The Ultimate Guide to PI Planning [2020 SAFa Edition] 

Published 12 Dec 2019
by Sean Blake, Head of Marketing


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When you’re getting started with scaling agile in your company, the thought of bringing multiple agile teams together in the one room is enough to bring on cold sweats. 😰💭

Or maybe you’ve been doing PI Planning for a while now, but it’s not running too well and you’re thinking of throwing in the towel.

🦸 Never fear, Easy Agile is here!

We’ve put together this complete guide to PI Planning in 2020. We’ll help destroy the myths and crack the code to running successful and effective SAFe PI Planning sessions.

In this guide you’ll learn about what PI Planning is, why it’s so important for your business, how to get started, and much more.

Plus, we answer a bunch of FAQs about PI Planning so you can feel confident enough to be part of an event (and start using all the lingo).

This PI Planning Ultimate Guide ain’t short, so if you want to scroll ahead to a bit that’s most interesting/useful to you, be our guest. We’ll cover:

  • What actually is PI Planning?
  • Why do PI Planning?
  • What is the goal of PI Planning?
  • What should be included in the PI Planning agenda?
  • What is accomplished in the first part of the PI Planning meeting?
  • Why is a confidence vote held at the end of PI Planning?
  • When is PI Planning held?
  • What is a pre-PI Planning event and when is it needed?
  • What does SAFe have to do with PI Planning?
  • What is PI Planning in Scrum?
  • What is the difference between a PI Roadmap and a Solution Roadmap?
  • What is a program?
  • What’s a program board?
  • Who should be involved in PI Planning?
  • What should we do to prepare for PI Planning?
  • What do you do after PI Planning?
  • What is post-PI Planning?
  • Tips for distributed teams and remote PI Planning
  • Common mistakes and challenges
  • Using Jira for PI Planning
  • Anything else you’d like to know about PI Planning?

Getting started with PI Planning

Let’s start with the basics…

What actually is PI Planning?

PI Planning stands for Program Increment Planning.

PI Planning sessions are regularly scheduled events held throughout the year where multiple teams within the same Agile Release Train (ART) meet to align to a shared vision, discuss features, plan the roadmap, and identify cross-team dependencies.

Here are the essential elements of PI Planning:

  • 2 full day events run every 8-12 weeks (depending on the length of your increments)
  • Product Managers work to prioritize the planned features for the increment beforehand
  • Development teams own user story planning and estimation
  • Engineers and UX teams work to validate the planning
  • The goal is to align the teams to the mission and each other
  • Everyone attends in person (if possible)
  • Technology is used to allow distributed teams to participate (if needed)

If you’re adopting SAFe for the first time, chances are, it’ll start with PI Planning. That’s because it forms the foundation of the Scaled Agile Framework.

Quick definition: SAFe or the Scaled Agile Framework™ is a series of guidelines and practices designed to help bring agility into larger organizations, across all teams and levels of the business. The framework is geared at improving visibility, alignment, and collaboration and should lead to greater productivity, better results, and faster delivery.

Whether you’re adopting all 5 levels or just essential SAFe, the foundation of your transformation and the driver for everything is the PI Planning ceremony.

No pressure! 🤷‍♂️ Though seriously, if your team gets PI Planning right, it makes everything in the upcoming increment so much easier.

So let’s dig a little bit deeper into the why…

Why do PI Planning?

PI Planning is incredibly beneficial for large scale agile organizations.

To understand the impact, let’s look at some numbers. For example, some larger organizations might have 200-300 teams and 10,000 developers. In the old way of working, these teams would never have spoken to one another before. 😢(until there was a critical problem that forced them to talk)

Previously, alignment would have been at the leadership team level, and they’d have multiple levels of managers in between who cascade information down, but the people on the teams would never talk to one another. There would be a constant battle for resources, budget, and opportunities to work on the sexiest projects.

Speaking of projects, these had a habit of conflicting - one team would release something and then it would break something in another team’s project.

PI Planning is the first time many of these really big companies get their teams together in a room or on the same call and talking to each other. They get the chance to nut out those important conversations about who’s working on what.

This is kind of a big deal because:

  1. When you’re touching a system or a code repository, you need to know how it’s going to impact another team
  2. You might need to do some work to enable another team to work on their feature first (and vice versa)

PI Planning enables:

🗨️ Communication

👀 Visibility

🙌 Collaboration

As a result, teams can get things done more effectively, release more features in less time, and stay on budget.

