What is PI planning?
Table of Contents
Definition of PI Planning
Program increment (PI) planning is an event that creates a shared vision among Agile teams. Throughout the event, business stakeholders, project owners, and project teams review their program backlog. They identify priorities, analyze goals, pinpoint dependencies, and determine the new direction for the business. Organizations typically carry out these meetings every 8–12 weeks. They’re usually spread over 1–2 days (although virtual sessions tend to be shorter). This allows teams plenty of time to host breakout sessions, collaborate, and discuss the new plan of action. But where does Agile come into this, and what is a PI planning event in Agile? In the Agile framework, PI planning allows teams to create an Agile Release Train (ART). An ART brings teams together to help them make informed decisions about the future of product development.
What is SAFe PI planning?
The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) is a structure for implementing Agile practices. It helps teams come together to review the same products, outcomes, and key objectives at an enterprise scale. The SAFe program board is an important part of Agile PI planning. In fact, it’s the key deliverable of a PI session (more on this later). A SAFe program board maps delivery dates, dependencies, milestones, and timelines.
What is the goal of a PI planning event?
There are many benefits to running a PI planning session with your team. The main goals of a PI planning event is to:
1. Align Agile teams
Cross-functional collaboration is tricky, especially for distributed and remote teams. Everyone is on the same page with a PI planning event — no matter what department they’re from.
2. Set clear goals
PI planning outlines your company goals and objectives. Every participant knows what the end goal is, why it’s important, and how to achieve it.
3. Build trust
PI planning is a collaborative process. It’s a great way for Agile teams to build relationships and develop trust with other team members.
4. Offer a better customer experience
PI planning allows you to streamline your processes and ensure that your teams are aligned across the business. As a result, your customers get a smoother, more efficient, and an overall better experience.
5. Make quick decisions
Decision-making isn’t easy for large, cross-functional teams. Use a PI planning event to bring teams together to make fast and informed decisions.
6. Prioritize tasks
Use a PI planning session to pinpoint the most important areas of your work and focus on action items that will help you achieve your objectives.
Who should be involved in PI planning?
The following team members form a PI planning event:
Release train engineer
The release train engineer (RTE) is the leader and coach of the Agile Release Train (ART). They form the head of the PI planning board. Their role is to plan, manage, and facilitate the PI planning event.
The scrum master in PI planning manages and leads processes during the event and facilitates preparation with the RTE. They also review team capacity, making sure the team can complete the work required to meet the goals and objectives. The scrum master is responsible for the timebox, identifying dependencies, and addressing any ambiguities during the breakout sessions.
The product manager is responsible for presenting the program vision and any upcoming milestones. They review the draft plan to ensure they can effectively manage the flow of work. Their perspective is also valuable to the PI planning process, mostly because they fully understand customer needs. Their input ensures that the goal and direction add value to the end user.
Developers research, design, test, and maintain software systems. During PI planning, they participate in breakout sessions to help refine user stories, identify risks, and help the product owner finalize the PI objectives.
Big room planning versus PI planning
Big room planning is another word for PI planning, but it indicates that the team meeting is in-person. Today, many teams opt for a hybrid format to host these meetings. This allows distributed teams to easily attend the sessions from wherever they are. And when the meetings are online, the teams can record the sessions and review them in the future.
But managing an online PI planning session doesn’t come without challenges. Hosting a virtual meeting can be hard for hosts, with more considerations to make than an in-person event. Technology, for example, is a big factor to think about. If the technology doesn’t work or isn’t efficient, the entire meeting could fall apart. Online meetings can also be tricky for attendees. Focusing on a screen for long periods can be challenging, leading to a lack of concentration. Fortunately, there are tools to help you overcome these issues. Take a look at Miro as an example. If you choose to host a virtual PI planning session, a tool like Miro can help you plan, manage, and execute your meeting — as well as keep your participants engaged. Using a customizable and intuitive digital workspace allows teams to collaborate online. Start by selecting the ready-made PI planning template and begin recording all the information on the virtual whiteboard. To keep participants focused, use the timer to cap the time spent in each session. Allow for breaks, and consider using icebreaker games to keep things light and engaging.
What to include in a PI planning agenda?
A successful PI planning meeting agenda should include the following information:
The business owner starts by describing the current state of the business. They’ll share the company’s vision for the future and outline how existing business solutions address current customer needs.
Product management then presents the current vision. This is often represented as the next 10 product features or the most pressing items in the product backlog. The product manager then highlights any changes from the last PI planning session.
The RTE presents the planning process and outlines the expected outcomes.
