Agile workflow

25 min read

The Ultimate Guide to PI Planning

Fri Jun 14 2024
Jasmin Iordanidis
Written by Jasmin Iordanidis, Product Marketing Manager

You may be just starting out, or you may have worked with agile methodologies for a while, but we’re sure you can agree that scaling agile in a large organization can be daunting. PI Planning is key to scaling agile, so we’ve developed this guide to help you run successful planning sessions, and build your confidence for your next scaled planning event.

We'll cover:

Let’s start with the basics…

What is PI Planning?

PI Planning stands for Program Increment Planning.

PI Planning sessions are regularly scheduled events where teams within the same Agile Release Train (ART) meet to align and agree on what comes next. Teams will aim to align on goals and priorities, discuss features, plan the roadmap, and identify cross-team dependencies.

The goal is to align the teams to the mission and each other. 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

Why do PI Planning?

PI Planning is incredibly beneficial for large-scale agile organizations. PI Planning enables:

  • Communication
  • Visibility
  • Collaboration

To understand the impact, let’s look at an example of a large organization that hasn’t yet implemented PI Planning. This organization has 250 teams and 6,500 team members. These teams rarely speak to each other, outside of dealing with a critical issue that has forced them to collaborate.

Alignment across these teams happens at the leadership team level, and they have multiple levels of managers in between who cascade information down with varying success. There is a constant battle for resources, budget, and opportunities to work on the most exciting projects.

Their projects have 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 big companies get their teams together in a room or on the same call to talk to each other. This is a chance to have important conversations about who is working on what.

Why is this important?

  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)

With proper planning and collaboration, teams can get things done more effectively, release with more predictability, and stay on budget.

All very good reasons to do PI Planning.

What is the goal of PI Planning?

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.

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 realizing there’s a dependency, which could hold up the release or require a significant rework of the code.

The goal of PI Planning is to have 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:

Day 1 AgendaDay 2 Agenda
8:00 - 9:00 | Business Context8:00 - 9:00 | Planning Adjustments
9:00 - 10:30 | Product/Solution Vision9:00 - 11:00 | Team Breakouts
10:30 - 11:30 | Architecture Vision and Development Practices11:00 - 13:00 | Final Plan Review and Lunch
11:30 - 13:00 | Planning Context and Lunch13:00 - 14:00 | ART Risks
13:00 - 16:00 | Team Breakouts14:00 - 14:15 | Confidence Vote
16:00 - 17:00 | Draft Plan Review14:15 - ?? |Plan Rework?
17:00 - 18:00 | Management Review and Problem Solving?? | Planning Retrospective and Moving Forward


This agenda might be perfect for you, or you might make changes based on the needs of your teams.

Distributed teams, very large ARTs, and other factors might require you to be creative with the schedule. Some sessions may need more time, while others can be shortened. If you have teams in multiple time zones, your PI Planning agenda may need to go over 3-4 days. If it’s your first PI Planning event, try the standard agenda, get feedback from your teams, and experiment with different formats next time.

What happens in the first part of the PI Planning meeting?

The first part of the PI Planning meeting is designed to set the context for the planning that happen next.

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, the Product Management team will 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). They’ll describe what’s coming up, including milestones and the next 10 features that are planned. This session should take around 1.5 hours.

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

The confidence vote is a seemingly small but very important part of PI Planning towards the end of the event.

It is important the team is confident in committing to the objectives and work that is planned. The Release Train Engineer will ask teams to vote on this.

Everyone participating in planning needs to vote. This could be via a raise of hands (and fingers) or it could be via the tool you’re using. For example, the Team Planning board in Easy Agile Programs allows each team member to enter their confidence vote.

If the average vote across the room is at least three out of five, the plan is a go-ahead. If it’s less it’ll need reworking (until it reaches a high confidence level). If anyone votes just one or two, they’ll have the chance to share their reasoning.

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 possible 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?

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

However, the timing and frequency will depend on how long each program increment is scheduled to last and may need to accommodate holidays.

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.

This means that what happens in preparation for PI Planning can be just as important as the event itself.

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

A pre-planning event - separate to PI Planning - is to make sure that the ART is aligned within the broader Solution Train before they do PI Planning. It’s all about synchronizing with the other ARTs to ensure the solution and organization are heading in the right direction, together.