All very good reasons to do PI Planning. But let’s also look at the big picture…

What is the goal of PI Planning?

Judge Roy Snyder from the Simpsons asks “What is the point of all this?”

PI Planning is an essential part of the Scaled Agile Framework, a framework that’s designed to bring agile to large companies with multiple teams. 👨‍💼🏢👩‍💼

SAFe PI Planning helps teams in the Agile Release Train (ART) synchronize, collaborate, and align on workflows, objectives, releases, and more.

On the flip side… without PI Planning, teams don’t have structured communication. They may not know what the other teams are working on, which can cause a lot of problems. For example, two teams might be working on different features without realising there’s a dependency which could hold up the release or require a significant rework of the code. ❌🤦

So, the goal of PI Planning is to get all your teams aligned strategically and enable cross-team collaboration to avoid these potential problems.

Now that we’ve covered off the “why”, let’s dig a bit deeper into the “what”. The best way to get a picture of what happens during PI Planning is to take a look at an agenda.

What should be included in the PI Planning agenda?

Here’s a standard PI Planning agenda template suggested by the SAFe website:

Day 1

8:00am-9:00am

Business context

9:00am-10:30am

Product/solution vision

10:30am-11:30am

Architecture vision & development practices

11:30am-1:00pm

Planning context & lunch

1:00pm-4:00pm

Team breakouts

4:00pm-5:00pm

Draft plan review

5:00pm-6:00pm

Management review & problem solving

Day 2

8:00am-9:00am

Planning adjustments

9:00am-11:00am

Team breakouts

11:00am-1:00pm

Final plan review & lunch

1:00pm-2:00pm

Program risks

2:00pm-2:15pm

Confidence vote

2:15pm-X:XXpm

Plan rework (if needed)

When ready

Planning retrospective & moving forward

Source: scaledagileframework.com/pi-planning

This agenda might be perfect for you, or you might tweak it based on your team’s needs. Distributed teams, very large ARTs, and other factors might require you to get creative with the schedule. You might find that some sessions need more time, while others can be shortened. If it’s your first PI Planning event, try the standard agenda, get feedback from your teams, and experiment with different formats next time. 🥼🧪💥

Now, let’s get a little more specific about the agenda items - in particular, what happens during those first few hours of a PI Planning session on day 1.

What is accomplished in the first part of the PI Planning meeting?

The first thing you’ll do is gather around in a circle with the rest of your Agile Release Train and chant mantras, like:

🧘 Think positive thoughts

😊 I am smart, I am kind, I am important

💡 I love lamp

Scene from Anchorman movie where Brick says “I love lamp”

Nah, just kidding. What’ll actually go down is much less exciting (but necessary).

Although it could be exciting if business discussions are your thing. 🤷🤓

Day 1 usually kicks off with a presentation from a Senior Executive or Business Owner. The agenda allows an hour to talk about the current state of the business. They highlight specific customer needs, how the current products address these needs, and potential gaps.

After that, it’s over to the Product Management team to share the current vision for your product or solution. They’ll talk about any changes that have occurred since the last PI Planning session (usually around 3 months prior). And they’ll cover off what’s coming up, including milestones and the next 10 features that are coming up. This session should take around 1.5 hours.

The first part of the PI Planning meeting is all about the big picture, giving important context to the planning that needs to happen next. Now let’s skip ahead and talk about something really important that happens at the end of the meeting.

Why is a confidence vote held at the end of PI Planning?

Scene from Napoleon Dynamite where he does hand actions

The confidence vote is a seemingly small but very important part of PI Planning.

Here’s how it works…

It happens almost at the end of your PI Planning event. The Release Train Engineer asks “Will we meet the objectives?”

Everyone in the room needs to vote by raising a hand (and fingers). 🤚

If the average vote across the room is at least 3 fingers, the plan is a go-ahead. If it’s less ✌️ it’ll need reworking (until it reaches a high confidence level). Plus, if anyone votes using just one or two fingers, they’ll have the chance to share the reasoning.

(If anyone gets creative and does the Napoleon Dynamite thing, the room gets thrown into chaos. Try it!)

The confidence vote is all about making sure that the attendees are in alignment and that they agree that the plan in its current form is do-able within the given timeframe. Speaking of timing, let’s talk about how and where PI Planning actually fits into your company calendar.

