Discover how SharpCloud can help to transfer on-site processes to the hybrid work force, achieving more efficient, empowered and better informed teams.Complete PI Planning Toolkit
Many companies use the SAFe methodology to manage their complex Agile enterprise programs and projects. In normal times it is complex enough to keep everybody aligned and make sure all teams are streamlined, but where distributed and hybrid work is becoming inevitable, the task of ensuring collaboration and reducing the risk of uncoordinated work is key to success. The artefact of PI Planning in scaled agile projects is invaluable to keep the teams synched. But just shifting to the digital tools which are commonly used, such as work tracking tools (e.g. Jira) or other common productivity tools (e.g. Excel and PowerPoint) just won’t cut it. Teams and their managers need to stay engaged, be productive and easily see conflicts and relationships between different streams.
There are plenty of challenges introduced by remote workshops sessions and management of distributed teams, but we also see many advantages by shifting to digital means of collaboration and a modern work style. In this e-book we will explain the process behind PI Planning and describe how by taking advantage of using digital tools one not only can transfer the on-site processes to the remote and distributed workforce, but also achieve higher transparency, better input and more efficient, empowered and better informed teams.
PI Planning stands for Program Increment Planning. A Program Increment (PI) is a timeboxed planning interval during which an Agile Release Train (ART) plans and delivers incremental value in the form of working, tested software and systems. PIs are typically 8 – 12 weeks long.
The goal of PI Planning is to get all your teams aligned strategically and enable cross-team collaboration to avoid potential problems around risks and dependencies. PI Planning is an essential part of the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), a framework that’s designed to bring Agile to large companies with multiple teams working on a product and help businesses continuously and more efficiently deliver value on a regular and predictable schedule.
Implementing Agile at the individual team level is relatively easy but expanding across multiple teams and functions within large organizations is more challenging. SAFe PI Planning helps teams in the Agile Release Train (ART) synchronize, collaborate and align on vision, workflows, objectives, releases and more. The Agile Release Train (ART) is a cross-functional group of 50-125 people who are working on one product or project and function as a mini organization within the wider enterprise.
Market disruptions are changing the competitive landscape and driving organizations to rapidly rewire the way they connect strategy to delivery. SAFe sustains and drives faster timeto-market, dramatic increases in productivity and quality, and improvement in employee engagement. This means large companies can speed up their processes, work more efficiently, compete with newer and more nimble companies and stay viable.
PI Planning is a continuous improvement activity which aims to ensure that all the teams are aligned and have a plan for the increment. PI Planning sessions are regularly scheduled ‘big room planning’ events held throughout the year where multiple teams within the same ART meet to plan and set the direction and activities for the Release Train’s next 8-12 weeks of work.
PI Planning is also used to map dependencies across different teams and make sure work is prioritized in a way that guarantees teams aren’t blocked by other teams. Without PI Planning, teams don’t have structured communication. They may not know what other teams are working on or realize there’s a dependency which could hold up a release.
By the end of the PI Planning event all teams should have a plan for the next PI and understand what all the other teams in the ART are planning to deliver too. They then take that plan away and refine it further into individual Sprint plans to ensure they successfully deliver the PI. As a result, there’s greater visibility across all the teams, changes are made more frequently, and teams work with each other, not against each other.
There are 5 key roles in a PI Planning event:
Focuses mainly on planning and facilitating the PI Planning event
Understand the customers’ needs and validate solutions and manage and prioritize the flow of work.
Help the Team with defining stories, estimating, and sequencing, as well as drafting the Team’s PI Objectives.
Help the Team estimate their capacity for Iterations, finalise Team PI Objectives, and manage dependencies.
Responsible for researching, designing, implementing, testing, maintaining, and managing software systems.
PI Planning is usually two days of focused planning with all the teams, stakeholders, and product owners/managers in one place, to create the program board, draft sprints, write PI objectives, identify dependencies and determine the direction of the business.
PI Planning is often the only time many enterprise organizations get their teams together in a room or on the same call and talking to each other. They get the chance to have those important conversations about who’s working on what. It can be an intense experience with potentially over 100 team members across the organization involved. The importance and complexity of the work to be done and the pressure of time can make these sessions challenging.
The PI planning event takes as input the highest priority feature list from the program backlog, and performs sufficient analysis (story mapping, sizing and scheduling), resulting in a reasonably good commitment on what can be delivered in the next program increment.
Outputs of the PI Planning event include PI Objectives, a set of objectives that are created by each team with the business value assigned by the Business Owners, and a Program Board.
