How to prepare for distributed PI Planning

How to prepare for distributed PI Planning

More organisations want the benefits of remote workers, without missing out on the benefits of agile.

It makes sense. When you can hire from anywhere in the world, you’re free to hire the best people for the job.

Plus, studies have shown remote workers have better focus and productivity, are less likely to leave their job, and cost the business less.

But how does this way of working fit into an agile organisation? How do distributed agile teams do PI Planning and other activities that typically require face-to-face interaction?

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The challenges of doing PI Planning with a distributed team

Traditionally, activities like PI planning in agile are designed for team members who are in the same room together and interacting in person.

In fact, one of the original principles in the agile manifesto is "individuals and interactions over processes and tools". But this principle is not always practical for the modern workplace, especially when it comes to PI planning.

PI Planning is a 2-day event which brings all members of an Agile Release Train (ART) together to plan out their next Program Increment (PI). Up until recently, the solution for most distributed agile teams was to fly in employees for each PI Planning session.

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

Plus, any physical PI Planning artefacts still need to be entered into your project management software, like Jira so that each commit to the repository is linked to an item of work.

This is also important to ensure all the information is available in case of an audit, or to ensure compliance and security. Tools like Jira are not built to natively replicate everything done in a physical PI Planning session (like mapping dependency relationships). So this information is often left out.

That means your distributed agile project team can’t refer back to the physical Program Board or see its progression once they get back home.

Physical PI Planning means all the post-it notes

To combat these challenges, some companies with dispersed agile teams are starting to experiment with distributed PI Planning as an alternative approach.

What does distributed PI Planning look like?

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

Even if the methods are a little different with distributed PI planning, the process and 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 visualise cross-team dependencies and work to remove blockers
  • Everyone comes together to agree on a committed plan via your Program Board

Distributed agile teams can simulate the in-person experience by using online environments like real-time chat, video conferencing, and a virtual Program Board.

Whatever tools you choose, the key is to find a solution that enables your team to communicate and collaborate in real-time, whether they’re in the same room or on the other side of the world. This will take some experimentation.

Here are some popular tools for distributed teams that are used in PI Planning:

Video conferencing

  • Zoom
  • Google hangouts
  • Skype
  • GoToMeeting

Real-time chat

  • Slack
  • Microsoft Teams

Digital Program Board

  • Jira + Easy Agile Programs
  • Targetprocess
  • piplanning app

3 practical tips for distributed PI Planning

Distributed PI Planning is still a relatively new concept. A lot of teams are still ironing out the kinks in their process, figuring out what works for them, and sharing this with others. Here’s what some distributed teams have found works well:

1. Use cloud-based tools

Online shared planning tools mean your team can interact with the information sooner - maybe even as it’s being entered. This means you’re sharing knowledge and visibility across projects and teams, which is helpful for mapping cross dependencies. Plus, it avoids storing information in different places, so your team ends up with a single source of truth.

2. Use video and audio

The tech should bring your teams as close as possible without them physically being there. So, encourage your remote team members to switch their cameras and mics on during planning sessions and actively participate.

3. Set the rules

While it’s important to use the tech, it can get a little bit much. Set up rules ahead of time about who can talk and when to use the mute button. This will avoid interference and background noise that could disrupt your team’s focus.

How Easy Agile Programs brings your PI Planning into Jira

Jira is a fantastic tool for agile teams, but on its own, it doesn’t have all the features you need to run a remote PI Planning session.

Missing piece of the puzzle

The Easy Agile Programs app for Jira adds the missing pieces you need at each phase to make it a highly effective PI Planning tool. Here’s how:

Our PI planning app streamlines visibility and provides transparency of your Program for all teams in an Agile Release Train - without leaving Jira.

Applying agile principles to distributed teams

Of course, face-to-face planning is still the gold standard for agile, but where it’s not possible or practical, it doesn’t mean you can’t do it.

You can still do SAFe and PI Planning - you just have to adapt the methods and use tools that enable your team to collaborate from anywhere.

At the end of the day, agile principles will apply no matter where your team does their work.

Your team’s location shouldn’t stop you from doing agile

Motivational penguin gif says “you can do it!”

If you want to do agile with your distributed team, you can! And if someone from your agile project wants to go remote, that’s doable, too.

Adapt your tools and stick to the methods that you know work. And support your team with PI Planning tools that work anywhere in the world - you’ll get the same great results and save money.

In fact, some of our customers (who use Easy Agile Programs for Jira) save $100K+ four times a year because they don’t have to fly everyone in.

The best way to plan for distributed PI Planning

If you’re getting ready to run PI Planning for your distributed agile project teams, let’s stay in touch.

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