When is PI Planning held?

Illustration showing calendar months peeling off from Jan-April

Many companies find that 8-12 weeks (which adds up to 4-6 x 2-week iterations) is the right amount of time for an increment.

Some companies hold quarterly PI Planning, for example:

  • Q1 PI Planning: December
  • Q2 PI Planning: March
  • Q3 PI Planning: June
  • Q4 PI Planning: September

But the timing and frequency will depend on how long each program increment is scheduled to last.

📅 The good thing about PI Planning events is that they happen regularly on a fixed schedule, which means you can plan for them well ahead of time. That means teams and Business Owners have plenty of notice to ensure they can show up for the event.

Before we go any further, let’s backtrack a little. Because depending on how you do agile, there’s actually something that needs to happen before you can run PI Planning. Yep, we’re talking about pre-PI Planning (what SAFe lack in creative names, they make up for in good systems and processes 😉).

What is a pre-PI Planning event and when is it needed?

Yep, this is a thing. Because apparently the two-day PI Planning event just isn’t enough.

But they exist for a very good reason - to make sure that the ART is aligned within the broader Solution Train before they do PI Planning. It’s all about synchronising with the other ARTs to ensure the solution and organization are heading in the right direction, together.

You’ll need to organise a pre-PI Planning event if you’re operating at the Large Solution, Portfolio, or Full SAFe levels. Essential SAFe is more basic and does not have a Solution Train, so if you’re operating at this level, you won’t need pre-PI Planning.

If this was Thomas the Tank Engine, we’d think of this a little bit like Thomas, Percy, and James as separate ARTs all teaming up to be Very Useful Engines and haul separate loads for the same overall purpose.

🚂 Thomas would carry the passengers

🚂 Percy would pick up the fireworks

🚂 James would bring the picnic food

…and everybody would have a very nice time.

(We’ve deliberately left Gordon out… he’s not a team player.)

Gordon from Thomas the Tank Engine says “Poop poop poop. Serves you right.”

But back to pre-PI Planning events. What usually happens is that key people get together from the Solution Train, along with representatives from the ARTs and relevant suppliers. Here are a few of the folks you’ll find at the planning event:

  • Solution Train Engineer
  • Solution Management
  • Solution Architect/Engineering
  • Solution System Team
  • Release Train Engineers
  • Product Management
  • System Architects/Engineers
  • Customers

They’ll look at the top capabilities from the Solution Backlog, Solution Intent, Vision, and Solution Roadmap. It’s really a lot like PI Planning but at a higher level, across the overall solution and not just the individual ART.

The event starts with each ART summing up their previous program increment and accomplishments to set the context. Next, a senior executive will brief the attendees on the current situation before Solution Management discusses the current solution vision and any changes from what was shared previously. Other things that are often discussed or finalized include:

  • Roadmaps
  • Milestones
  • Solution backlogs
  • Upcoming PI features from the Program Backlog

Okay, so back to talking about regular PI Planning. It’s time to properly define a few of these terms we’ve been touching on, like SAFe, Scrum, Roadmaps, and Programs. Hopefully, if it hasn’t already, the lightbulb will start to come on for you in 3, 2, 1… 💡

What does SAFe have to do with PI Planning?

We’re not a huge fan of complicated acronyms (maybe we’re in the wrong industry 😂). But SAFe is one worth knowing. It stands for Scaled Agile Framework.

SAFe is the world’s leading framework for scaling agile across the enterprise. (State of Agile Report)

For a bit of perspective - Scrum and Kanban are also agile frameworks (that you may be more familiar with), and these have historically been very effective at the individual team level. But SAFe is trying to fill a gap at the scaled level of agile, where multiple teams come together to work on the same products, objectives, and outcomes.

Hang on… what does this have to do with PI Planning?

SAFe outlines what should happen at each level of the organization to make sure that scaled agile is successful. It goes way beyond the team level to include every stakeholder.

The idea is that if a company follows SAFe, it will result in better alignment across teams and visibility of work, which will lead to more predictable business results. ✔️📈

This is increasingly important as the environment for organisations continues to change and customers expect more features to be delivered more quickly. The traditional waterfall approaches fall short because they’re slow and inefficient.

Big, older companies (often with thousands of developers) can’t keep up with the innovation of smaller, more nimble startups. Along with bigger teams, larger organizations often have stricter requirements around governance and compliance, which can make it harder to move quickly.

