Contributors: Jon Terry, Siraj Sirajuddin, Susan Gibson
As organizations try to accommodate a fully virtual workforce, we were asked by our customers, How do I do virtual or remote PI Planning now? We know our customers aren’t the only ones asking this question, and in fact, they’re not; we are, too. We do PI Planning at Planview, so we decided to take our learnings, along with the expertise of Siraj and Susan at Temenos+Agility and conducted a webinar to discuss this very topic.
Throughout the session, which is now available on-demand, we had a number of questions roll in that covered various themes. This blog features the questions and answers we didn’t get to as well as the questions we did answer live in more detail. Let’s get right to it.
Theme 1: Getting Started and Facilitating Virtual or Remote PI Planning
Question: How do you recommend we ease into this type of planning?
The absolute best thing you can do to get a release train up and running is to hold PI Planning face-to-face. SAFe® recommends, and we agree, scheduling the meeting, getting people together, and working backwards to figure what prep can be done prior to planning. There’s just so much benefit gained by creating all that high bandwidth communication that you should force yourself to do it, no matter how daunting it may be. We call this a Quick-Start ART.
In circumstances where you can’t gather all the teams together, it could be a bit harder to launch a new ART with all the people virtually. I might consider first scheduling a cadence of cross team leadership meetings: Scrum Masters, product owners, tech leads, etc. Focus those conversations on WIP/workload, dependencies, and risks. Those are often the biggest issues that really matter to all the teams. Don’t let this be a status meeting. The goal is problem solving.
Hopefully, your teams are already following their own Agile cadences. Holding these cross-team leadership meetings help people see just how many cross-team issues there are. This builds momentum and support for moving to synchronize all your teams on a common cadence. And when the time is right, you’re able to get the ART together in person.
Question: What are a few challenges faced with Virtual PI Planning you’ve seen in your experience?
I think the biggest issue with virtual meetings is facilitation. People generally know how and when to insert themselves into a face-to-face conversation. And facilitators, RTEs, and Scrum Masters in the case of PI Planning, know how to keep an eye on the crowd, gauge engagement, and pull people in if they see people who aren’t speaking up and maybe should. That’s harder online. Not to say it can’t be done. It just needs to be intentional and proactive.
This is one of those situations where the question “Can we share Scrum Masters between teams?” gets very clearly answered: No. Getting high productivity from 5-12 teams of 10 people each takes a lot of teamwork. And that teamwork doesn’t generally just happen on its own – especially for new teams and ARTs.
Question: What are your suggestions for managing and facilitating a successful virtual PI Planning event?
We recently released an eBook titled, “Essential Checklist: How to do Virtual PI Planning?” on the topic of facilitating, which includes a starting point agenda. In-person PI Planning events often span two full days, but the idea of sitting in your chair for two full days on video conference doesn’t sound appealing to anyone. So, we broke that two-day agenda into four-half days, focusing on an outcome for each day and provided very structured team breakout sessions. The essential guide also includes things to think about while you’re preparing, but also things to consider during and after planning. In a virtual environment, you can prepare ahead of PI Planning all you want, but if you don’t do a great job of post-PI Planning, all that effort will go to waste.
It’s also worth finding a product that provides participants with the ability to visualize work, like they would in-person on a whiteboard with sticky notes.
LeanKit boards are absolutely a great tool for managing a release train’s work during a PI. We may develop a great plan in those two days, but things never go quite as planned for the remaining weeks of the PI. A program board that lets you see across teams for the flow of features, and that links to team level boards to dig into issues, is invaluable for maintaining alignment.
As shown in the webinar, we tend to build our ART boards so that the PI Planning canvas is a section of the overall board. PI Planning happens in the backlog lanes, then those cards are moved into the working lanes of the board to flow through the ART’s process. That could be as simple as To Do, Doing, Done, but it could also show which items have demo’d together with the rest of the solution, where things are in a deployment process that isn’t automated yet, and (we advise) where items in your post deployment process, i.e. which have been beta’d, released to GA, marketed fully for broad exposure, and whether success metrics have been captured and analyzed.
