The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversations.
As true as this statement was when it was written, the Covid-19 pandemic irrevocably changed the way we work, live and communicate.
As organisations and individuals we found ourselves quickly needing to adapt to an ever-changing environment. Now that we have survived, we have to lean into this new way of doing things in the workplace so that we can thrive.
But what about our agile ceremonies?
One of the main reasons companies transition to agile is to make business processes and outcomes more efficient. So how do we take those principles and practices and preserve their integrity in a remote environment?
Traditionally a face-to-face event, PI Planning is a scaled cross-team planning ceremony that aims to bring together multiple teams to plan - aligning them around a shared mission and vision for the upcoming quarter or increment.
SAFe still advises that PI Planning is still collocated where possible, and it does have its benefits.
However many teams, even before the pandemic, used PI Planning software to run their planning process and to make it more efficient and accessible to distributed PI Planning. But as with most things we have taken online since Covid, we are at the mercy of the tools we use to determine how effective we can be.
The truth is, unless you can get all members within an Agile Release Train - Business Owners, stakeholders, product management, Release Train Engineers, Scrum Masters, and teams - physically in the one room at the one time, considering alternatives is necessary.
It’s important that everyone is present during PI Planning, but that doesn’t mean they have to be physically present to make PI Planning a success
Remote PI Planning with Easy Agile Programs
We are now beyond the period where we needed to adapt to remote work. Our own business agility has been tested and we have needed to evolve.
Since we first launched Easy Agile Programs, we have continued to build on the capabilities it has to help teams and organizations around the world thrive in a remote environment.
With a simple but powerful tool seamlessly integrated with Jira, the latest version of Easy Agile Programs has a range of features aimed at helping distributed teams through the PI Planning ceremony and to build out a long-lived but flexible digital Program board in Jira.
Moving to remote or hybrid PI Planning doesn’t need to jeopardize yours or your customer’s success. In fact with the right tool, it can enhance it by saving time on context switching, complex configurations and double-handling.
The PI Planning Agenda
Regardless of whether you are following a more traditional 2-day PI Planning agenda, or need to accommodate a split agenda in a distributed environment, the core agenda items are the same. We’ll walk you through each of those and how Easy Agile Programs supports these key features.
Source: Scaled Agile
Setting the business context
PI Planning kicks off with the Business Owner(s) or senior executives giving a presentation where they describe “the current state of the business, share the Portfolio Vision, and present perspective on how effectively existing solutions are addressing customer needs” (Scaled Agile - PI Planning).
In the Program details section of Easy Agile Programs, Business Owners can share a recorded video presentation with all members of the ART, or a Zoom or video conferencing link.
As a result, the presentation isn’t restricted to team members being physically present for this agenda item, and can be referred to throughout the PI Planning session and beyond.
Setting the Product / Solution Vision
Next in the agenda, Product Management will present the current vision, typically in the form of the top 10 upcoming features.
Rather than presenting the top 10 features in a list on a slide or document, Program Managers can access Jira Features (Epics) right within Easy Agile Programs and can schedule them onto a visual timeline for the duration of the Program Increment (PI).
The Program Roadmap ensures all teams are aligned on the committed features for a PI and provides visibility into the direction of the Program for all stakeholders.
It’s at this point in the PI Planning ceremony that Product Managers may also call out any upcoming milestones.
According to Scaled Agile, ‘Milestones mark specific points on the development timeline, and they can be invaluable in measuring and monitoring the product evolution and risk.’
Easy Agile Programs enables you to create highly visible milestones on the Program Roadmap to highlight key delivery dates, external events or business milestones. These can also be created on the Program Board, or at the team level on the Team Planning Board. They are represented by coloured flags at the top of the Roadmap that span the team swimlanes that make up the Program.
Team Breakout Sessions
In the team breakout, teams work individually to estimate the capacity for each Sprint in the PI. Teams create new or identify existing issues from their backlog that will help achieve the set features. The draft team plans are visible to all members of the ART.