You’ll need to organize 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 so formally.

Here are a few of the roles that should be invited to the pre-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

In the next section, we'll help to define a few key terms that have been touched on.

PI Planning in SAFe

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

As Scaled Agile says, "if you are not doing it, you are not doing SAFe."


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.

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. SAFe helps to scale agility across teams; to have multiple teams come together to work on the same products, objectives, and outcomes. It goes beyond the team level to include every stakeholder, outlining what should happen at each level of the organization to ensure that scaled planning is successful.

The purpose of SAFe is to improve the visibility of work and alignment across teams, which will lead to more predictable business results.

This is increasingly important for organizations as they respond to changing circumstances and customer expectations. The traditional waterfall approaches fall short because they’re slow and inefficient.

Bigger 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, making it more complex to launch a new feature and deliver new value to customers.

These companies are looking for new ways to organize people into projects and introduce more effective ways of working that use resources more effectively and provide more predictable delivery. If they don’t, they may not survive.

SAFe is a way for these companies to start moving in a more agile direction.

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 are powerful enablers for organizational agility.

While SAFe is a framework designed for larger organizations, there isn't a reason stopping smaller companies from doing a version of PI Planning, too. All you need is more than one agile team to make it worthwhile.

PI Planning in Scrum

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

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

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


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.

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 and context.

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

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

PI Roadmap

A 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)

Quarterly PI Planning will outline around 9 months of work. The second and third increments 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.

Solution Roadmap

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.

What is a program?

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

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 the way the oxygen team is working is going well, so the remaining three teams similarly adopt more agile methodologies:

  1. Launch team (Agile)
  2. Food team (Agile)
  3. Oxygen team (Agile)
  4. Landing team (Agile)

Each of these 4 teams are self-organizing, 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.

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 (ART).

What is a program board?

Program Boards are a key output of 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
  • Feature 3

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.

Equip your remote, distributed or co-located teams for success with a digital tool for PI Planning.

Easy Agile Programs

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Who is involved in PI Planning?

There are 5 key roles in a PI Planning event:

  1. Release Train Engineers
  2. Product Managers
  3. Product Owners
  4. Scrum Masters
  5. Developers

Here are the responsibilities for each of these roles during PI Planning:

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.

Before PI Planning happens, Product Managers take part in the pre-PI Planning meeting, where they discuss and define inputs, objectives, and milestones for their next PI Planning events.

In PI Planning, the Product Managers present the Program vision and upcoming milestones. So that they can manage and prioritize the flow of work, they review the Draft plan and describe any changes to the planning and scope based on the Management Review & Problem Solving session. Once the PI Planning event is over, they use the Program Objectives from the Release Train Engineer to update the roadmap.

Following PI Planning, Product Managers play a critical role in communicating findings and creating Solution PI Objectives.

Product Owner

The Product Owners are responsible for maintaining and prioritizing 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, finalize 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.


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 to identify risks and dependencies and to support the team in drafting and finalizing Team PI Objectives, before participating in the Team Confidence Vote.

Do you have a key role in PI Planning? See how the right tool can help you manage your release train or program better.

How to prepare for PI Planning

If you want to succeed at PI Planning, you need to prepare.

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

The first step is to ensure that everyone involved properly understands the planning process. All people participating in PI Planning (along with key stakeholders and Business Owners) must be clear on their role and aligned on strategy.

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

To ensure that the PI Planning event runs smoothly, make sure that the tools you need to facilitate planning are available and working properly. Be sure to test any tech that you are relying on ahead of time (including audio, video, internet connectivity, and access to PI Planning applications), to ensure that your distributed teams can participate in the PI Planning event. Don’t forget to plan for enough food for everyone, too (planning is hungry work).

What happens after PI Planning?

After PI Planning, teams do a planning retrospective to discuss:

  • What went well
  • What went not-so-well
  • What could be better for next time
  • There will also be a discussion of what happens next, which can include things like:
  • Transcribing the objectives, user stories, and program board into your work management tool (like Jira)
  • Agreeing on 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 a post-PI Planning event?

These are similar to the pre-PI Planning events we looked at earlier. A post-PI Planning event brings together stakeholders from all ARTs within the Solution Train to ensure they’re synchronized and aligned.

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 confidence vote to ensure they meet the solution’s objectives, and are reworked until the attendees average a vote of 3 or more.

