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The Ultimate Goal of the PI Planning Event

"The product development tasks of the future cannot be predetermined. Distribute plans and controls for those who can understand and react to the end result." — Michael Kennedy, Product Development for the Lean Enterprise "There...

"The product development tasks of the future cannot be predetermined. Distribute plans and controls for those who can understand and react to the end result." — Michael Kennedy, Product Development for the Lean Enterprise

"There is no magic in SAFe... unless it is PI Planning." — Anonymous

PI Planning is a cyclical event for the entire Agile Release Train (ART) that helps teams and stakeholders align with a common mission and vision.

PI Planning is an essential part of SAFe: If you're not doing it, you're not doing SAFe.

Agile philosophy states, "The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation." SAFe takes this to a whole new level with PI Planning.

Where possible, people should meet in person (online or in-person), and such large-scale PI Planning events have been organized in many businesses worldwide. They have proven real financial benefits, not to mention immeasurable outcomes that occur when Agile teams create a social structure that benefits each individual and organization.

Sometimes, it is not feasible for the entire Agile Release Train (ART) to gather; however, in our current era, COVID-19 has created a situation where this is not an option. While face-to-face gatherings have their benefits, the unwritten rule of SAFe is that the people doing the work will plan the work. Real-time, parallel, virtual, face-to-face planning has proven effective even without physical presence. Indeed, many ARTs have thrived in creating a blended situation where some teams participate remotely, as shown below in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Face-to-face PI planning. Remote teams are planning at the same time using video conferencing. Figure 1. Face-to-face PI planning. Remote teams are planning at the same time using video conferencing.

PI Planning has a standard agenda that includes business context and vision presentation, followed by team breakout planning sessions – where teams create plans and objectives for the upcoming PI. This event is facilitated by the Release Train Engineer (RTE) and includes all members of the ART. It takes place in the Innovation and Planning (IP) Phase to not disrupt the schedule or capabilities of other phases in the PI. PI Planning lasts two days, although ARTs may extend this time to accommodate planning discussions across multiple time zones.

Business Benefits of PI Planning

PI Planning brings many business benefits, including:

  • Building direct communication between all team members and stakeholders.
  • Building a social network that ART relies on.
  • Aligning development with business goals through business context, vision, and ART's PI objectives.
  • Identifying dependent requirements and fostering collaboration between different teams and ARTs.
  • Providing opportunities for appropriate lean architecture and user experience guidance.
  • Matching capacity to demand and eliminating excess work in progress (WIP).
  • Making quick decisions.

Inputs and Outputs of PI Planning

The inputs to PI Planning include:

  • Business context (see "ready content" below).
  • Roadmap and vision.
  • Highest-priority features in the ART backlog.

A successful PI Planning event delivers two main outputs:

  • Committed PI Objectives: Each team creates a set of smart objectives with business value assigned by the business owners.
  • ART Planning Board: With new feature delivery dates, feature dependencies across teams, and relevant milestones.

Preparation

PI Planning is an important event that requires preparation, coordination, and communication. It is facilitated by the RTE and attended by event participants, including the business owners, Product Managers, Agile teams, System and Solution Architects, System Team, and other stakeholders. The RTE needs to schedule all PI Planning events in advance to ensure good preparation. Active participation from the business owners in this event provides a crucial barrier to budget consumption.

To make the event successful, preparation needs to be done in three main aspects:

  1. Organizational readiness: Before PI Planning, alignment among members, stakeholders, and business owners needs to be established. Key roles are assigned. To address this beforehand, event organizers should consider the following factors:

    • Planning horizon and context: Is the planning process scope (product, system, technology domain) understood? Do we know which teams need to plan together?
    • Business alignment: Is there reasonable agreement on priorities among the business owners?
    • Agile teams: Do we have Agile teams? Do we have the commitment of team members and Scrum Master/Team Coach and Product Owner identified for each team?
  2. Content readiness: Equally important as having a clear vision and context for the relevant stakeholders to participate. Therefore, PI Planning needs to include the following elements:

