Program Increment Planning or PI Planning is a pivotal SAFe event.   It’s considered mandatory in SAFe and you may find it useful for your organisation as well.  You may already do Release Planning and some if not all of these are relevant for you as well.  It’s performed on a regular cadence, quarterly usually, and is a face to face event in the same location or simultaneously in multiple locations for distributed teams.  It’s aim is to create agreement on a plan for delivering objectives (called PI Objectives)  for the next Program Increment (PI).   It aims to set up a plan to deliver working software to the customer and therefore accrue value for the customer and feedback from the marketplace. 

PI planning has a standard agenda starting with presentations of the business context and goals, planning of the work, identifying risks and dependencies and feedback loops to adapt the plan from learning such that objectives can be met.   The SAFe role of Release Train Engineer prepares for and facilitates all these activities over a 2 day period and follows up after PI Planning, also called Big Room Planning, to deal with outstanding issues and facilitates the delivery of the increment.

It’s not about tools to execute the event, however, selection of the right tool will only help to make the event run as smooth as possible.  How can ScrumDo help?. 

Preparation

Preparation is key to help create the right conditions for an engaging PI planning event.  SAFe describes areas of readiness: Organizational, Content and Facility readiness.  ScrumDo can play a part in visualizing Organizational and Content Readiness.  It can be used during the event as part of Facility Readiness.  How specifically can ScrumDo help?

First, start with a view of your portfolio.  Here’s what one can look like.  It’s a simple two level portfolio with a top level showing the Portfolio Epics and the second level has links to teams contributing to the Portfolio Epics and are part of the Agile Release Train.  Each level is clickable to a board.  Larger organizations with many value streams and programs contributing to those value streams might have 3 or 4 levels.  There’s actually no limit in ScrumDo.

This video shows how it was created and our help describes it as well.

What’s the Vision

In our two level example, we have the Product and Services Portfolio responsible for outlining objectives.  Selecting the Board tab and then Mission Dashboard allows visualization of these.  It’s here that objectives, sentiments, and epics are visualized.  Start with Business Objectives and Epics go from there.

Use ScrumDo to collect historical metrics

ScrumDo allows recording of relative story point values on the cards and has charts to obtain the various teams' velocities.  This will be an important input into planning.

The lead time metrics in ScrumDo will also be invaluable in validating choices made and mitigating risks.  The use of these metrics is described in Chapter 6 of The Scrumban [R]Evolution.

Charts that will assist here are the Cumulative Flow Diagram and Lead Time Histograms.  Even greater insight to risks and the nature of work to help with planning is gained through ScrumDo’s board and card visualizations.  You may want to consider a class of service and work types in board designs.

Working with key members of your programs, as the Release Train Engineer, you can help disseminate, explain and deal with any issues using ScrumDo to assist with organizational readiness and content readiness help to create conditions for alignment before the event.  

The Event Itself

First Day - Morning Session

These are presentations of Business Context, Program Vision and Architectural Guidance/Dev Practices.  Many of these can find a representation in ScrumDo.  Business Context can be added beforehand in the Mission Dashboard of the Portfolio Workspace.  Content can be attached to Epics or links added to them for external content.  

High-bandwidth delivery of these helps teams in the afternoon sessions.  Capturing them in ScrumDo is a starting point for teams.

First Day - Afternoon Session

Team Breakouts

The key event is the breakouts.  Teams are in the same ‘Big Room’ and go about the process of further understanding the work, breaking it down and planning it out into iterations (usually 10 iterations).  Everyone is present so that questions can be asked of the business people, architects, and other stakeholders.  As this work occurs, risks and dependencies are identified along with the individual work items.

ScrumDo can be used alongside to record all these.  

For example, the Downstreaming Planning Tab is where user stories can be placed into their iterations.

Dependencies between cards are created within the cards itself using the Relationships Tab/Sibling Dependencies: 

And visualized in the Dependencies Tab:

As risks are surfaced up, they can be entered onto the Risk board by clicking on the Risk Icon.  In this example risk is linked to the Portfolio and also to a specific card. (this guide explains how to create a Risk)

Risks and dimensions that measure severity of the risk are visualizable:

Draft Plan Review

In the second last activity of the day, teams present their plans, dependencies, risks and any other issues.  These are then open to input from everyone else in the room.  Facility planning would have ensured a projector screen is available and plans can be shown direct from ScrumDo.  Ongoing addition of notes, moving cards around and updating items can happen in real time.  For distributed Agile Release Trains, ScrumDo becomes even more valuable as a central spot for sharing these plans.

Management Review and Problem Solving

Review and problem solving occur at the end of the day with just key management and business stakeholders to review risks, dependencies, and impediments that could prevent successful delivery of the objective.  Adjustments to plans can be made directly in ScrumDo.

Second Day - Morning Session

Management will describe any planning and scope changes after which teams are allowed to adjust and refine their plans further, all with ScrumDo assisting.  As finalization draws near, Business Owners can enter the business value into the card.  ScrumDo has a place for that:

Towards the end of the morning, all risks, dependencies and impediments will have been recorded into ScrumDo and presented to all teams and customers for review.  Each team can record their ‘SMARTTeam PI Objectives in their Workspace Dashboard under Purpose/Objectives. Risks at this level are also visible.  

 These views can be collectively navigated to from the Big Picture view in the Portfolio Workspace and discussed before breaking for lunch.

Second Day - Afternoon Session

Risks are evaluated using the ROAM protocol.  Depending on the outcome of the ROAM protocol will determine whether new work should be added as cards, or as part of existing cards, to deal with the risks after PI Planning.

A vote of confidence is taken with a simple fist of five.  It’s simple and probably doesn’t need ScrumDo to help, however the Sentiments feature might be something you can use in the Portfolio Workspace to achieve the same result.  For a distributed event this could be very handy:

Teams can continue to work their plans depending on how the confidence vote went.  A retrospective ends the day to discuss what went well and what can be improved which can be recorded as Notes in ScrumDo.

Hopefully with good preparation beforehand and hard work during the event teams have a plan with SMART objectives and confidence to execute on the plan.

ScrumDo has assisted in preparation and execution of the PI Planning Event and teams can continue to use ScrumDo to start the delivery of all important value for your customers.

The Release Train Engineer has the Big Picture view in the Portfolio Workspace and is able to respond to events in the system of delivery through this view.

Want to help us facilitate a PI Planning Event? Book a coach clinic session today for help with your PI planning.

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