What is PI Planning in Agile?

PI planning is an important part of scaling the agile development process, the agile team's best practice for planning and executing a successful iteration. It allows multiple agile teams to come together, refine their goals and ensure that they are on track to reach them.

Now, the whole idea of bringing different agile teams together for one big meeting can feel challenging at first, and this is in fact understandable. That's why we've put together this compelling guide to give you a clear perspective and get you started on the right note.

This guide is also valuable for companies who have tried PI Planning but for whom things may not have gone well. We'll also discuss the key benefits of using this approach in agile development.

What exactly Is PI Planning?

So what does PI planning stand for in agile? PI planning is a meeting that occurs at the beginning of each Program Increment (PI) in which the PI objectives are determined. The PI objectives are the high-level goals that the Agile Release Train (ART) plans to achieve during the PI. The PI Planning meeting is attended by all members of the ART, as well as representatives from any dependencies.

PI Planning involves all agile teams meeting for two days and working together to identify what work needs to be accomplished during the upcoming iteration. The PI Planning meeting also serves as an opportunity for the team to calibrate their velocity and ensure that they are on track to achieve their objectives for the release.

What Is the Purpose of PI Planning?

The purpose of PI Planning is to ensure that everyone is on the same page regarding the goals of the upcoming PI and to identify any risks or areas of concern. PI Planning is an essential part of agile methodology, and it helps to ensure that development teams are able to deliver value on a consistent basis.

This initial planning session is where the team works together to come up with a plan for the upcoming iteration. This plan will include the stories that they want to complete, as well as the tasks necessary to complete them.

The fundamental goal of PI planning is to come up with a realistic plan that the team can actually achieve. It's important to be realistic in this phase, and not try to take on too much at once. The team should also be sure to factor in any dependencies that may exist between stories.

Here are the 5 key benefits of PI planning for a business:

  1. Creates a common understanding and commitment among the Agile Release Train (ART), product owner, and stakeholders
  2. Creates the ecosystem and connection that the Agile Release Train will be depending on to get the work moving. This is very important in agile. 
  3. Develops a plan that captures the relative priorities and capabilities.
  4. Aligns the delivery of value with stakeholder expectations.
  5. Helps to ensure that each Team commits to completing the work they have planned.
  6. Provides transparency into PI Objectives for all members of the ART.

When Is PI planning done?

PI planning is usually done at the start of each increment. Most companies hold their PI planning meetings quarterly, in a month preceding the next increment.

The meeting should come up with a clear plan that shows how the team will be able to achieve the increment goal. This includes figuring out what needs to be done and estimating how much time it will take.

PI planning should be revisited and updated as needed throughout the course of the increment or iteration

Who should be involved in PI Planning?

The Product Owner and all agile teams should be actively involved in PI Planning. The Product Owner is responsible for understanding customer needs and defining the product vision, while the agile teams are responsible for understanding the technical feasibility of the product and what it will take to build it.

Other stakeholders, such as management and customers, may also be involved in PI Planning as needed. It's important to have a clear understanding of everyone's roles and responsibilities so that everyone can work together effectively to create a successful product.

Preparing for PI Planning

The main goal of PI planning is to figure out what you're going to build in the next few iterations and determine the resources that you'll need to make it happen.

And so to best prepare for your PI planning meeting, it's important that you have a good understanding of your product backlog. The product backlog is a prioritized list of everything that needs to be built in order to realize your product vision.

Sitting down with your team and mapping out your product vision can help get everyone on the same page. From there, you can start filling in your product backlog with specific features and tasks.

Preparation is particularly required across these three core areas;

Logistics

Logistics readiness is an important part of preparing for PI Planning in agile. Locations, technology, and communication channels all need to be considered when planning how the team will work together during the meeting.

Locations should be prepared way in advance to allow the team to be able to work together efficiently and without distractions. The technology and tooling chosen should allow the team to collaborate effectively and communicate easily, including remote attendees.

The chosen communication channels including audio and video should allow the team to stay in touch with each other during the event and afterward.

Content

It is crucial to see to it that all attendees are content-ready. This means ensuring that executive briefings, product vision briefings, and architecture vision briefings have been given and that all stakeholders are up to date on the latest developments.

Only then can the team truly be ready to plan for the upcoming meeting. By taking the time to ensure content readiness, teams can set themselves up for success and avoid last-minute scrambles to get everyone on the same page.

Executive briefing defines the current business context. Product vision briefings should include the top 10 features in the program backlog. Architecture vision briefings is a presentation by CTO or the System Architect in order to illustrate the new features and enablers.

Organizational

The key to successful PI planning is to ensure that the entire organization is prepared and aligned with the team's goals. It requires a clear scope in terms of systems, product, and technology.

Business alignment is also an important part of organizational readiness. It's important to ensure that there is a good agreement on the priorities among the owners of the business or product. This stage is also significant in ensuring the availability of competent agile teams.

Overall, try as much as possible to follow the below agile pi planning steps for a successful meeting;

  1. Establish the project vision and goals.
  2. Define the project scope and constraints.
  3. Draft the project timeline and milestones.
  4. Assign resources and establish roles.
  5. Plan for and track risks and dependencies.
  6. Finalize the plan and track progress.