Remote or hybrid PI Planning

PI Planning in person was once standard, but with teams more likely to be distributed, gathering everyone at the office isn't always feasible. This doesn't have to be a barrier.

The most important principle is to ensure that the teams who are doing the work are able to be 'present' in the planning in real-time, if not in person.

This may require some adjustments to the agenda and timing of your planning, but with forethought and support from the right technology, your PI Planning will still be effective.

Tips for remote PI Planning

Remote PI Planning is ideal for organizations with distributed teams or flexible work arrangements. It’s also a lot cheaper and less disruptive than flying folks in to do PI Planning every few months. If you have the right tools and technology, you can run PI Planning and allow everyone to participate, whether they’re in the same room or on the other side of the world.

Here are a few tips for remote PI Planning:

Embrace the cloud

Use online shared planning tools to allow your team to access and interact with information as soon as possible - ideally in real-time. Ensuring that all participants have instant access to the information simplifies the process of identifying dependencies and maintaining a centralized point of reference for your planning. This helps prevent errors that arise from working with different versions and transferring data between sources.

Livestream the event

Live-streaming audio and video from the PI Planning event is a viable alternative to in-person planning. Actively encourage your remote team members to use their cameras and microphones during the event. While it may not fully replicate the experience of having them physically present, it does come remarkably close.

Record the PI Planning event

Ideally, everyone will participate in the PI Planning live. But if your teams are distributed across multiple time zones or some team members are ill, it’s a good idea to record the event. Having a recording to refer back to could also be useful for attendees who want a refresher on anything that has been discussed.

Be ready to adapt

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

Set expectations

A common issue that can arise from having distributed teams tune in remotely 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 blog on how to prepare for distributed PI Planning.

Whether distributed or in person, if your team gets PI Planning right, it makes everything in the upcoming increment so much easier.

📣 Hear how PNI media have embraced virtual PI planning

Common PI Planning mistakes

PI Planning doesn’t always run smoothly, especially the first time. And the framework itself may present a challenge to some organizations. Here are some common mistakes and challenges to keep in mind (and avoid):

Long, boring sessions

Avoid starting your PI Planning event with long sessions filled with dense content. Think of creative ways to make these sessions more engaging, or break them into shorter sessions. Consider different formats that help to involve and engage participants. And be sure to make room for team planning and collaboration.

Tech issues

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

Confidence vote

Some PI Planning participants struggle with the confidence vote concept. People may feel pressure from the room to vote for a plan to go ahead, rather than speaking up about their concerns. Failing to address issues early only increases the risk of something going wrong during the increment.

Time constraints

When you have a large ART of 10 or more teams, there are a lot of draft plans to present and review, so less time is allocated to each team. Chances are that the feedback will be of poorer quality than a smaller ART with 8 teams.

Not committing to the process

PI Planning isn’t perfect and neither is SAFe. However, the process has been proven to work for many organizations, when the organization is committed. Start with the full framework as recommended; you can adapt the framework and your PI Planning event to suit your organization, but be sure to commit to the process that follows. Anything that is half-done will not deliver full results.

Sticking with the same old tools

If something is 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 incorrect, or you have 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.

Using Jira for PI Planning

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

When you need to scale team agility as part of an ART, it can be difficult to properly visualize the work of multiple teams in Jira. The only way you can do that in the native app is by creating a multi-project board, which is rather clunky.

Traditional PI Planning on a physical board using sticky notes and string may achieve planning objectives for co-located teams, but what happens next? After the session is over, the notes and string need to be recreated in Jira for the whole team so that work can be tracked throughout the increment. This is a cumbersome and time-consuming process that is open to error as sticky notes are transcribed incorrectly, or go missing.

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, create milestones
  • Identify scheduling conflicts to mitigate risks
  • Get aligned on committed objectives for the Program Increment
  • Visualize an Increment Feature Roadmap
  • Conduct confidence voting
  • Transform Jira from a team-level tool to something that’s useful for the whole ART

Join companies like Bell, Cisco, and Deutsche Bahn who use Jira to do PI Planning with Easy Agile Programs (from the Atlassian Marketplace).

We’ll continue to revisit this guide in the future. If you have any questions about PI Planning or you notice there’s an aspect we haven’t covered yet, send us an email 📫

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