A Guide to PI Planning in Agile

Want to prioritize and stay true to Agile principles as you scale? Every successful organization starts small and achieves scale thanks to the many geographically and functionally dispersed teams whose work is interdependent.

Understanding and planning these interdependencies is vital to ensure that each team's work is aligned towards a single project-focused goal. If you have PI Planning in place, this goal becomes much easier to achieve. But what exactly is PI planning, and why is it so important? 

What is PI planning?: Introducing scaled Agile program increment planning

PI Planning is a meeting of multiple teams working in an Agile Release Train (ART) where they meet to plan the roadmap, deliberate on features, and identify cross-team dependencies. 

Scaled agile PI planning can help mobilize all the dispersed teams under a single umbrella so they can discuss the possible risks and dependencies and work towards a resolution.

Why is PI planning important?

Okay, so PI planning helps empower your Agile project teams. But, why exactly is program increment planning important?

Builds team trust

With so many diverse sets of interdisciplinary team members working with each other in the Agile Release Train, establishing a solid level of trust can help. Agile Release Train, also known as ART for short, is a set of the key people who are tasked with implementing, deploying, and releasing the particular hardware or software virtually.

Since PI planning in Agile sessions necessitates having face-to-face meetings, the frequent interaction can help build that trust between teams quickly and effectively.

Enhance UX guidance

Because Agile is an iterative-based approach to development, incorporating regular PI planning events allows your teams to imagine and develop the right User Experience (UX) and architecture.

Boost cross-ART collaboration

Since Agile Release Trains (ARTs) are designed to move towards a shared vision and mission, establishing seamless collaboration between them is crucial. A typical ART has around 50-150 people chosen from diverse cross-functional teams to deliver value to the end-user. Alongside PI planning in Agile, cross-ART collaboration helps provide a continuous flow of value.

Complete tasks faster

Any team with the right capabilities can deliver faster. ARTs are inter-disciplinary and have the key capabilities built within them, including hardware, software, and firmware that lets them design, execute, deploy, iterate, and release appropriate solutions quickly.

Quick decision-making

Every ART typically applies SAFe principles such as creating continuous value for end-users and applying systems thinking in all its tasks. By creating and delivering value to the end-user, starting from ideation to execution in a cross-functional atmosphere, ART teams can utilize PI planning to iterate faster and make quicker decisions.

A Guide to PI Planning in Agile 2
(Photo credit: Leon via Unsplash

What to include in a PI planning agenda

Thinking of what to include in a PI planning agenda? Though PI planning may look different for every Agile team, most of them have elements that are quite similar in nature. Many Agile teams spend some time reflecting on their previous PI planning events or having virtual ice-breaking sessions that can help make the ART team members more comfortable. Though you may include a broad range of actions, including these critical steps outlined below can help set up your PI planning teams for Agile teamwork success.

Set up overall goal and vision

Starting with a clearly defined goal always helps. Highlight any learnings from your last PI planning events and make sure to set up Agile project goals, objectives, and milestones that the team can reach for.

Business context optimization

A business that’s not optimized for its specific target market is unlikely to work. To embrace the speed of Agile and harness its teamwork potential, make sure the business vision and goals are clearly aligned with the actual end-user needs and market dynamics.

RTE Process outline

A critical part of every program increment planning is to define the complete PI planning exercise, how it works and clearly stating the goals and end-objectives of doing the entire event in the first place. The Release Train Engineer (RTE) is tasked with outlining the PI process, using helpful templates, and clarifying all the teams' queries to help them move ahead.

Group breakouts

Group breakouts are arguably the most important step in any PI planning event. Teams share their delivery speed for iteration options and review their backlogs to see how they can achieve the predetermined features in their overall product development vision. Each team discovers potential risks and identifies dependencies where inter-ART connection may also be required for better decision-making.

Evaluate the draft and program risks

In the time-boxed draft evaluation meeting, teams showcase their first draft plans to obtain feedback from product owners and other relevant stakeholders. Embarking on this feedback activity helps flag and resolve all potential issues before the final management review takes place. Risks and dependencies are evaluated for potential issues and a detailed roadmap is created with the steps required for their resolution.

Confidence vote & retrospective feedback session

How many fingers do you have! Yes, an exciting five-finger vote is the norm to get the confidence vote of all teams on the final PI planning agenda. In this step, teams vote to confirm if their overall objective is on track to be achieved. 