    • Overall summary: A concise information summarizing the current business context.
    • Product vision summary: Brief information prepared by the Product Managers, including the top 10 features in the ART backlog.
    • Architectural vision: A presentation done by the Chief Architect, Enterprise Architect, or System Architect to convey Enablers, features, and new Non-functional Requirements (NFRs).
  3. Logistics readiness: Planning an event that supports a large number of attendees is not a straightforward task. This preparation may include ensuring and preparing the physical space for planning presence. For remote participants or fully distributed PI Planning, this also includes investment in the necessary technical infrastructure. Factors to consider include:

    • Venue: Each planning location needs to be prepared in advance.
    • Technology and tools: Real-time information and tools access to support distributed or remote participants.
    • Information channels: There should be available audio, visual, and presentation channels.

Standard Agenda

The event follows a program similar to Figure 2. The description of each item is as follows. For guidance on how to adjust this agenda to support planning across multiple time zones, refer to the advanced topic article, "Distributed PI Planning with SAFe."

Figure 2. Standard two-day PI planning agenda Figure 2. Standard two-day PI planning agenda.

Day 1 Program:

  • Business context: Business owners or senior management describe the current business status, share the Project Vision, and present their perspective on the effectiveness of the current solutions for customer needs.

  • Product/Solution vision: Product Managers present the current vision (often represented by the top 10 features) and highlight any changes since the last PI Planning event and any relevant milestones.

  • Architectural vision and development practices: System Architects present the architectural vision. Additionally, a senior development manager may introduce Agile-supporting changes such as automated testing, DevOps, Continuous Integration, and Continuous Deployment that the teams will apply in the upcoming PI.

  • Planning context and lunch: RTE delivers the planning process and expected outcome.

  • Breakout #1: In breakout sessions, teams estimate their capacity for each Iteration and identify items in the backlog that they might need to deliver the features. Each team creates draft plans, visible to everyone, represented in increments.

During this process, teams identify risks and dependencies and initially plan their PI objectives. PI objectives often include "stretch objectives," which are integrated into the plan (e.g., stories defined and included for these objectives) but not committed by the team due to too many unknowns or risks. Stretch objectives are not add-ons to work in case there is time. Instead, they increase the reliability of the plan and provide early warning to management about any objectives that the ART might not be able to fulfill. Teams also add corresponding features and dependency requirements to the ART Planning Board, as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3. ART Planning Board displaying features and dependency requirements Figure 3. ART Planning Board displaying features and dependency requirements.

  • Draft plan review: During the specific draft plan review, teams present the key planning results, including capacity and load, draft PI objectives, identified risks, and dependencies. Business owners, Product Managers, and other teams and stakeholders review and provide feedback.

  • Management review and problem-solving: Draft plans may encounter difficulties such as scope, resource and people constraints, and dependencies. In the problem-solving meeting, managers may negotiate scope changes and resolve other issues by agreeing on different plan adjustments. RTE participates and keeps the key parties engaged together until necessary decisions are made to achieve achievable objectives.

Solution Trains often hold a management and collaboration problem-solving meeting after the first day of planning to address issues related to the entire Train. Alternatively, RTEs of related Trains can exchange discussions to address specific management issues related to the ART's problem-solving meeting. Solution Train Engineer (STE) assists in coordination and problem-solving across the ARTs.

Day 2 Program:

  • Plan adjustments: The next day, the event starts with management presenting any changes in the plan's scope, people, and resources.

  • Breakout #2: Teams continue planning and make necessary adjustments. They finalize their PI objectives, which the business owners assign business value to, as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4. PI Objective Sheet of a team with assigned business value Figure 4. PI Objective Sheet of a team with assigned business value.