It can take 3-4 years for these bigger, more complex companies to launch a new feature, which won’t fly with customers these days. Plus, they often struggle to manage and organize their (many!) teams of developers, which also stops them from launching projects on time.

They need to make a change to speed things up, make the most of their resources, and minimize budget blowouts. These companies are looking for new ways to organize people into projects and introduce more effective ways of working. If they don’t, they face extinction. 🦕☠️

SAFe is a way for these companies (that otherwise would stay stuck in their old ways) to start moving in a more agile direction.

Which is where PI Planning comes in…

PI Planning is a vital element of SAFe. It’s a ceremony that brings together representatives from every team to help them work together, decide on top features to work on next, identify dependencies, and make a plan for the next Program Increment. As a result, there’s greater visibility across all the teams, changes are made more frequently, and teams work with each other - not against each other. From there, these massive companies can speed up their processes, work more efficiently, compete with newer and more nimble companies, and stay viable.

SAFe and PI Planning to the rescue! 🦸🏆

Side note: while SAFe is a framework for larger organizations, there’s also no reason why smaller companies can’t do a version of PI Planning, too. All you need is more than one agile team to make it worthwhile.

Now for another definition…

What is PI Planning in Scrum?

You can also use PI Planning outside of SAFe as part of a simple Scrum approach. 🤯

Scrum Framework diagram shows when and how scrum teams can implement PI Planning

Alt text: Scrum Framework diagram shows when and how scrum teams can implement PI Planning

Source: Scrum.org

Scrum is an agile framework that helps teams get things done. It’s a way for teams to plan and organize their own work and tackle user stories and tasks in smaller time boxes. This is often referred to as a sprint.

Power ranger running while things explode around him

(Not that kind of sprint 🏃 - we’re talking about the standard 2-week iteration for work and releases, of course.)

If multiple scrum teams want to work better together (but aren’t necessarily operating within SAFe), they could adopt a version of PI Planning.

For example, these scrum teams could:

  • Meet every 10 weeks and discuss the features they are planning to work on
  • Get product managers to combine backlogs and prioritize together
  • Share resources across the teams, as needed
  • Map dependencies and coordinate joint releases

The good news here is that there’s no “one size fits all” approach to PI Planning, so think about how you could adopt the ideas and principles and make it work for your organization. 🤔

Speaking of PI Planning ideas… one of the most useful parts of PI Planning is the roadmap (although we may be somewhat biased since we created Easy Agile Roadmaps 😛). Here’s one question that we’ve seen come up a few times:

What is the difference between a PI Roadmap and a Solution Roadmap?

There are a few different types of roadmaps in SAFe, so it’s important to understand the differences and what each roadmap is meant to do.

Your PI Roadmap is created before your PI Planning event, and also reviewed and updated by Product Management after the event is finished. It will usually cover three Program Increments:

  1. The current increment (work that’s committed)
  2. The next forecasted increment (planned work based on forecasted objectives)
  3. The increment after that (further planned work based on forecasted objectives)

If you do quarterly PI Planning, it’ll outline around 9 months of work. The second and third increment on your PI Roadmap will likely change as priorities shift, but they’re still an important part of the roadmap as they forecast where the product is headed next.

So, what’s the Solution Roadmap all about?

The Solution Roadmap is a longer term forecasting and planning tool for a specific product or service. 🔭🗺️

It will usually cover a few years at a time, with more specific details available for year one (like quarterly features and capabilities), and more general information (like objectives) for year two and beyond.

Now that we’ve cleared up roadmaps, scrum, and SAFe, it’s time for another definition to help you understand the context of how PI Planning fits into the bigger picture of agile and SAFe…

What is a program?

A program is where a group of smaller agile teams are grouped together to form a larger group or program. This is often referred to as the “team-of-teams” level.

When you hear people talking about team of teams or scaled agile, they mean taking agile beyond a single team, and asking more teams to join in.

For example, there might be 4 teams working on a NASA spaceship mission to Mars. 🚀

NASA decides they want to see if agile can help these teams do better work. So, to start with, the Oxygen team switches from working with traditional Waterfall project management methods to embracing agile principles.

  1. Launch team
  2. Food team
  3. Oxygen team - Agile!
  4. Landing team

After a few months, NASA decides that this agile thing is really working well. So they get 3 more teams to move over to agile methodology.

