Your Burning Questions: PI Planning

At the end of the regular episodes in our biweekly SAFe® Business Agility podcast, we answer questions submitted by listeners. In this post, we feature two on the topic of PI Planning, one of which is especially relevant for anyone working at an Agile organization that has restricted travel to limit exposure to the coronavirus.

What’s the best way to conduct PI planning with remote employees?

For many companies with a remote workforce, especially those with a global presence, conducting PI planning can be a challenge. While face to face is always best, it’s not always possible or financially feasible. There are some things you can do if you’re faced with this dilemma.

First, whenever you have remote team members, whether it’s during PI planning or other work-related activities, it’s important to pick times that work for everyone. This means finding meeting times where overlap may exist between work hours for local team members and work hours for remote team members. It can be difficult, but it’s possible.

When work hours don’t overlap, consider times that are a compromise for everyone. That often means some members will end up working late while others will begin their day earlier than their usual start time. Try to keep the compromise to less than four hours either way. Anything more and team members may not be at their best.

That said, one thing that you shouldn’t compromise on is trying to keep whole teams together. For example, don’t have the scrum master in one location and the product owner in another. Keep them all participating together if possible.

Next, let’s discuss how to accommodate remote team members during the PI planning event. While Scaled Agile is a tool-agnostic company, we do have some Gold partners that offer some very helpful tools. One of them, piplanning.io, has a great tool that runs on multiple different platforms that people can use to share information around PI planning. 

Also, think about how to address other logistical challenges, like how to keep remote team members engaged when the room is noisy or during a breakout session. We’ve found that it’s helpful to assign a room buddy to a remote team member. The room buddy is responsible for making sure that the remote team member has everything they need to be an active participant in the session.

It’s important to remember that preparation will take longer with remote PI planning. There’s a lot to consider and you may have to make some tradeoffs. However you end up solving this challenge, make sure to always be respectful of your team members—it’s one of the core pillars of Lean.

In this video,  the teams at Travelport share how they successfully coordinated PI Planning across three different time zones, and the benefits that they realized.

For even more details and tips on distributed PI Planning, read this advanced topic article.

Why is it important to assign business value during PI Planning and how is it helpful to the business?

One of SAFe’s core values is alignment. Another is transparency, which is critical in an organization’s execution phase. PI Planning and assigning business value is an important component of that. Assigning business value isn’t necessarily about prioritizing things, changing your directions, or shifting responsibility. It’s simply the business owners telling you what they feel is most important, and aligning around that. The business owners may not understand all of the technical nuances that go into building a product but that’s OK. But they do understand why teams are building the product and why their customers want it. The ability to communicate that to the teams that are doing the development work—whether hardware, software, cyber-physical systems, or a business solution—is paramount.

Assigning business value is symbiotic. And Agile is about bridging the silos between the business and IT. When you have those silos, oftentimes the business floods IT with requests. Getting the business owners to assign that business value is that hard prioritization work, and something IT teams can use to ask, “Do we understand your priorities, are we doing things in the right order, and is this of the highest value to our customer?”

Predictability is another important element and there’s a tool in our PI Planning toolkit called the PI predictability measurement that uses the assignment of business value to measure the predictability. That helps you answer the critical question, “Did we do the things that we said we would?” This is a critical part of why companies use SAFe if they want to improve their predictability.

If you haven’t heard the SAFe Business Agility podcast before or want to listen to new and previous episodes, check it out here.

If you’ve got a question for us to answer on air, please send it to podcast@scaledagile.com.

Happy listening!

About Melissa Reeve

Melissa Reeve

Melissa Reeve is the Vice President of Marketing at Scaled Agile, Inc. In this role, she guides the marketing team, helping people better understand Scaled Agile, the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) and its mission. Melissa received her bachelor of arts degree, magna cum laude, from Washington University in St. Louis. She currently resides in Boulder, Colorado with her husband, chickens and dogs.