  • Final plan review and lunch: All teams present their plans to the whole room. As each team's timebox ends, the team states its risks and impediments and provides risks to the RTE for use in the ROAMing exercise. Then, the team asks the business owners if the plan is acceptable. If the plan is accepted, the team takes its team's PI Objective sheet to the front of the room for everyone to see the summarized objectives represented in real-time. If the business owners have concerns, the teams may adjust their plan to address identified issues. Then, the team presents their adjusted plan.

  • PI Risks: During planning, the teams have identified risks and impediments that might impact their ability to achieve their PI objectives. These risks are discussed and addressed in a broader management context prior to the entire Train. Specifically, risks are discussed and addressed with honesty and transparency, then grouped into one of the following categories:

    • Mitigated: Teams agree that the risk is no longer an issue.
    • Assigned: Someone on the train takes ownership of the risk as it cannot be resolved during PI planning.
    • Accepted: Some issues are facts or potential issues that must be understood and accepted.
    • Mitigated: Teams identify a plan to reduce the impact of the risk.
  • Confidence vote: After PI ART risks have been addressed, teams vote on their confidence in achieving their team's PI objectives. Each team votes with their fingers (thumbs up or five fingers) or digital tools for remote events. If the average is three fingers or more, management should accept the commitment. If less than three fingers, the team will adjust its plan. Anyone with two or fewer fingers may voice their concerns. After each team has voted, this is repeated for the entire ART, with everyone expressing confidence in the summarized plan, as illustrated in Figure 5.

Figure 5. Confidence vote for ART Figure 5. Confidence vote for ART.

  • Plan adjustments: If necessary, teams adjust their objectives until they have high confidence. This additional planning is an opportunity for improved alignment and commitment and is highly valued over sticking to the timeline.

  • Planning retrospective and forward: Finally, RTE facilitates a brief closing retrospective for the PI Planning event to capture what went well, what didn't go well, and what can be improved for next time, as shown in Figure 6.

Figure 6. Planning retrospective Figure 6. Planning retrospective.

  • Next Steps: Typically, there will be a discussion on next steps, along with final instructions for teams, including:
    • Clean up the rooms used for planning (if applicable).
    • Enter team PI objectives and stories into the Agile Lifecycle Management (ALM) tool.
    • Review team and ART event calendars.
    • Identify the location and timing of Iteration and Team Sync planning.

After the planning event, RTE and ART stakeholders consolidate each team's PI objectives into a set of ART PI objectives (Figure 7) and use it to communicate externally and track progress toward the objectives.

Product Management uses ART PI objectives to fine-tune the roadmap and improve forecasting for the next two PIs.

The ART planning board is typically used in the Coach Sync to track dependencies. It can be maintained (manually) after the planning event is completed. A digital tool for dependency management will help track the next steps.

Teams leave the PI Planning event with an Iteration event schedule before the upcoming PI. They take their team's PI objectives, iteration plans, and risks to their regular working area. ART risks remain with the RTE, ensuring that risk owners or mitigators have gathered information and are actively managing risks.

Most importantly, the ART executes the PI, monitors progress, and adjusts as needed when new information emerges. The PI execution starts with each team planning for the first Iteration, using their PI objectives as a starting point. It provides new information for the next planning process. Since the inception of the Iteration plan during the PI Planning event doesn't consider specific acceptance criteria of the story, the team can adjust both the first Iteration and subsequent Iteration plans.

Figure 7. ART PI objectives Figure 7. ART PI objectives.

PI Planning for Solution Trains

This article focuses on planning activities for a single ART. However, larger Value Streams can contain multiple ARTs and suppliers. In this case, the Solution Train provides coordination using Pre-Plan and Coordinate and Deliver activities.

Learn More

  1. Knaster, Richard, and Dean Leffingwell. SAFe 5.0 Distilled: Achieving Business Agility with the Scaled Agile Framework. Addison-Wesley, 2020.
  2. Kennedy, Michael. Product Development for the Lean Enterprise. Oaklea Press, 2003.

Last updated: March 19, 2023

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