To make this easier, Easy Agile Programs has dedicated Team Planning Boards accessible to all who have access to the Program. Simply clicking on a team’s name will take you to their team Planning Board where they are able to set capacity for each sprint within the PI:
Teams have the context of their committed features at the top of their Team Planning Board, both those that are shared by more than one team in the ART or are specific to their team.
To plan the work needed to achieve these features, teams are able to drag and drop existing issues from their backlog or quick create new issues right within the planning board.
During this session, teams also create draft PI Objectives. These are a critical part of linking what the team is working on to broader business objectives, and you don’t need to leave the Team Planning Board to create them.
In Easy Agile Programs you can indicate whether the objective is committed or uncommitted, provide a description, and directly link the Jira issues scheduled to achieve this objective with the objective itself:
During PI Planning, Business Owners will have a discussion with teams about their PI Objectives which provides an invaluable opportunity to align. The Team Planning provides the artefact to facilitate that conversations, and allows Business Owners or stakeholders to assign business value directly within the tool.
An important part of the team breakout sessions is identifying any dependencies or potential risks to scheduling work. Through drag and drop or create dependencies mode, it is very easy to create and visualise dependencies across teams in the Team Planning Board.
Aside from highly visible dependency lines, our customers also appreciate being able to see the health of those dependencies. If a dependency line is green it means the dependency is healthy, if it’s orange it is at risk, and if it is red it means we are blocked i.e. the work needed to be done to achieve an earlier piece of work is scheduled after it.
And the best bit of all? This is visible to all in the ART in a digitised SAFe Program Board.
On the Program Board we have the option to have a detailed view with team level issues visible or to hide them so we can just see features.
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During PI Planning, we need to be able to identify risks and dependencies to assess whether teams in the Agile Release Train are set up for success to reach their PI Objectives.
A digital Program Board provides transparency to all members of the ART during PI Planning and acts as a single source of truth during and beyond planning. A digital artefact enables the Program Board to become more than a plan, and lives longer than the strings and post-it notes on a physical wall.
We know that visualising feature level dependencies is crucial to not only understanding but troubleshooting the health or status of a PI. Not just during PI Planning itself, but also throughout the PI during execution.
The Program Board in Easy Agile Programs is highly visual and also filterable. Coloured lines that indicate the health of the dependency ensure we have an at-a-glance view of significant dependencies that pose a risk to our PI.
Additionally, our scheduling conflicts feature surfaces when there is work scheduled outside of its associated feature, to immediately and clearly indicate where there is a risk.
The ability to filter by dependency health and team in Easy Agile Programs helps to focus conversations around risks during PI Planning.
After presenting plans to the ART and discussing scope, cross-team dependencies, required resources and risks, teams then proceed to a confidence vote.
If needed, a closing part of planning is to rework any plans so that all teams within the Agile Release Train are confident in what they are committing to.
This may involve rescheduling to address dependencies, breaking work down further, adjusting estimations etc.
Reworking is simple and streamlined within Easy Agile Programs. The ability to inline edit issue estimates and summaries in real-time makes any rework fast and simple. Dragging and dropping an issue easily reschedules it and any impact on associated dependencies can be seen all at once.
All changes made to issues in Easy Agile Programs are automatically reflected in Jira.
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What about beyond planning?
We’ve examined the merits of remote PI Planning using a digital tool like Easy Agile Programs but something that so often gets overlooked is - what happens after planning?
A plan remains just that if it’s not translated into action. A plan isn’t made not to be fulfilled, and this is where a distributed or hybrid environment can be challenging.
Your Program Board may set you up for success, but ask yourself - how will you know if you’re on track to achieve it?
This is where having a digital, user-friendly tool that uses native Jira issues helps. At the end of PI Planning, teams have created a plan in the form of a Program Board in Jira, but they are also ready for sprint one as soon as PI Planning is done.
From there, the Program Board is set up and capable of evolving, not rolled up and stored away. This is what Easy Agile Programs is designed to do - to provide transparency but also flexibility so that the plan can necessarily adapt and be agile while maintaining momentum towards progress.
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