PI Planning Agenda

The agenda for a PI Planning meeting should include the following key components

  • Iteration Goal: What are you trying to accomplish in this iteration?
  • Feature List: What features will be included in this iteration?
  • Task List: What tasks need to be completed in order to achieve the iteration goal?
  • Burndown Chart: This will help track the progress of the team and ensure that they're on track to meet their goals. 

As per the SAFe website, the standard PI agenda should follow the format below;

DAY 1

 

8:00am - 9:00am

Business context

9:00am - 10:30am

Product/solution vision

10:30am - 11:30am

Architecture vision & development practices

11:30am - 1:00pm

Planning context & lunch

1:00pm - 4:00pm

Team breakouts

4:00pm - 5:00pm

Draft plan review

5:00pm - 6:00pm

Management review & problem solving

 

DAY 2

 

8:00am - 9:00am

Planning adjustments

9:00am - 11:00am

Team breakouts

11:00am - 1:00pm

Final plan review & lunch

1:00pm - 2:00pm

Program risks

2:00pm - 2:15pm

Confidence vote

2:15pm - when done

Plan rework (if needed)

As appropriate

Planning retrospective & moving forward

Source: scaledagileframework.com/pi-planning

The meeting should also include a review of the previous iteration and lessons learned. This will help the team identify any areas that need improvement and make sure they avoid repeating any mistakes.

A successful PI planning event should result in the following primary outputs;

  • Objectives: A shared understanding of the objectives and a road map for how those objectives will be achieved. 
  • Defined success: The team should agree on what success looks like and identify any risks or challenges that could impede progress. 
  • Schedule: The team should develop a schedule for delivery and identify any dependencies that need to be managed. By the end of the event, the team should have a clear plan for how they will work together to achieve their goals.

What should happen after PI Planning?

After program increment planning (PI planning), it's important to take a few actions and put things into perspective. These actionable steps are encouraged after the PI planning event;

  • Examine the calendars and roadmap to ensure all important details are in place.
  • Ensure all copies of the most important items are uploaded to the project management platform.
  • Discuss locations and timings for daily standups.
  • Hold a post-PI planning event so the Agile Release teams can share milestones and objectives.

Common challenges encountered in PI Planning

While PI planning events are essential for keeping agile teams on track, they can also be a source of frustration. Here are some challenges that these events encounter;

Tedious program

This is the most obvious challenge. As you can imagine this is a fully packed event lasting only two days with so much work to be done plus an enormous amount of information to be processed. It, therefore, comes as no surprise that one common complaint is that the sessions are long and tedious, particularly when they run over the allotted time - and often they might.

Technical letdowns

Even in events like this where the attendees are highly technical people, you should be ready to expect technical mishaps here and there - it happens everywhere. These technical problems can derail the meeting, especially if the team is relying on remote collaboration tools.

Confidence voting can get tricky

Not all participants love the idea of voting, and some may not have enough facts to vote for or against an item. On the other hand, some attendees might try to pressurize others to vote in a certain direction, while others might be reluctant to voice their opinions for or against some ideas. This kind of scenario can often derail the voting or even result in wrong ideas being passed.

Poor feedback

Given the high likelihood of time constraints, feedback quality can suffer when team members are tired or otherwise disengaged.

While these challenges are inevitable, there are ways to mitigate them. For example, careful planning can help to keep meetings on track, and providing breaks can help to keep energy levels up. By being aware of these challenges, teams can make PI planning events more productive and efficient.

Conclusion

PI planning is an important part of the agile process which also includes agile ceremonies. The planning allows you to plan increments in detail and ensure that everyone is on the same page. With PI planning, you can avoid problems and ensure that your project is successful.

Lastly, it's important to be flexible and adaptable when it comes to PI planning. Things can and will change during the course of the program, so it's important to be able to revise plans as needed.

FAQ Section

What is a program in PI planning?

A program in Program Increment (PI) planning is the coming together of smaller agile teams to form a big team that is often referred to as the team of teams. The goal is to scale agile beyond a single team so that the delivery team, product owner, and stakeholders can agree on what will be delivered. The outcome of the program should be a baseline iteration plan, which is essentially the delivery team's promise to the product owner and stakeholders about what they will deliver during the Program Increment.

Why is face-to-face format encouraged in PI Planning?

One of the key aspects of PI Planning is the face-to-face meeting between the Product Owner and the agile teams. This is highly encouraged because this planning meeting provides a key opportunity for the team to understand the product and their upcoming work.

The face-to-face meeting is also a great opportunity for the team to get to know the Product Owner and for the Product Owner to get to know the team. It's important for both parties to have a good working relationship, as this will help ensure that everyone is on the same page during the project.

What is the relationship between PI Planning and SAFe?

Program increment planning is a key element of the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), a time-boxed event that allows teams to plan for the upcoming program increment (PI). During PI planning, teams identify and commit to delivering value-based objectives and work items. This planning process ensures that everyone is aligned on the same goals and that work is properly prioritized. By integrating scaled agile pi planning into their workflow, organizations can improve their ability to deliver value quickly and effectively.

The key agile pi planning objectives include:

  • Define the overall product vision
  • Create a product backlog that is based on business value
  • Agree on what can be realistically achieved in the upcoming PI cycle
  • Determine how much work can be completed in that time frame
  • Plan out and sequence the delivery of features
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