Streamline your workflows with better PI Planning softwara

Published 07 Nov 2019
by Robert O'Farrell, Developer


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One of the main reasons companies transition to agile is to make business processes more efficient.

Program Increment (PI) Planning is one aspect of SAFe that often lacks efficiency, with face-to-face events that run 4-5 times per year and bulky Program Boards that use sticky notes and rolls of string. 🤔

Many teams already use PI Planning software to run their planning and make this process more efficient and accessible to distributed team members. But some teams still do their face-to-face planning using just a physical Program Board.

If you’re a bit old-school like that, we don’t judge. A lot of our team prefer pen and paper, too!

But it does beg the question… do teams really need software to do their PI Planning if they’re running an in-person event? And is there any real benefit, or should they just stick with the physical Program Planning Board?

So, let’s talk about some of these benefits, drawbacks, and opportunities for teams who want to give their PI Planning a bit of a turbo boost.

Face-to-face PI Planning is still considered best practice

Let’s get one thing clear. Face-to-face planning in itself is a very good thing for teams. Many agile coaches prefer to keep it simple and traditional, with pens, paper, and sticky notes. After all, this approach does come with its few advantages, like:

Well thought-out plans:

Physically shaping words helps us to remember them and handwriting forces you to slow down and think. This could lead to plans that are better thought out. (Although no promises you’ll be able to comprehend your colleague’s brilliant handwritten plans.)

Everything’s visible at a glance:

It helps give your team visibility across the board when it’s not limited to a screen’s resolution. 👀

No barriers to collaboration:

Physical PI Planning is highly fluid - there’s no barrier to collaboration and everyone has access to the same resources. There’s no need to learn software that could be unfamiliar to some team members. Want to write something? Grab a pen and paper. Want to move something? Pick it up and re-stick it somewhere else.

Focus on ideas and communication:

With a physical board, the focus is on the ideation and communication, rather than technology.

Gif with text: “Please excuse my handwriting”.

But…

(bet you didn’t see this coming)

…although face-to-face and pen and paper are considered “best practice” for agile, they also come with some challenges. And they’re not all that great for streamlining your teams’ workflows, especially if you have a larger scale team.

PI Planning inefficiencies

Aside from the prohibitive costs of running physical PI Planning, a Program Board made of sticky notes and string can be a lot less efficient during and after the event. 📝🧵

First of all, there’s limited visibility of the Program Board. The Release Train Engineer ends up rolling up the physical Program Board and sticking it somewhere in their office. And that’s cool for anyone who works in the same office, but a lot of teams are spread across multiple locations and even countries.

The fact is, Program Boards aren’t enough on their own. They’re like a big bowl of ice cream without a spoon - smells good, looks pretty, but practically impossible to consume (unless you drink it from the bowl). 🍨😧

That’s why any physical PI Planning artefacts still need to be entered into project management software, like Jira.

Teams also need to keep a digital copy of all their planning information so they can be prepared for an audit, stay compliant, and keep the data secure. Yet another reason why any physical PI Planning notes still need to be typed up and replicated within an app or document.

Physical Program Boards also come with a risk of lost data and wasted time. Because your teams are double-handling data, there’s a risk that they could miss something or make an error when copying handwritten planning artefacts into Jira (especially if their handwriting is like mine).

Plus there is a very real risk that the physical planning materials could get lost. If this happens, your team could lose their written plan for the entire quarter and waste two full workdays across your entire team. We’ve seen it happen. 😟

Man looks confused and asks “what is happening here?”

And finally, if you rely purely on a physical planning board instead of PI Planning software, you’ll find there’s a lack of context within Jira.

Jira is an excellent tool for small agile teams. But we’ve heard from our customers who do PI Planning that the basic features don’t always work for the scaled agile level, where you’ve got up to 10 teams simultaneously working on features.

One of the challenges that we heard from our customers (back when we started looking into developing Easy Agile Programs), was that the information displayed on the physical Program Board was not reflected in the tickets that were later entered into Jira. Jira’s flat visualisation lacks context compared to the physical dependency “spaghetti board”. This makes it hard to visualise what other teams were working on, where dependencies come into play, and what features might be blocked.

You didn’t know that Johnny from team 2 was away on holidays or when team 5 would spit out that feature you’ve been waiting on.

Fortunately, these challenges can be overcome! The answer is to rely less on the traditional physical Program Board and instead, use a PI Planning app to create digital Program Boards in Jira.