  1. Launch team - Agile!
  2. Food team - Agile!
  3. Oxygen team - Agile!
  4. Landing team - Agile!

Each of these 4 teams are self-organising, meaning they’re responsible for their own work.

However, now that these teams are all working in the same way, they can be grouped together as a program.

So in simple terms, a program is a group of agile teams. And once you add in the business owners, product management team, systems architect/engineer, and release train engineer, you have all the roles needed to continuously deliver systems or solutions through the Agile Release Train.

Now for one more definition…

What’s a program board?

Program Boards are an important part of SAFe and PI Planning.

Traditionally, they’re a physical board that’s mounted on the wall, with columns drawn up to mark the iterations for the increment, and a row for each team. Teams add sticky notes that describe features they’ll be working on.

🏷️ Feature 1

🏷️ Feature 2…

Once all the features are added, they work to identify dependencies (features that’ll affect other features) and mark this up by connecting them with red string.

SAFe program boards don’t have to be physical, though. There are a lot of advantages to using a digital program board like Easy Agile Programs, which integrates directly with Jira. We’ll talk more about how you can use Jira for PI Planning towards the end of this guide. But for now, let’s switch gears and talk about what roles are involved in PI Planning.

Who should be involved in PI Planning?

There are 5 key roles in a PI Planning event:

🚂 Release Train Engineers

💼 Product Managers

👨‍💼 Product Owners

🕵 Scrum Masters

👩‍💻 Developers

Let’s take a closer look at what each of these roles is responsible for during the event.

Release Train Engineer

The Release Train Engineer is a servant leader and coach for the ART. Their role focuses mainly on planning and facilitating the PI Planning event. This means they help:

  • Establish and communicate the annual calendars
  • Get everything ready (including pre and post PI Planning meetings)
  • Manage risks and dependencies
  • Create Program PI Objectives from Team PI Objectives and publish them
  • Track progress towards expected goals
  • Ensure strategy and execution alignment
  • Facilitate System Demos

As the facilitator for the 2-day event, the Release Train Engineer presents the planning process and expected outcomes for the event, plus facilitates the Management Review and Problem Solving session and retrospective.

Product Manager

A Product Manager’s job is to understand the customers’ needs and validate solutions, while understanding and supporting portfolio work.

So, what is the product manager’s role in PI Planning?

They present the Program vision (aka top 10 Features that are coming up) plus any upcoming Milestones. They review the Draft plan and describe any changes to the planning and scope based on the Management Review & Problem Solving session. That way, they can manage and prioritize the flow of work. Once the PI Planning event is over, they use the Program Objectives from the Release Train Engineer to update the roadmap.

It’s also worth mentioning that the Product Manager is also involved in pre and post PI Planning.

Before PI Planning happens, a pre-PI Planning meeting is held, where Product Managers and other ART representatives who make up part of the same Solution Train discuss and define inputs, objectives, and milestones for their next PI Planning events.

Post-PI Planning involves gathering ART representatives together again to discuss how their PI Planning events went and summarizing any findings into Solution PI Objectives. Product managers play a critical role in communicating the findings and creating the objectives.

Product Owner

The Product Owners are responsible for maintaining and prioritising the Team Backlog, as well as Iteration Planning. They have content authority to make decisions at the User Story level during PI Planning Team Breakout sessions.

Product Owners help the Team with defining stories, estimating, and sequencing, as well as drafting the Team’s PI Objectives and participating in the Team Confidence Vote. They’re also responsible for conveying visions and goals from upper management to the team, as well as:

📝 Reporting on key performance metrics

🤔 Evaluating progress, and

🗨️ Communicating the status to stakeholders

Scrum Master

The Scrum Master is a servant leader to the Product Owner and Development team, which means they manage and lead processes, while helping the team in practical ways to get things done.

They facilitate preparation for events (including PI Planning) and prepare System Demos. They help the team estimate their capacity for Iterations, finalise Team PI Objectives, and manage the timebox, dependencies, and ambiguities during Team Breakout sessions. The Scrum Master also participates in the Confidence Vote to help the team reach a consensus.

Developer

Developers are responsible for researching, designing, implementing, testing, maintaining, and managing software systems.

During PI Planning, they participate in Breakout sessions to create and refine user stories and acceptance criteria (alongside their Product Owner) and adjust the working plan. Developers help with identifying risks and dependencies, and support the team in drafting and finalizing Team PI Objectives, before participating in the Team Confidence Vote.

