Program Increment and It’s Planning

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SAFe is no Magic except for Program Increment Planning. No event is as powerful in SAFe as Program Increment Planning. PI planning sets the platform for cadence for ART. In this blog we will see how to prepare for an effective Program Increment Planning session. Next Blog we will cover Day wise activities during the PI session.

With large audience of 100 + people working together at the same time to achieve a common vision and mission, it is truly incredible how much energy this session creates. These two days sessions with synchronised efforts saves months of delays

What is PI – Program Increment

A Program Increment (PI) is a time-box during which ART delivers incremental business value in the form of the working, tested system. PI is followed by Innovation and Planning Iteration and is typically 8 to 12 weeks long. The way iteration is to the Agile team, PI is to an ART. 

What is PI Planning?

PI planning is an important milestone for each ART implementation. Teams come together during this session to define and design the system that best fulfils the ART’s vision. Teams commit to the objectives for upcoming quarter with all the stakeholders part of this cadence. This helps in a sense of cooperation and collaboration within cross-functional teams and sets the base for the entire ART. 

PI planning is recommended face-to-face at a single location, or in some cases, multiple face-to-face locations simultaneously. For example, teams in the United States get into planning at the same time as remote teams in India using video conferencing. Seating arrangements shall be considered taking into account the visibility of key stakeholders like business owners to everyone. Product owners shall be closely seated with their respective teams. As a best practice, all the ART members should attend the PI Planning session so that they have the visibility of end to end goals to be achieved.

During the PI planning team estimates what will be delivered and also highlight what are their dependencies with other Agile Teams and Trains. 

How to prepare for PI Planning:

Conducting PI Planning requires effective preparation, coordination, and communication. For making this cadence effective, all the stakeholders must be well prepared. We can distribute the readiness in 3 major areas:

  • Organisational readiness
  • Facility readiness
  • Content readiness

Let us review each one of them one by one

Organizational readiness

Before the planning session, it is critical to have a strategic alignment between the participants and Business owners. Each one of them should understand what they are going to build and should be aware of:

  • Planning scope and context – Does the teams understand the scope of the product, system, and technology?
  • Business alignment – Are all the stakeholders aligned? Is there reasonable agreement on priorities among the Business Owners?
  • Agile Teams – Does each team has dedicated developer and test resources and an identified Scrum Master and Product Owner?

Facility Readiness

The availability of the physical space, the technical infrastructure is equally important. 

  • The planning venue should be large enough to accommodate all attendees. 
  • It is like organising the big event so support teams should as well be identified and be available at all times during setup and session.
  • Since the room is going to be large, adequate audio, video conference for remote users and presentation channels must be available.

Content Readiness

All participants need to be aware of the goals to be achieved. For this, the leadership team should provide a clear vision and context. Following factors shall be considered in the presentation:

  • Executive briefing – A senior executive or line-of-business owner to presents the current business context.
  • Product/solution vision briefing – Product Management to presents the vision, highlighting the ‘top 10 features’ in the program backlog.
  • The architecture vision briefing – This is prepared by the CTO, Enterprise Architect, and/or System Architect/Engineer, this briefing communicates architectural strategy

Role of the Facilitator

PI planning sets the platform for ART. It’s where all teams are expected to come to a consensus of what they will be achieving in the upcoming quarter. With all the stakeholders involved, a highly charged session is on the cards. Stakeholders can very well see what they are asking and what teams can achieve.

Expectations are going to be on the higher side with expectations of achieving maximum business value. This sometimes can lead to overloading the ARTs. It becomes very critical to ensure excess work is moved out of the system. Getting expectations aligned with reality can be a daunting task, therefore it is very essential that someone takes the responsibility of keeping everyone aligned and ensure that the group meets its planning objectives and at the same time have buy-in from everyone. RTE – Release Train Engineer can own this responsibility or delegate so that he can get time to focus on the teams. 

Inputs and Outputs of PI Planning

Inputs to PI Planning:

  • Business context
  • Road map and Vision
  • Top 10 features of Program backlog

Outputs of PI planning:

  • Committed PI Objectives
  • Program Board

In next blog we will see best practices followed during the PI planning session to effectively achieve the desired output

References: SAFe Distilled 4.5 and Scaled Agile Framework

Written by 

Neeraj is Masters In Information Technology from Symbiosis Pune and a seasoned PMI certified Project Management Professional (PMP)®, Certified Scrum Master (CSM)® and Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO)® with 16+ yrs of exp in Project Management/Agile/Business Analysis and Quality Assurance across diverse organizational domains.