Participants break away into their teams to estimate the capacity for each iteration. The teams then create a draft plan outlining each iteration. This session is timed (use Miro’s Timer to manage this).
Draft plan review
Teams present their key planning outputs, including their capacity, PI objectives, risks, and dependencies. Other teams review all the draft plans and provide feedback.
Management review and problem-solving
Draft plans often present challenges to overcome, such as limited scope, capacity, resources, and conflicting dependencies. Management spends some time figuring out how to address these challenges. The RTE keeps this meeting on track.
Before launching any new iterations, it’s important to identify potential risks. Teams categorize these risks into one of five categories. The first category is Resolved, which means the entire team agrees that there’s no longer a risk. The second category is Owned, meaning someone takes ownership of managing an unresolved risk. The third category is Accepted, which includes risks that are unavoidable and simply need to be understood and accepted. The fourth category is Mitigated, where teams figure out how to reduce the impact of a risk. Finally, the fifth category is Confidence Vote. The confidence vote in PI planning allows teams to vote on how confident they are that the team will meet the objectives after addressing all the risks.
Teams then rework their plans and address potential risks to achieve as high a confidence level as possible.
Planning retrospective and moving forward
In the final stage of the meeting, the RTE leads a brief retrospective. They’ll cover what went well, what didn’t, and what can be improved for the next session. The amount of time you assign to each of these areas is up to you. There’s no right or wrong but bear in mind that it’s harder for team members to maintain focus if they’re attending the meeting virtually. Allow for enough breaks throughout the session to keep them motivated and engaged.
How to prepare for a PI planning session
Follow these three simple steps to prepare for your next PI planning session.
Perform pre-planning activities
Pre PI planning events help everything run smoothly on the day of the session. You’ll make sure that all teams are ready for the session, that the necessary people have been invited, and that the technology (or location, if the meeting is in person) is ready to go. Here are the three key areas of pre PI planning:
1. Organizational readiness
This involves preparing the planning scope to ensure everyone is prepared for the meeting. It also means aligning the business priorities ahead of the meeting to make them as streamlined as possible and ensuring all critical roles are assigned.
2. Content readiness
To ensure a clear vision for the meeting, teams need to have all the right content ahead of it. This includes the executive briefing to define the current state of the business, an up-to-date product backlog, and the architecture vision briefing.
3. Logistics readiness
Organizing logistics is a vital part of PI planning. It involves planning the location (at a facility or online), sourcing the right technology, and choosing the right communication channels.
Choose the right platform
Planning to run a virtual PI planning session? You need software that works for you and your Agile team. If the platform isn’t right, it can be difficult to run a successful meeting. To find the right platform, think about the features you need to make your meeting run as smoothly and efficiently as possible. Here are some suggestions:
A collaborative workspace. A virtual, collaborative workspace allows teams to work together throughout the session. Using an online workspace, especially one with specific features to enable PI Planning can help boost productivity, camaraderie and innovation.
Top-quality video chat. If participants are dialing in virtually, you need a high-quality video call platform. That way, everyone can experience the meeting without experiencing any glitches.
A timer. Keep your meetings on track by using a timer. This helps teams be as concise and productive as possible during the session.
Voting. Ensure all opinions are taken into account by using a voting tool.
Templates. Speed up by leveraging tried and tested templates to take advantage of best practices.
Understand the inputs and outputs
The items you’ll need to prepare before the meeting are your inputs. They’re vital to the success of your PI planning session, so it’s important to know exactly what they are and how to prepare them. Here are some examples of PI planning inputs:
Executive briefings. Briefings must be prepared beforehand to align teams and provide context for your session.
Roadmap and vision. You need a clear definition of the business’s direction and management’s vision for the future.
Program backlog. Prepare your prioritized list of product features and functionalities before the meeting so that you can discuss which items to focus on in your upcoming iterations.
Now, let’s look at the outputs.
Outputs are any tangible outcomes from your planning session. Two outcomes of PI planning indicate that the session was a success:
Committed PI objectives. The team’s commitment during the PI planning will result in a set of SMART goals that outline what you intend to achieve in your upcoming iterations. Each team may have its own goal to focus on, depending on what you discussed during the session.
A program board. A program board outlines your delivery dates, dependencies among teams, milestones, and a timeline of the events.
These outputs mark the end of your PI planning session. They’ll guide your future iterations and help your teams achieve their goals before returning to the drawing board for a new PI planning meeting.
Use Miro to host your PI Planning event
Miro's integrated set of Agile tools helps teams of all sizes run PI Planning events efficiently. Streamline preparations, align on dependencies, and run sessions that are engaging and collaborative.
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