Traditionally, the program board is a physical board that’s mounted on the wall, with columns drawn up to mark the iterations for the increment and a row for each team. Teams add sticky notes that describe features they’ll be working on. Once all the features are added, they work to identify dependencies (features that’ll affect other features) and mark this up by connecting them with red string.
SAFe program boards don’t have to be physical, though. There are a lot of advantages to using a digital program board which integrates directly with other planning tools (more on this later).
Allowing Agile teams to work remotely, gives organizations the option to hire the best talent no matter their location or time zone. Communicating how that work connects to the overall strategy, however, can be a challenge and infinitely harder with distributed teams.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic created the biggest remote working experiment the world has ever seen, organisations struggled to bring together distributed teams for PI Planning. With the right planning, technology and facilitation, you can lead successful virtual PI Planning (and in-person PI Planning or a combination of the two) by replicating the most value-adding aspects digitally.
The PI Planning template has a standard agenda that includes a presentation of business context and vision, and the top 10 features of the Program backlog followed by team planning breakouts—where the teams create their Iteration plans and objectives for the upcoming Program Increment (PI). Program backlog is mostly a list of features but can contain other items such as milestones.
Running a successful PI Planning event with multi-locational teams can come with some significant challenges - your typical toolbox needs a digital upgrade.
It’s not possible for everyone to see and interact with each other in the same way as if they were all sitting together in a meeting room. Facilitators can’t keep an eye on the crowd, gauge engagement, and pull people in if they see people who aren’t speaking up and maybe should.
During in-person PI Planning, participants know exactly where to find their colleagues in case they need to quickly resolve dependencies or have an impromptu conversation. In a virtual context, this becomes infinitely harder.
Program boards provide a centralized visualization of work/ ideas across teams and an overview of progress, the value being delivered, and the program backlog. In a virtual context, it’s important to recreate this centralized experience by bringing together the program board, sprint team planning boards, PI objectives, and program risk board and create the same level of transparency and co-creation of PI Planning
A big factor in the success of your hybrid PI Planning session is technology. For online collaboration, you will need a tool that allows you to have many participants in one virtual room, as well as the ability to move people in and out of a variety of breakout rooms.
You will also need a tool where teams can collaborate online to replicate sticky notes and strings on whiteboards, share information, and build out all the artefacts that are necessary for successful PI Planning. The more teams use these tools on a day-to-day basis, the easier it will be to use them for big events such as PI Planning.
Most likely you are already using an online tool for managing your Epics, Features, and Stories. You will also need to be able to access that tool remotely, and ideally sync it with your online collaboration tool so that you can capture the stories and iteration plans for the PI.
If you’re working with distributed teams or with employees who work from home occasionally, using a digital tool that many people can access simultaneously means more people can contribute. The possibility of constant communication from all elements of your ART helps strengthen cross-team collaboration and provides team members with a platform to submit comments, changes, or concerns and to continue collaborating once your planning session is done.
Companies struggle with the transfer of knowledge from an event into the ‚business as usual‘ process - information gets siloed between different departments and teams. Online shared planning tools mean your team can interact with the information sooner - maybe even as it’s being entered. This means you are sharing knowledge and visibility across projects, milestones and teams, which is helpful for mapping cross dependencies. Plus, it avoids storing information in different places, so your team ends up with a single digital source of truth. And remote team members are not left to work off the photos someone took of the board with their phone.
Once planning is over, teams need to track risks and dependencies on a regular basis. There is information overload and a lot of moving parts to keep track of. With a digital board, teams and employees can filter out all the noise to find their individual tasks while still having access to your enterprise’s larger goals and projects.
Online PI Planning tools alert you when deadlines are coming up fast or when you’re behind. You can make immediate changes and adjustments once you’re alerted to any issues. In the meantime, your teams can focus on their tasks at hand, while still having the capability to check back in on the bigger picture at anytime.
Physical PI Planning boards are difficult to maintain and re-adjust and time consuming to digitally duplicate after your planning session. A digital PI Planning board can be easily accessed and visualized by employees from home or at their desks, at any time of day. Teams can comment on or suggest changes to the board whenever they think of an idea or something you might have overlooked in your first round of planning and you won’t have to spend even more time re-planning and rearranging to visualize and document those changes.
While some distributed teams are turning to multiple platforms to translate their in-person process to one that can be done virtually, this often leads to confusion, duplication and extra work getting everything synced up after the event. Many shared visualisation tools exist, but with SharpCloud, the capabilities of multiple digital tools are combined in a single platform, eliminating the need to transcribe your team’s work.
