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Complete Details on SAFe PI Planning: Introduction to Planning Tips

February 19, 2021

By Simpliaxis

Scaled Agile Framework has this to say about the essence of PI Planning – “there is no magic in SAFe….except maybe for PI Planning.”

Getting started with Agile in an enterprise that involves multiple Agile teams can be a daunting task. The right way to get started is with PI Planning or Program Increment Planning. These are scheduled time-boxed cadence-based planning events that become the focal point of Agile Release Train or ART. These events are held across the year and require all teams with similar ARTs to meet, discuss and plan the way. 

In SAFe, PI planning is one of the most critical aspects. As long as SAFe Agile PI planning is being done meticulously, things can be on track; however, if PI is not happening, it is not SAFe. It is because PI Planning is the foundation of the Scaled Agile Framework. 
 

Objectives of Scaled Agile Framework PI Planning
 

The goal of PI Planning is:
 

  • To align the program teams and the business owners for effective Agile Release Train
  • Define and align the Team Objectives
  • Define and align the Program Objectives
  • Synchronize workflows across the group
  • Collaborate and align releases
     

Critical aspects of SAFe Agile PI planning
 

PI Planning is critically vital for large teams or bigger organizations. Take the case of a large enterprise with hundreds of Agile teams working in different offices, remote and in-office. In such cases, there are thousands of developers working on multiple projects. In the traditional waterfall system, there is hardly any chance that the teams interact with each other – most of them would have never communicated with the other teams or would have done only in case of an emergency. In most cases, it would only be the teams’ senior managerial levels that would have spoken to each other during emergencies. In such cases, the leaders typically pass on the information down till it reaches the lowest levels. The Developers, however, would have hardly spoken to one another. One key challenge of such a team would be conflict in budgets, resource allocation, issues, and more. 

In a Scaled Agile Framework, PI Planning enables and facilitates teams to speak to one another and discuss or strategize. Three essential aspects of SAFe Program Increment planning:
 

  • Structured communication
  • Cross-team Collaborative 
  • Visibility 
     

Three vital things that such a planned PI initiates are:
 

  • Help teams in working effectively
  • Work within a budget, and
  • Finish the work on time.
     

Critical characteristics of SAFe Agile PI planning
 

  • The event takes place for two full days. 
     
  • PI Planning takes place every 8 to 12 weeks.
     
  • PI Planning happens at the start of a Program Increment. It occurs immediately after the Inspect & Adapt iteration.
     
  • Every team member needs to be present in person – As per the Agile Manifesto, “the most effective and efficient way of conveying information to and within a development team is a face-to-face conversation.”
     
  • Remote teams participate with technology’s help, especially in present times when COVID-19 has forced many to work from home. 
     
  • It is a PDCA loop or learning cycle that characterizes the PI planning system. It includes Plan, Do, Check and Adjust. 
     

Benefits of SAFe Program Increment planning:
 

PI Planning is an integral part of SAFe because of the following benefits:
 

  • Facilitate cross-team face-to-face communication.
  • Ensure that development work happens aligned with business goals.
  • Foster a spirit of cross-team collaboration.
  • Helps in effective implementation of Lean User Experience
  • Optimizing work by removing WIP
  • Enabling quicker decisions.
     

SAFe Agile PI planning tips:
 

PI Planning inputs:
 

The business context, Program backlog, vision, and plan are the inputs.
 

PI Planning outputs:
 

SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely) goals and objectives of the team and the program are PI Planning outputs. The Program Board with the delivery schedule, Milestones, and cross-team dependable features are highlighted.

Having understood that PI Planning is critically important, it is vital to know how to go about the entire process. It is essential to do it the right way so that teams and enterprises can benefit optimally from the activity. Here are the tips to carry out SAFe Agile PI planning for the best results.
 

Preparing for PI Planning
 

  • It entails organizational readiness, content readiness, and facility readiness.
     
  • PI Planning events should be planned.
     
  • It involves ensuring that all involved stakeholders are available to attend the activity.
     
  • It is a good idea to schedule the meeting for the end of the last quarter. 
     
  • The mission, objective, and scope of the event should be well prepared before the event. 
     
  • The other aspect of being prepared for Program Increment Planning is the venue. The facility needs to be readied too, well in advance. The standard followed to book an appropriate venue is to go in for a room with a capacity of at least twice that of the members expected to attend the event. For example, if the expected participants are 100, then you should go in for a room that can take about 200 people. Doing so allows people to walk, interact and communicate well. Team members need to join remotely to place at least one desktop or laptop on each table. Also, it is essential to ensure that the right app is used for remote connectivity.  
     

Some of the things that the Program Board display include at the time of PI Planning:
 

  • The features that all have accepted
     
  • The delivery dates for the new features
     
  • The feature dependencies
     
  • Milestones
     

Challenges faced by remote teams during SAFe Agile PI planning
 

Since face-to-face communication is the most critical aspect of the Agile Manifesto, it is essential to keep remote teams involved and focused during PI Planning. It is important to use powerful video conferencing apps during the meeting and the breakout session. Remote members need to ensure that their computers, network, Wi-Fi, and camera work properly and effectively. 
 

The roles that are involved in SAFe Agile PI planning
 

These five roles have an essential part in PI Planning:
 

  • Product Managers are responsible for understanding the needs of the customers and offer the Product vision. They need to mention the Milestones, update the roadmap, review the Draft plan and manage the workflow. 
     
  • Product Owners help maintain and prioritize Team backlog; they facilitate the definition of stories, drafting Team PI objectives, estimating, and sequencing. 
     
  • The Developers take care of the research, development, design, implementation, managing, and testing of software programs. They are the ones that take part in breakout sessions and identify risks and dependencies.
     
  • RTE or Release Train Engineers are responsible for preparing the annual calendar, get everything ready, and create PI objectives. They help manage risks and dependencies, keep a watch over the progress, help prepare the strategy, facilitate demos, and generate team and Program objectives.
     

Conclusion
 

SAFe Agile PI planning is essential, but not always does it go the intended way. RTEs need to ensure that the sessions are not long and tedious, that the technology set-up is strong and robust, and does not fail midway. They need to ensure that qualitative feedback is shared. It is essential to stick to the accepted framework and use the right tools for optimized output.

 

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