<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none;" alt="" src="https://dc.ads.linkedin.com/collect/?pid=314385&amp;fmt=gif">
Squares large Squares small

The Definitive Guide to PI Planning in Hybrid Teams


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.

Screenshot 2022-03-21 at 12.30.02

What is PI Planning?

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.

What does PI Planning aim to achieve?

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 Enables:

  • Communication

  • Visibility

  • Collaboration

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.


Who should be involved in PI Planning?

There are 5 key roles in a PI Planning event:


Release Train Engineer

Focuses mainly on planning and facilitating the PI Planning event



Product Manager

Understand the customers’ needs and validate solutions and manage and prioritize the flow of work.


Product Owners

Help the Team with defining stories, estimating, and sequencing, as well as drafting the Team’s PI Objectives.


Scrum Master

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.

The PI Planning structure

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.


Standard PI Planning agenda template suggested by the SAFe website

Day 1

Market roadmaps-icom

Business Context

This is all about the big picture, giving important context to the planning that needs to happen next; highlighting specific customer needs, how the current products address these needs, and potential gaps.

Technology roadmaps-icon

Product/Solutions Vision

The Product Management team share the current vision for the business, product or solution and any changes that have occurred since the last PI Planning session.

Product roadmaps-icon

Architecture Vision & Development Practices

Outline of the systems and architecture vision for improvements to the infrastructure that will help to improve the time to market and may impact development during the coming PI.

Vendor roadmaps-icon

Planning Context

The Release Train Engineer (RTE) outlines how the PI Planning process will work and what is expected from the teams and the overall meeting.

Market roadmaps-icom

Team Breakouts

Teams estimate their capacity for each Iteration and identify the backlog items needed to support features outlined in the vision. Each team creates their draft plans, visible to all, iteration by iteration and a risk assessment.

Market roadmaps-icom

Draft Plan Review

The teams present their draft plans so that business owners, product owners, stakeholders and other teams can give feedback and identify potential problems and dependencies between features.

Day 2

Market roadmaps-icom

Program Adjustments

The day begins with any adjustments or decisions that were made by management and stakeholders in the problem-solving meeting.

Technology roadmaps-icon

Team Breakouts

The teams take the adjustments back to their planning and come back with their PI objectives for the program board.

Product roadmaps-icon

Final Plan Review

Each team presents their plans, listing out the risks and dependencies. If the plans are agreed, they are posted so that all the teams can see them all together and get feedback. 

Vendor roadmaps-icon

Program Risks

All the objectives are posted so the teams can address each risk in turn and determine if they can be overcome. Potential issues and risks are identified, discussed, and either owned, resolved, accepted, or mitigated.

Market roadmaps-icom

Confidence Vote

Once all the risks and objectives have been outlined and discussed, the teams will vote on their confidence that the objective can be accomplished in the coming PI.

Market roadmaps-icom


At the very end of the meeting the RTE will hold a small retrospective on the PI Planning event to gather feedback on what went well for the event and what needs to be changed or improved for the next event.

To summarize,

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.

  • PI objectives may be expressed as a list of features but can contain other items such as milestones and significant technical ‘enablers’. PI objectives should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-Bound.
  • The Program Board is critical to successful PI Planning. Showing the feature delivery timeline by team, it helps teams within the ART visualize and track dependencies across their PIs. With the board, they have a clear idea of what‘s done, what‘s being worked on, and what might keep them from getting their work completed on time.

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).

In today's world, teams are becoming more and more distributed.


The way Agile teams need and want to work has changed in the last five years. A primary principle of the Agile Manifesto published in 2001, “The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation,” may no longer be necessary or even possible in today’s world.

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.

The challenges of hybrid PI Planning

Running a successful PI Planning event with multi-locational teams can come with some significant challenges - your typical toolbox needs a digital upgrade.

Keeping hybrid teams engaged and accountable

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.

Enabling conversation

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.

Real-time digital program boards for PI Planning

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

Screenshot 2022-03-30 at 15.23.34


Make technology your hybrid PI Planning ally

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.


Screenshot 2022-03-30 at 15.23.44

Benefits of using digital tools for remote and in person PI Planning

Collaborate more effectively

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.

Eliminate the knowledge gaps

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.

Keep track of the important and relevant information

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.

Don’t miss crucial tasks and milestones

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.

Be more flexible

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.

Leverage SharpCloud’s real-time, data driven capabilities for PI Planning

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.

Market roadmaps-icom

Think outside the workshop

SharpCloud can sync up with many popular tools such as Jira, which will ensure the efforts of your teams can easily be transferred to your day to day toolset. Whether you’re starting with data pulled in from tools like Jira or Excel, or adding new items with our custom forms, SharpCloud‘s data-driven template means your epics, features and stories can be automatically populated onto as many different virtual boards as your process requires.


Take a look at some of the features that make it possible


Keep people focused and engaged

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.

Uncover the insight

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.

Filter out the noise

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.

Connect people to plan and purpose

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.


Market roadmaps-icom

These collaborative features for delivery teams and management ensure efficiency and transparency and with the ability to push data back out to Jira or another planning tool, managers can track task progress in the tools that they are familiar with against the features and capabilities you set out to deliver as part of the strategy.

Market roadmaps-icom

You and your teams can always have the most up-to-date data regardless of which platform you’re viewing. Prioritize and discuss your team’s work in full context with complete visibility.

What about teams who work with management tools such as Jira?

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.

Example - Jira

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.

Visualize Jira Dependecnies

Filter data and gain clarity

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.

Achieve agility at scale

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.

Hybrid working for complex networks of people

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.


What is different in SharpCloud to other PI Planning tools?


SharpCloud is data-driven

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.


SharpCloud is not only a PI Planning tool

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 is flexible

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


With SharpCloud you can:

  • View data from multiple dimensions for portfolio analysis.
  •  Visualize dependencies across the portfolio and understand complexity.
  • Filter data, reduce noise, and gain clarity.
  • Edit data visually and work with multiple data sources.
  • Create better outcomes quicker.
  • Connect people to plan and purpose
  • Achieve agility at scale.
  • Single source of truth along with all business imperatives.

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.

Access the PI Planning Toolkit

Get the most flexible, visual, data-driven PI Planning tool for hybrid project teams and cross-team collaboration.

Complete PI Planning Toolkit