If you’re interested in quickly standing up an ART, I highly recommend checking out our Quick-Start ART to see how to connect all your teams in one board.
Theme 2: Technical Details Related to Virtual and In-Person PI Planning
Question: Can I connect disparate Agile teams to Planview LeanKit?
Remember that Quick-Start ART I mentioned earlier? It includes connecting the visual brilliance of Planview LeanKit with Jira, Microsoft’s Azure DevOps, Rally Software (by Broadcom), and CollabNet VersionOne (now Digital.ai). We provide varying sizes of bundles, along with service hours to help get you up and running quickly.
These integrations are generally set up at the team board level, which is “below” the ART program board that we looked at in the webinar. Those features and big story cards on the program board would link down to more granular story cards on team boards. Some of those teams might use LeanKit as their native working environment. But other team boards might be a reflection of work happening in an integrated system. That way each team can work in the tool that is best for them but other teams and leaders who might not use the same team technical tool can easily stay informed and aligned.
The integration is bi-directional and is set up through an easy to understand UI with little to no coding generally needed. When work moves through team-level workflows (in LeanKit or the other ALM tools mentioned above), the higher-level program board is updated in real-time.
Question: How would we best use LeanKit during in-person PI Planning?
LeanKit has a report you can run to print and cut out paper cards for all the work on the board. Each paper card has all the key details from the electronic system, and it has a QR code. You can easily recreate your electronic board on the walls of the room for PI Planning. Additionally, people can scan the cards to get further info that wouldn’t fit on a printable card or to make quick updates to cards instead of taking notes and having to remember to make updates later. LeanKit is optimized to work natively on mobile devices, so there’s no need to install a special app.
If you have access to large touchscreens, you can simply take your board into PI Planning and work from there.
Question: You showed WIP limits by team for the full PI, but are you able to set WIP limits for each iteration?
Yes. You can set WIP limits on any lane or sub-lane on a LeanKit board. So, in the specific scenario the questioner asked about, you could set WIP limits on each iteration sub-lane and on the overall set of lanes that represents the PI. A team might be over their iteration WIP limit but not over their overall WIP limit, meaning they probably can get the work done if they rethink their timing.
WIP limits can be based on simple card count. We recommend this at the team level; better to break stories smaller than worry about sizing. But the tool will also allow WIP limits based on size. We recommend using size for larger chunks of work like epics, features, and the chunky, not yet decomposed, stories we used in the webinar. When things aren’t decomposed yet, sizing is a useful way to differentiate work that can be quite different in scale.
Theme 3: Tying up the Loose Ends
Question: What is your experience with non-software development-based PI Planning?
We at Planview run our marketing teams as an ART, including holding PI Planning. We’ve been doing that for about a year and have found it incredibly beneficial for productivity, innovation, and morale. It also allows our Go-to-Market efforts to fully align to product and sales to ensure we market what we have and can subsequently sell the thing.
Before LeanKit joined Planview, we operated a similar process for several years. In that case, our marketing, sales, HR, finance, and operations teams were part of the same ART as our development teams. We held PI Planning every six weeks across all those teams. We started our process with everyone physically present and then moved to asking everyone to be there physically twice a year, allowing but not insisting that they attend physically the rest of the time.
While most agree that in-person PI Planning is invaluable, we simply cannot do so right now. And, while some organizations may decide to let a PI Planning event go by the wayside, we think the value is still very much there – even if it’s virtual. Through great preparation, solid facilitation (both by the facilitator and with a user-friendly, visual product), and a complete post-PI Planning cadence, you can continue to connect strategy to delivery and provide customer value when they need it most.
Through our partnership with Temenos+Agility, Planview customers receive a discount for SAFe® certifications. Visit their training calendar and reach out to your Planview Account Executive for your discount code.
As part of our broader partner program, we offer LeanKit licenses at no cost to Agile coaches and consultants. Reach out directly to Jon for more information (email@example.com).
Big thanks to Jon Terry and Siraj Sirajuddin, Susan Gibson at Temenos+Agility for their collaboration on this blog.