Team members literally show either one to five fingers for every action item on the PI planning agenda, where any item that gets less than a three-finger vote needs to be addressed immediately to enable the teams to move ahead. In retrospective sessions, overall feedback for the event is collected from all attendees. Doing this helps discover what went well and identify possible opportunities for improvement.

3 steps for effective PI planning

If you want to realize the full power of the Agile project methodology, following these three key steps for effective program increment planning can help.

Organizational readiness

There's no point conducting a program increment planning session if your key stakeholders cannot attend. Schedule timely PI planning meetings and send reminders to all teams who are expected to attend. See if you can have a PI planning session before the quarter begins, as that can help your teams set up and be prepared for the upcoming quarter.

Content preparedness

A program’s mission is the "why" of every plan. The vision and mission of the plan also defines why an activity is required. Make sure the "why" of the scaled Agile program increment planning sessions is clearly communicated to relevant team members.

Logistics preparation and accessibility

Help your teams make the most of the PI planning sessions, whether they are offline or virtual. Make sure to have a larger room that acts as an enabler for your teams or a team Zoom call that can accommodate the required amount of attendees. Use Zoom breakout rooms to have your teams divided into small groups so that they’re able to engage more with each other on specific action items.

What does SAFe have to do with PI planning?

Whether structured as a face-to-face or virtual event, program increment planning helps align all the ART teams to move towards shared goals. As a team grows, staying true to the core Agile principles may become challenging. Performing PI planning in ART (Agile Release Train) becomes critical for SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework). No PI planning means that your team is not doing SAFe.

Broadly defined, SAFe is a fundamental body of knowledge that combines Agile methodologies, lean principles, and systems thinking. Though it doesn't promise any ready-made solution for unique organizational challenges and issues, it does give your team a set of proven best practices to enhance project deliverable quality, boost team productivity, and promote employee engagement.

What are the challenges of virtual PI planning?

Do you know that the Agile manifesto expressly states that a face-to-face conversation is the most vital communication step within product development teams?

Keeping remote teams engaged and participative is entirely possible. To eliminate distractions and increase focus, ensure that all team members have their cameras turned on and participate actively.

May become monotonous

Since PI planning sessions are reasonably long and focused on a narrow set of topics, they may become monotonous. Consider breaking the monotony of the session by allowing for 5-minute breaks or having a virtual ice breaker session to keep it interesting and engaging.

Establishing trust can be difficult

Virtual meetings are great if you are familiar with your team. But if you are meeting newer team members and working with them for the first time, introducing frequent ice breaker sessions and other forms of team collaboration can help build trust.

Team synergies may not align

When teams work together, it gives rise to team synergies. With virtual PI planning in Agile, that may not happen every time. For example, consider the confidence vote session in a PI planning exercise. Even if all the team members end up giving their votes, a few people may end up voting under pressure, and team synergies may not align in such cases.

What are the inputs and outputs of PI planning?

Before starting the PI planning process, a few inputs and outputs should be clearly defined. Doing this before the PI planning takes place can help you achieve the intended organizational outcomes quicker and more efficiently.

Inputs

Whether your team size is 5 or 50, there are certain inputs that your teams need for PI planning success.

Overall company vision and goals

A clear business context, defined mission, vision with an actionable roadmap, and backlogs prioritized for planning can help get your PI planning done more effectively.

Mapping goals to business needs

Goals take us where we want to go only if a road exists. Make sure that your company goals are mapped to actual business needs and end-user requirements.

Outputs

An organized and successful PI planning event delivers primarily two outputs.

Committed PI objectives and tasks

Each team defines a set of clear and well-defined objectives and associated tasks that they are committed to accomplishing in the PI planning process. Once they are set up, business owners can then assign business value to them.

Crystallized features, milestones, and defined delivery dates

Discover potential risks, interdependencies amongst different teams, and explicitly define the delivery dates of new features using program boards.

How to use Wrike as PI planning software

Help your Agile teams stay focused and collaborate effectively, whether in the same room or across continents. Assist your modern software development teams to do their best by quickly setting up Agile sprints, creating custom reports, and managing your Scrum meetings. 

Unify team visibility across workflows. Start a free two-week trial of Wrike to begin your Agile PI planning and help your teams deliver with speed!

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