7 ways Jira PI Planning apps benefit all teams

Whether your team is distributed, remote, or all under one roof, here’s how they can benefit from switching to PI Planning software:

  1. Better context

When you can integrate your PI Planning with your workflow in Jira, it empowers your team to zoom out to the bigger picture of what they’re currently working on. That means they can:

  • 👀 Visualise dependencies
  • 🤝 Do better cross-team collaboration
  • ✔️ Avoid conflicts between feature releases

And at the same time, they can easily zoom in and focus on their current task.

  1. Streamlined workflow

When you do your PI Planning inside of software like Easy Agile Programs, most changes are instantly reflected in Jira.

Because everything is entered straight into Jira, your teams are ready to start implementing the plans as soon as the PI Planning session is complete. That means they can get straight into it while they’re still excited from the planning. And because your workflow is linked to your PI Planning, your team members have a greater understanding of the goals behind each task and any dependencies.

  1. Increased collaboration

Team members high five each other

When your PI Planning is done digitally, everyone can contribute, no matter where they’re located. Each team can submit their plans, be part of the PI Planning process, and feel empowered. When everyone can get involved, it’s a lot better for team health.

  1. Single source of truth

If you can skip the physical Program Board and go straight to a virtual board, you’ll have a single source of truth for your entire team. They’ll know where they can go to for reliable, up to date information and you don’t have to worry about updating both the physical and digital boards with changes.

  1. No double handling

Entering information off a whole lot of physical sticky notes is time-consuming and risky… what if one disappears? What if it doesn’t stay stuck where it’s meant to?

On the other hand, entering data directly into your PI Planning tool improves efficiency and cuts down on mistakes. And you won’t spend late nights eating comfort food because of that one sticky note that got away. 😰🍫

  1. Simplified compliance

On a more serious note, it’s best practice to keep a digital copy of all information for:

☑️ Compliance

☑️ Audits

☑️ Security

For example, if you’re in the banking or insurance space, or you’re in a government organisation, you’ll likely face regular audits to ensure compliance measures are met. Actions need to be recorded and resolved.

The right software simplifies record keeping and enables independent representatives to easily participate in your PI Planning, either during or after the event.

  1. Improved accessibility

Accessibility is important for all teams, but especially if you have any remote or distributed team members.

With PI Planning software, distributed teams or part-time remote workers can access the information in the same way as your in-house team. Or if any of your core team members are away during PI Planning, they can tune in virtually or easily get up to speed later on. Keeping all the information available digitally means your team can access it no matter when and where they work.

Why use Jira?

We’ve talked a lot about Jira here because it’s a great tool for agile teams. It allows for multiple work frameworks such as a Kanban, Scrum, or a combination of both. And with features that are structured for sprint planning, this makes it ideal for backlog management and visibility at scale.

You probably already know this, because if you’re agile, you’ve most likely used Jira at some point.

(Also, we’re tight with Jira - our Co-CEOs Dave and Nick both spent 5 years working directly with the Atlassian Jira team. We think they’re a pretty fantastic bunch.)

But while Jira is a great app and has a lot of agile-specific features, there’s no built-in Jira Program Board for SAFe or PI Planning. For that, you’ll need a Jira app, like Easy Agile Programs.

Why use Easy Agile Programs?

Quite simply? It’s the simplest way to visualise programs of work within Jira.

Gif with scene from The Road to El Dorado, where characters say “both is good”

Easy Agile Programs is an agile plugin for Jira that helps you keep the best parts of your physical Program Board (it’s like digital sticky notes and string), while overcoming the problems we’ve talked about here.

Problems like losing information, double handling, misinformation, poor visibility, and inaccessibility for distributed team members.

It’s the simplest PI Planning app for Jira, designed to help teams keep all their planning activities inside Jira. If you have a scaled agile team, you run PI Planning, and you already use Jira, we think you’ll love it. 😍

Get a simple PI Planning app for Jira and streamline your workflow

Ready to streamline your workflows and do better PI Planning? Sign up for a free 30-day trial of Easy Agile Programs for Jira. (plus - now available on Jira Cloud)

Join Disney, Boeing, Vodafone, and Prudential Insurance and use Easy Agile Programs to run your next PI Planning session.

And while you’re at it, subscribe to our newsletter. We’ve got more content coming up on PI planning and agile tools. You definitely won’t want to miss out!