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How to reap the benefits of smart PI objectives

22, Apr 2022
Elizabeth Cranston
Written by Elizabeth Cranston, Senior Product Manager

A straightforward guide to building smart PI objectives

Do your teams have a clear understanding of what needs to be done – and why?

One of the keys to being agile is to focus on the work that matters. This means working on projects that add value to the business and contribute to performance. But for many organizations, teams can get caught up on the latest feature or development, without understanding how that relates to the bigger picture of what the business cares about.

To keep your team focused on what they have set out to achieve in order to deliver value and achieve business outcomes, setting smart PI Objectives is essential. We look at why they’re so important, what makes a good PI objective, and how you can use them in your organization.

At a glance:

  • PI objectives help teams understand how what they’re doing matters to the business.
  • Good PI objectives are SMART – specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timebound.
  • Linking features to PI objectives within the same tool makes it easier for teams and stakeholders to see how work is achieving business objectives.

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What are PI objectives?

When an agile team gets together for a PI planning session, there are two key outputs:

  1. The program board covers big picture information such as features, dependencies between teams, and milestones. A feature is an agreed upon piece of work identified as being important to meeting business needs. For software development teams, this might be a new product feature. For marketing teams, it might be a website refresh or an advertising campaign.
  2. PI objectives link the scheduled features to broader business objectives. This helps align work that needs to be done with broader business goals. They are then broken down into committed and uncommitted objectives.
    1. Committed objectives are those the team is confident they can deliver within the Program Increment. These objectives have been committed by the team through a confidence vote.
    2. Uncommitted objectives are the ‘nice to have’ objectives. While they have been identified as valuable, they aren’t a priority and are only worked on if there is time.

The benefits of having smart PI objectives

PI objectives link what teams are working on to what the business cares about. They create alignment with business objectives by clearly connecting features to business value. As a result, teams know how their work is adding value.

Smart PI objectives provide a framework for this. They help build trust, create a shared language, and provide a clear direction. Everyone in the team can then understand what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and why it’s important.

Without smart PI objectives in place, teams can spend time on tasks that aren’t adding value to the business and impact agility.

PI objectives are essential to your ability to measure success. Completing features alone isn't enough - they must drive a business outcome. They help get teams clear on why the work they do matters and define what success looks like.

What makes a good PI objective?

We’ve talked about why PI objectives are so critical, and now we’ll explain what makes a good PI objective.

Good PI objectives:

  • Allow the business to see deliverables in a set timeframe
  • Provide clarity on how scheduled work  fits into the big picture
  • Enhance communication between teams and stakeholders
  • Include no more than 7 to 10 objectives in total
  • Aligns with what the business cares about
  • Are clear on why it’s important and what it will deliver
  • Are understood by anyone who picks them up

Are SMART – that is, specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timebound

Learn about five PI planning mistakes, and how to avoid them.

PI objectives need to be SMART

Using the SMART goal setting framework to write your PI objectives helps keep your objectives clear and concise. Under this framework, your PI objective needs to be:

  • Specific – Clearly and explicitly state the intended outcome of your objective.
  • Measurable – Describe what your team needs to do to achieve the objective and how they will quantify success. Stakeholder feedback should form part of this.
  • Achievable – Ensure the objective is realistic and within your team’s control and influence.
  • Relevant – Align the objective with overall business objectives.
  • Timebound – Set an appropriate timeframe to achieve the objective within the PI.
Team PI objective
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Tips for writing SMART (and smart) PI objectives

Typically, many teams will run PI planning sessions in one tool, then use another tool (like Confluence) to record PI objectives.

But separating PI objectives from the planning sessions make it hard for the team and stakeholders to see how the work is shifting the dial for the business.

With the Easy Agile Programs, you can directly link your features to your objectives within the same tool.

Create PI objectives

You can describe the objective within the app, assign the business value, and then easily link relevant features to that objective.

Edit team PI objective

By connecting features to PI objectives within the same tool, teams and business stakeholders gain clear visibility of work. They can see how their work is helping to achieve business objectives.

Learn more

Using the SMART framework to define PI objectives helps your teams focus on the right work. They align projects with broader business goals while providing a shared understanding across teams. By working towards the same purpose, they help keep your teams and organization productive and agile.

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