In mid-2019, I shared some insights into the early stages of Planview’s internal Agile transformations. I discussed how, like our customers, we are experiencing the impact of the changing world of work and are navigating those changes. We are now nine months into the transformation of our Agile marketing go-to-market (GTM) value stream and just completed our fourth PI Planning session.
First, if you’re unfamiliar with PI Planning, SAFe defines it as follows:
“Program Increment (PI) Planning is a cadence-based, face-to-face event that serves as the heartbeat of the Agile Release Train (ART), aligning all the teams on the ART to a shared mission and vision.” 
This event at Planview is a two-and-a-half-day working session where our cross-functional GTM teams come together to plan their work for the next twelve-week increment. Company leaders provide visibility into key company, sales, marketing, and product priorities. Dedicated teams and shared services functions plan what’s to come, gain alignment, and perform a confidence vote and commit to plans.
Having exited our fourth full PI, I am seeing the progress we’ve made. Each PI had its own transformation challenges, but we are ironing out issues and setting the foundation for a highly collaborative, productive environment.
In this blog, I’ll share the progress we’ve made in Agile marketing PI Planning and cover the phases of alignment we’ve experienced on our transformation journey.
Planview’s Agile Marketing Progress with PI Planning
PI Planning 1: Forming go-to-market teams.
Preparing for our first PI, we worked to get functions aligned (sales, products, marketing) across this go-to-market value stream. This was a little bumpy for us but was a critical step. If functional leaders are not aligned, bought-in, and supportive, the transformation will struggle to get going, be real, or be sustainable. A key enabler for us was bringing in an external coach, with Agile Marketing coaching context, to help us get started on our journey.
Out of this first PI came many positives, but the most important thing we learned was that our GTM teams were not well constructed. There was too much overlap and way too many cross-team dependencies; too much work-in-process (WIP), and poorly aligned workflows.
PI Planning 2: Re-forming and empowering the teams.
In our second PI, with continued coaching our executives to be more aligned; we re-formed the dedicated cross-functional teams to minimize dependencies and distributed budgets and targets to reinforce team empowerment and accountability. In our first PI retrospective, it became clear that our content creation process was a bottleneck, so we pivoted and introduced a new marketing role, content strategists, and dedicated one to each GTM team. By being closer to the source messaging and campaign strategies, the content strategists develop content plans and manage the creation workflow across internal and external SMEs and contractors. Further, we augmented the dedicated teams with what we call voice of customer (VoC) reps – from sales, sales development reps, product management across different regions – to help the teams better understand internal and external customer demands – so the deliverables have more business impact.
During this PI, the new teams formed and started building team-level cadences – learning to work as a dedicated team. Department heads started learning if, how, and when to flow work to ‘their people’ who were now dedicated to the cross-functional teams. This required frequent coaching as it determines if an Agile transformation becomes real or stays superficial – what we call Agile Theater.
PI Planning 3: Aligning teams with shared service organizations.
In our third PI, the dedicated teams really gelled and had better understanding of their capacity, work-in-process limits, and flow. The transformation attention shifted to the important shared service organizations (i.e. digital, events, creative services, social media, web, etc.). These subject matter experts enable and amplify the deliverables of the dedicated GTM teams. We focused on making their work visible to the teams and vice versa. How they stay aligned and communicate on the bi-directional dependencies. Additionally, cross-team issues emerged, and we started working on cross team syncs, value stream leadership cadences, and board-of-boards to surface risks, consider new initiatives (using Lean Portfolio Management principles), and prioritize value-stream-level enabling work.
PI Planning 4: Aligning teams with international marketing.
We recently wrapped our fourth PI Planning session. Our transformation attention shifted to aligning our international marketing teams, so campaigns and deliverables were not surprises tossed over the proverbial fence – or ocean – resulting in delayed launches often poorly matched to local market needs. International marketers started making their work visible and mapping their work to the programs from the GTM teams. That quickly advanced to coordinating on programs and assets, to understanding which ones mapped to each local market, which needed to be adjusted and translated, and which needed to be influenced and co-created from the start. We also adjusted our PI Planning agenda to support live remote participation and considered the time differences. We leveraged video conferencing during the overlapping business hours and had teams record and share their readouts when business hours didn’t align and then rotate breakouts. While this is my second Agile Marketing transformation, it is the first time we’ve been so aligned across geographies exiting PI Planning.
Another innovation was having our value-stream-level Kanban board (e.g. team-of-teams) visible on a large monitor during our planning so that key dates, enablers, and features were visible. People entered risks right in the Kanban board, with more detail than often included on a sticky note, for the leadership to ROAM (Resolve, Own, Accept, Mitigate). One team printed out existing feature cards from their Leankit board so they could physically move and prioritize the work during planning. The printed feature cards had QR codes and mobile phones to synchronize physical card changes to the corresponding cards on their Kanban board, cutting down on the post PI planning task of deciphering sticky notes and typing into their digital workspaces.
What’s to Come
Our Agile transformation journey will always require more and more alignment – more change and optimizations. Change is continuous, that’s a given, and we are already starting to change roles and people in the GTM teams to keep the voices and ideas fresh and to encourage more experimentation.
Some shared services began planning together with persistent teams, and this will continue to expand. During this PI, we’ll refine our value stream level ceremonies, and Planview will kick-off a third value stream (to join Products and Go-to-Market) around Customer Success. We’ll expand the alignment across value streams rather than just across teams within the single value stream.
But most importantly, out of our four full PI Planning sessions thus far, we’ve learned how to work together to optimize productivity and collaboration. We’ve learned how to incorporate key service providers and stakeholders – whether that’s our international marketing team or our SMEs – with the dedicated teams to establish better alignment and give everyone a chance to voice any concerns with the plan.
This most recent planning session left me very optimistic. Sure, we had our difficulties and learnings in the first few – something that’s expected when implementing such a major change in an organization – but we pressed on, adjusting as needed, and we’ve come out the other side stronger and more connected than ever before.
This is what an Agile transformation is all about – that connection between teams, both local and international, and between departments within the organization. The synchronicity. We’re learning from our own transformation to better help our customers with theirs. We’re in this together.
If your organization is going through a similar transformation, we’d love to partner with you along your journey. If you’re interested in learning more about how Planview can help, visit planview.com or check out our Scaling Agile Delivery Demo to see our products in action.