At this point, you’ve got all the key definitions, you know what needs to happen during a PI Planning event and who needs to show up.

But how do you actually prepare your teams and space before you get started?

What should we do to prepare for PI Planning?

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” - Benjamin Franklin

If you want to succeed at PI Planning, make sure you don’t skip over the prepwork!

Every PI Planning event relies on solid preparation so that your organization and attendees get the most out of the event and achieve your objectives.

So, what’s planning actually look like?

The participants themselves (plus key stakeholders and Business Owners) must get ready by assigning any key roles, ensuring there’s alignment on the strategy, and ensuring the planning process is properly understood by everyone.

Any presenters will also need to get content ready for their presentations.

Plus, you’ll need to ensure the facility is ready - especially since you may have hundreds of participants attending. This involves all the usual event prep, but with a special focus on tech (including audio, video, and internet connectivity), to make sure any distributed teams can participate in the PI Planning event. Don’t forget to plan for enough food for everyone, too (planning is hungry work).

So, at this point, we have a clear picture of what happens during and before a PI Planning event, but what about afterwards?

What do you do after PI Planning?

After PI Planning, teams do a planning retrospective and list out:

😋 What went well (good snacks)

🙁 What went not-so-well (not enough snacks)

🎂 What could be better for next time (erm, Lenny, please don’t eat all the brownies, in future)

Man says, “Wow. How many brownies did you guys have?”

And then there’ll be a chat about the next steps. These steps can include things like:

  • Getting copies of the objectives, user stories, and program board into your project management tool (like Jira)
  • Taking a look at calendars
  • Chatting about meeting times and locations for daily stand-ups and iteration planning
  • Making sure that everyone has their belongings and leaves the event rooms clean when they go

The other thing that usually happens after PI Planning events is a post-PI Planning event.

What is post-PI Planning?

These are similar to the pre-PI Planning events we already talked about. They involve getting together ART stakeholders across all the Agile Release Trains within the solution train to ensure they’re synchronised.

Post-PI Planning happens after all the ARTs have completed their PI Planning for the next increment. They present the plans, explain their objectives, and share milestones and expected timelines.

Like PI Planning events, post-PI Planning involves using a planning board, but rather than features, it outlines capabilities, dependencies, and milestones for each iteration and ART. Potential issues and risks are identified, discussed, and either owned, resolved, accepted, or mitigated. And similar to regular PI Planning events, plans go through a first-of-five vote of confidence to ensure they meet the solution’s objectives, and are reworked until the attendees average 3 fingers so more.

But what about PI Planning events for distributed teams and remote team members? How do they collaborate via planning boards, do votes of confidence, and things like that? Running a successful PI Planning event with people both in and out of the room can come with some extra challenges…

Tips for distributed teams and remote PI Planning

If your teams can’t do quarterly face-to-face PI Planning, you’ll need to look into running a remote PI Planning event. Don’t worry - it’s very do-able and ideal for organizations with distributed teams or flexible work arrangements. Plus, it’s a lot cheaper than flying folks in to do PI Planning every few months. 🙌

If you’ve got the right tools and technology, you can run PI Planning and allow anyone to participate, whether they’re in the same room or on the other side of the world 🌏.

Here are a few tips to help you make it work:

Co-locate

Rather than having everyone tune in from their separate remote locations, co-locate teams as much as possible. You might set up a main headquarters for hosting the leadership group and nearby teams, and then fly distributed workers into their nearest remote location. ✈️ That way, everyone still gets an element of face-to-face collaboration.

Embrace the cloud

☁️ Use online shared planning tools to allow your team to access and interact with information as soon as possible - perhaps even in real time. Making sure every participant has immediate visibility on the information makes it easier to map cross dependencies and avoids storing the info in 10+ different places.

Livestream the event

Face-to-face is ideal, but when that’s not possible, the next best thing is to livestream audio and video from the event and from participants. 📶 That means you’ll need to encourage any remote or distributed teams to use their cameras and microphones during the event. It’s not quite the same as having them in the room with you, but it’s pretty close.

Record it

Ideally, everyone will participate in the PI Planning live. But whether your team is distributed across multiple timezones or a couple of team members can’t make it on the day due to sickness or something else, it’s a good idea to record the event, too. 📹🎤 Plus, having a recording to refer back to could be useful for attendees who want a refresher on anything that’s been discussed.

