Virtual PI Planning Done Right!

Harness the Power of PI Planning with Distributed Teams!

"The future is already here. It is just not uniformly distributed."

-William Gibson

By: Stephanie McCormick, PMP, CSP-SM, SPC

Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) includes an encompassing event with an Agile Release Train (ART is a Team of Teams) to align and plan their delivery of value on a cadence. If SAFe is new to your organization, and you want to know more about why the framework prescribes a Program Increment planning event, contact PCI for our class offerings for individuals or groups. Assuming our readers are well versed in SAFe – let’s continue …
We continue to adjust to the dreaded buzzphrase of 2020 – The New Normal. In 2019, suggesting virtual tools for PI Planning was often taboo because a major principle in SAFe and the greater umbrella of Agile was “face to face communication”.  While principles remain, practices can change. The practice of on site, in person PI Planning events suddenly required an immediate pivot in 2020. For some organizations, this pivot is an ephemeral adjustment to their routine and sustained practices. For many other organizations – this is a welcome respite from an in person practice that never quite matched their reality of business. Regardless, whether ephemeral or permanent, the need for immediate Virtual PI Planning is evident.
SAFe Organizations will do everything to continue the event in a virtual and comprehensive manner. The event is incredibly powerful, but even with a few team members missing, that power is diluted. If the event erodes too much due to pandemics, budget constraints for travel, global distribution of teams, or any number of factors affecting the robustness of face to face communication –  your PI Planning Event becomes a fragile shell of planning. Consequently – after PI Planning, your organization is rife with follow up meetings, confusion, adjustments, and misalignment.

Now Offering SAFe® Certification Exam Coaching Sessions!

Diving into the pool that is the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) can feel like an overwhelming move.  Sure, there’s a wealth of information available online.  But it is so voluminous that to call it intimidating feels like an understatement.  If you’ve ever taken a SAFe course, the phrase “learning by …

Five things that must be offered for a Virtualized PI Planning Event:
  1. Planning with a single source of truth and continued alignment into the Program Increment.
  2. Integrating with existing Agile Lifecycle Management (ALM) tools so teams do not perform duplicate work.
  3. Allowing real time edits for fast paced changes within and among teams and plans are visible to all Agile Release Train stakeholders.
  4. Providing the powerful practices/tools of on-site events such as ROAM boards and dependency strings on Program Boards.
  5. Implementing Security – your plans are private to your Agile Release Train.
With the toolbox you have right now, how could you virtualize PI Planning?
  • First, consult Scaled Agile Framework itself for some great advice for PI Planning with distributed teams
  • Select the conferencing tool and breakout rooms that everyone can use –
This is the easiest for most organizations – if you didn’t have video teleconferencing in 2019, your organization probably selected a service in 2020. When possible, search for tools that offer breakout rooms as a standard feature (Examples: Zoom, MS Teams or Webex Training), global toll free dial in numbers or VoIP, built in polling, chat features, and of course – Video.
Pitfall Every videoconferencing and visual sharing tool is a little different, and new users often come into the event with a learning curve for the tools themselves and that limits the ability to focus on the event itself.
  • The Team Iteration Boards and Team Business Objectives
With screen sharing available on teleconference tools, teams can plan the iteration within the ALM tool itself, in a wiki, or on Slides. For example, within Jira, a team can directly load the iteration buckets within the tool and the team can keep track of the capacity, load, risks and business objectives elsewhere.
Pitfall – If a team is transferring information between an ALM tool and a presentation method, then the iteration plan documentation can both be duplicated (requiring changes in multiple locations) and could lead to errors/confusion with multiple sources of truth. Furthermore, security issues lurk when slides are exchanged or data is taken from an ALM tool to present elsewhere.
  • The Program Board
ARTs can use a slide, Visio, or a wiki to be a Big Visible Information Radiator (BVIR).
Pitfall – There must be only one Program Board to avoid confusion, changes must be made swiftly (preferably in real time with co-editing), it must be placed where all stakeholders can view it, and finally – the dependency strings are critical. Slides, Visio, and wikis all fail to  deliver the complete needs of a Program Board and thus don’t deliver the full value needed for PI Planning.
  • The Risk ROAM Board
ARTs can use a slide or a wiki to present risks to the stakeholders and Resolve, Own, Accept, or Mitigate as a group discussion. The slides or wiki can be edited to reflect the ROAm category for each risk.
Pitfall – As team risks become program risks, the data may need to be transferred and produces error or confusion. Once again, security issues lurk when slides are exchanged or data is taken from an ALM tool to present elsewhere.
  • The Confidence Vote
ARTs can use IM or chat tools, polling, or surveys to collect a Fist-of-Five confidence vote for both the team level planning and the program planning. 
Advantages – Independently taken surveys or polling offer increased psychological safety for participants.
Pitfall – asynchronous surveys or polling may mean that ARTs lose full, transparent participation. If a team member offers a “2” it may be difficult to immediately obtain and disperse the feedback for their lack of confidence.
PI Planning Done right with PCI and PIPlanningApp
During 2020, the entire community forged ahead with PI Planning using the existing arrows in their quiver. It was simply not an option to forgo PI Planning events and lose sight of the beacon that keeps our delivery predictable and aligned to the business.  
What if there was a new tool available now that could help you avoid Pitfalls and a service that minimized confusion, security risk, duplication of effort, and misalignment?
These services provide a secure, single source of truth edited in real time with bi-directional sync to your existing ALM tools. Stakeholders can view all the BVIRs (including the program board WITH dependency strings) and teams can visually access capacity, load, iteration plans, risks, and business objectives all in one frame from any work location.
PCI leverages the PIPlanning application by Rentouch in a secure cloud-based environment our full service menu includes:
  • Full configuration of PI Planning App with customization
    • Verification and QA check of the ALM sync
    • Some visual customization of the app
  • Set-up videoconferencing tools of customer’s choice
    • Setting up users and roles
    • Invites
  • PI Planning App Training (content created by PCI with basic and advanced content)
    • PDF handouts
    • Tech check for all participants before the event starts
    • Coaching services with “working agreements” or “business rules” for events/tools 
  • For government clientele – verification/security of account access
  • Tech support for the entire event troubleshooting tools, piplanning app, access
  • User Feedback data captured for client retrospective on PI Planning event
For government clientele – our services have rapid deployment capability, user-defined DevSecOps processes and tools. PCIs provides a flexible and secure network connection via authentication using a Common Access Card (CAC) or equivalent browser certificates for For Official Use Only (FOUO) data.

Contact Us To Learn About PCI's PI Planning Services!

Stephanie McCormick started her agile career in a custom dev shop after years of struggling with waterfall projects. Since starting her agile journey, she has enthusiastically embraced roles as a product owner and scrum master and is now a SAFe Program Consultant and Certified Scrum Professional. At PCI, she is a servant leader for government clients and looks forward to a bright future of predictable, sustainable delivery of delightful products.

Share this article

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Scroll to Top