conducting big room planning online. There’s more coordination involved, and the lack of in-person collaboration can prevent people from fully investing in the process.

However, this doesn’t mean your virtual team should skip this critical event. Video conferencing, online chats, and other virtual agile tools can aid the facilitation of this meeting — no matter where team members are located. Follow our guide to best virtual big room planning practices to improve your PI planning processes.

1. Set the date and agenda early

Remote teams are used to operating on their own schedules. They work from home, balancing work, family, and living their lives. Ensure you schedule PI planning well in advance so that everyone can mark it in their calendars.

It’s critical that as many team members as possible participate in this planning session.

2. Be mindful of time zones

Distributed teams are, well, distributed! Remote employees aren’t tied to a specific location, and some teams include people and stakeholders from all over the globe.

This is amazing for establishing interesting and diverse teams, but it can be difficult to coordinate all-hands meetings. Carefully consider your big room planning timeline and account for the time zone of each team member. Multiple time zones could mean that some teams are working at different times than others, and you may only have a small amount of reasonable overlap during which everyone is able to tune in.

Make the most of this limited window and ensure you’re never imposing on other people’s off time. Only require those who are needed to be present, and provide a clear schedule in advance.

3. Choose stellar tools that aid online collaboration

Online tools are of the utmost importance when it comes to planning large virtual meetings. You’ll need to choose a video conferencing tool (Zoom, Teams, Google Meet, etc.) and have options available for breakout meetings and other chat communication (Slack, Microsoft Teams, etc.).

Virtual whiteboards, such as Miro, are also a huge asset, as well as tools designed for PI planning. If your team uses Jira, we recommend Easy Agile Programs. It’s a complete PI Planning solution designed for distributed, remote, or face-to-face Program Increment Planning.

Ensure the whole team, including stakeholders, understand what tools will be used and how to use them. Check in with the team in advance to make sure everyone is prepared. In advance, troubleshoot issues such as people having trouble setting up an account or getting connected. This is especially important for bringing in outside stakeholders who may not be familiar with the tools you use.

4. Go in with a refined backlog

Do as much advance planning as you can so you can make the most of this planning event. Ensure the backlog is thoroughly refined and ready to go so no time is wasted during PI planning.

It’s a big commitment for so many people available at once, and it uses up a lot of working hours. Plus, your stakeholders are setting aside time for this meeting. A refined backlog that’s organized with appropriate details will keep everything running as smoothly as possible.

5. Don’t have people waiting around

Do all you can to ensure there’s a clear schedule that doesn’t leave anyone hanging around. That last thing you want is to waste people’s time. Ensure people know “where” they need to be and when. Triple-check that the appropriate people are assigned to virtual meetings, breakouts, and tasks. Advance planning and transparency will help ensure no one is left waiting or underutilized.

6. Utilize team breakouts

It’s unrealistic to have 100+ people working together in the same room or virtual space for two days straight. Can you imagine? 🤯

Breakout meetings composed of smaller groups are essential to a productive and effective planning event. Once again, it all comes down to advance planning. Your game plan doesn’t need to be completely rigid, but you do need a clear schedule, and leaders need to effectively organize breakout groups in whatever way makes the most sense for your team and desired planning outcomes.

7. Hold a retrospective so you can improve the next time around

Retrospectives ensure your processes continually improve. They provide an opportunity for feedback that will help make the next big planning meeting better.

Make sure you collect feedback and hear people out after the session. Ask people what they thought went well, what didn’t go so well, and what could be improved for next time. Use this information to improve the process for your next big room planning meeting.

8. Expect the unexpected and roll with the punches (aka tech issues)

As with any large-scale meeting, nothing is going to run perfectly. This couldn’t be more true for virtual meetings for so many participants. You are bound to run into hiccups and tech issues. Rolling with the punches is the best you can do.

Test technology in advance — schedule time when your main speakers can do a test call with you. Tip: Go over lighting requirements, and have them silence notifications and devices in advance.

Make sure everyone has the information they need to operate their tools and tech effectively, and as the leader of big room planning or a breakout session, have tech contingencies in place. What happens if your conferencing tool stops working? Do you have a backup? What if their Wi-Fi slows or goes down? Can they switch to a hotspot or can someone else take over?

Let’s go over that one more time:

✅ Set the date and agenda early

✅ Manage time zones effectively

✅ Choose stellar tools that aid online collaboration

✅ Go in with a refined backlog

✅ Don’t have people waiting around

✅ Utilize team breakouts

✅ Hold a retrospective so you can improve the next time around

✅ Expect the unexpected and roll with the punches (aka tech issues)

PI planning with Easy Agile

No matter the size of your team, effective planning begins with using the right tools. Easy Agile builds products specifically designed for Jira users to help agile teams plan efficiently and effectively.

Easy Agile Programs for Jira is ideal for helping remote or distributed teams effectively manage programs with streamlined visibility to deliver alignment at scale. Set PI objectives, visualize dependencies, and align the entire team with a simple-to-use and virtually accessible tool.

Learn more about how to improve remote PI planning with Easy Agile Programs.

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