With SharpCloud’s collaborative PI Planning template for strategic planning workshops of this nature, both in-person, but importantly also remotely, SharpCloud is your virtual meeting room, regardless of teams’ locations. The original PI Planning toolbox of sticky notes, markers, string and tape can be digitally improved to a new virtual toolbox of forms, commenting, relationships, filtering, views and voting, all contained within SharpCloud.
SharpCloud offers a virtual collaboration space and a consolidated view of all team and program boards. Teams can seamlessly move between views: their sprint planning boards and the boards of other teams, helping unlock the value of centralised visualisations of work. The right collaboration solution is invaluable when communicating with colleagues, partners or stakeholders. Data or information can be securely shared and viewed on any device, at any time. Although accessing data is becoming increasingly easier, making sure you are seeing the most recent data and ensuring you can update the data in real-time is crucial. Collaboration improves the management of information by ensuring content is stored in one place, so your teams are always accessing and working on the latest version, from wherever they are.
SharpCloud’s built-in presentations tool makes it easy for your teams to refer back and keep your vision in mind as they plan. As your teams get to work in their break-outs, Forms make it easy for them to update the value of existing items, like their team capacity, or add new items.
Using our handy QR codes, team facilitators can run hybrid Planning Poker to assign story points and once set, our data-driven formatting allows you to quickly spot issues of overload. Dashboard views and our commenting feature can help track team progress during their break-outs, and Forms allow teams to record risks as they’re identified, or even add items for the retrospective as soon as they think of them.
SharpCloud’s filtering capabilities are a great way to review your program board. Filter by team, by iteration – even hide items that don’t have dependencies so you can zero in on what’s most critical to your conversation.
Once in SharpCloud, the ideas, concepts and strategies formulated at the workshop or project review can be presented in various views and shared with all those involved, wherever they happen to be. Items can be augmented with supporting information, reference links, related documents and so forth. Context and meaning are retained and can be further developed through relationships which associate items and reflect the inter-dependence of ideas and tasks.
Jira is the most popular project management tool for Agile teams, so if you’re Agile, chances are you‘re already using it at the team level. Jira is great for single teams. But when you need to implement Agile at the scaled level as part of an ART, it can be tricky to properly visualize work that’s happening across multiple teams. Communicating how that work connects to the overall strategy can be a challenge too.
SharpCloud can effortlessly connect to just about any business system with data you need to visualize.
With SharpCloud’s bi-directional Jira connector, you are always able to work
alongside Jira. You can connect to multiple projects and easily create, update and visualize them in SharpCloud, with the option to push the data back to Jira, bringing transparency, agility and control to your operational and reporting processes.
With your Jira data pulled into SharpCloud, you can set up any number of custom views and filter data to get both high-level portfolio analysis and detailed insights into your programs. Team and program-level information like risks and process insights, can be easily contributed via SharpCloud’s powerful Forms feature. Multiple views allow a better overview of projects, objectives and the business strategy behind them and with automatically populated data-driven views, the information you see in either SharpCloud or Jira is accurate and up-to-date right when you need it.
SharpCloud for Jira gives you real time visibility on your agile projects and the relationships between them enabling you to visualize cross team dependencies across the portfolio and understand complexity.
As the tasks are delivered you can see progress against the features and capabilities to the initiative you set out to deliver as part of the strategy - risk Project Initiation Document (PID), boards for planning multiple iterations and roadmap visuals. Connecting task management and issue tracking with all other aspects of agile organisations, all in one tool will ensure the strategy and planning process become more aligned and dynamic. Improved collaboration and the ability to visualize and factor in critical information will result in more informed decision making and accelerate the delivery of results.
SharpCloud is brilliant for your hybrid working teams to pull together around a set of projects, bringing more efficiency and productivity to current hybrid working.
It’s about finding the right platform for a virtual dynamic working environment that can accommodate any number of people and capture their ideas and feedback easily and handle the reporting around them in a visually engaging and collaborative way.
In contrast to a “digital post-its replacement tool” SharpCloud allows you to store complex information around any items and elements and with features like filtering, calculations, processing and relationships, enables you to smartly relate it to other items.
This artefact builds the heart and core of the Essential SAFe methodology, but within SharpCloud all aspects of Agile Enterprise Management can be implemented, up to the connection of Strategy and Delivery.
SharpCloud can flexibly import, process and deliver data and information from and to other systems of your choice. SharpCloud often builds the visual centre for information residing in various other systems and adds a visualisation and management layer to those
SharpCloud for PI Planning gives you real time visibility of your agile projects and the relationships between them. With full transparency across the portfolio, risks and duplicate activities can be identified immediately, resulting in more informed decisions.