Adapt

Some teams will change the standard PI Planning agenda to fit multiple timezones, which could mean starting the event earlier or later for some, or even running it across 3 days instead of 2.

Lay down the law

One common issue that can arise from having distributed teams tune in remotely via video and audio is too much noise and interference. Before your first session kicks off, communicate about when it’s acceptable to talk and when teams need to use the mute button. 🔉🔇 That way, your teams will avoid getting distracted, while still ensuring everyone can participate.

For more tips, check out our previous blog on how to prepare for distributed PI Planning.

Common mistakes and challenges

PI Planning doesn’t always go… well, to plan. And the framework itself may present a challenge to some organizations. Here are some common mistakes and challenges to keep in mind (and avoid, if possible):

Long, boring sessions

One of the major downsides of PI Planning is the suggested agenda includes some long, heavy sessions, right from the start. 😴 It might be worth looking at creative ways to make these sessions more engaging, delivering the business context information in a different format, or adapting the timeline so they’re shorter. That way, there’s more time for team planning and collaboration.

Tech issues

Any event is vulnerable to tech mishaps, but if you’re streaming audio and video to a distributed team, this can really impact on the flow of the event. It’s a good idea to carefully test all the equipment and connections ahead of time to minimise potential problems. 🖥️🔌

Confidence vote

Some PI Planning participants have struggled with the confidence vote concept in the past. People may feel pressure from the room to vote for a plan to go ahead, rather than speaking up about their concerns. 👎👍

Time constraints

⌛ When you have a large ART of, say, 12 teams, that’s a lot of draft plans to present and review. Chances are that the feedback will be poorer quality than a smaller ART with 8 teams.

Not committing to the process

SAFe isn’t perfect and neither is PI Planning. But the process has been proven to work for many organizations. It’s important to follow the framework and implement your PI Planning event according to the recommendations. Then commit to the process that follows.

Sticking with the same old tools

If something’s not working, fix it. For example, too many teams stick with traditional SAFe Program Boards even though they’re not always practical. 🏷️🏷️ If the post-it notes keep escaping, the data entered into Jira seems a bit off, or you’ve got a distributed team who want a digital way to be part of your PI Planning event… it’s time to upgrade to a digital program board like Easy Agile Programs. Speaking of software, it’s (finally) time to talk about Jira!

Using Jira for PI Planning

Jira is the most popular project management tool for agile teams, so if you’re agile, chances are you’re already using it at the team level.

Jira is great for single teams. It has ALL the bells and whistles. 🔔✨

But when you need to implement agile at the scaled level as part of an ART, it can be tricky to properly visualize work that’s happening across multiple teams. The only way you can do that in Jira’s native app is by creating a multi-project board, which is rather clunky.

So, how does Jira fit into SAFe and PI Planning?

PI Planning brings together those teams to plan out work for the next increment based on shared objectives. During PI Planning, teams use a Program Board to plan out their work and map dependencies. Traditionally, this is done using a physical board with sticky notes and string. After the session is over, the notes and string are recreated in Jira for the whole team. But again, this is clunky and means missing a lot of context, particularly around dependencies.

The best way to use Jira for PI Planning is to use an app like Easy Agile Programs to help you run your PI Planning sessions. The integrated features mean you can:

  • Set up a digital Program Board (no more string and sticky notes!)
  • Do cross-team planning
  • Visualize and manage cross-team dependencies
  • Get aligned on committed objectives for the Program Increment
  • Visualize an Increment Feature Roadmap
  • Transform Jira from a team-level tool to something that’s useful for the whole ART

Join companies like Boeing, Vodafone, and Prudential Insurance who use Jira to do PI Planning with Easy Agile Programs (which is available from the Atlassian Marketplace).

Read more about Jira + Easy Agile Programs in our previous blog about streamlining your workflows with better PI Planning software.

Anything else you’d like to know about PI Planning?

 Luigi crosses the finish line first in a Mario Kart race

That’s it! You made it! You’ve crossed the finish line! Seriously, there should be some kind of award for people like you who actually get to the bottom of an ultimate guide, let alone one about PI Planning 😉

We’ll come back to this guide and make it even more epic in the future. So if you have any questions about PI Planning or you notice there’s an aspect we haven’t covered yet, let us know over on Twitter!

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