How to do PI Planning for Remote SAFe Teams
If you’re using the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), you have probably invested quite a bit in making that work well for your teams. You don’t want to abandon something that works just because your workforce is now remote.
Because no matter if you are already using it well, or are just starting to use it, the challenge is that some of its practices rely very heavily on face-to-face communication.
However, you can still accomplish remote SAFe with a few changes. Here we’ll discuss how to tailor one of the most involved in-person events of SAFe: (Product Increment) PI Planning.
What is PI Planning?
A PI Planning event is a critical mini-conference in SAFe where everyone involved in an Agile release comes together to contribute and commit to a joint short-term plan over a fixed set of iterations.
How to do PI Planning for Distributed Teams
Typically, only a fraction of attendees are expected to participate remotely. Local teams gather together in person for a conference-style event. The intention here is to make the planning as efficient and useful as possible, resolving dependencies and discussing value. You do not want to lose that when you do this entirely remotely, so preparing to set the right structure and workflow in place for remote PI planning is key.
PI Planning Tools and Support
If everyone is working remotely, you need resources to support digital interactions on a large scale. Here is a checklist of what you’ll need:
- Video conferencing. Choose a provider that can handle the size of your organization. If you’re a large company, use one that offers breakout rooms.
- Group messaging. You need an instant messaging tool that enables group chatting. Then your teams can quickly ask questions and exchange information. Remember to create groups to help answer questions, like channels for support and facilitators.
- Version control. From photographs to slides to written content, your teams will need access to a lot of information throughout the planning. Using version control allows you to always know what files have the latest information. It helps eliminate time wasted searching for the right assets. Plus, you can set permissions to ensure sensitive information does not fall into the wrong hands.
- Collaboration. Your cross-team collaboration tool needs to replace a whiteboard, sticky notes, and any other tangible amenities your teams are used to. Using an Agile tool that supports Agile planning, like program boards and Kanban boards — and that scales really well — will be key to a successful remote PI Planning event. It should be almost like playing a video game with your colleagues to go through the planning event.
The agenda is a bit trickier if your team is distributed globally. As you may work with various time zones, be careful not to force anyone to work too late into the night. I have seen examples of 24-hour planning where the teams in Asia start building a plan, then have a few shared hours with teams in Europe, who then continue with the plan until they share with teams in America. This cycle then continues throughout 2 days before everyone is given a chance to commit to the plan. For this to work well, decentralized decision-making for each group must be in place to allow people to make decisions without having to wait until the next day.
You may need to set up your agenda so that events like breakout sessions are split. For example, if there’s a breakout session that lands at 1-4 pm for some, but 9 pm – 12 am for others, that second group can have that same breakout session scheduled for the next day instead — before the other group is starting their day.
However you set up your agenda, ensure that briefings reach everyone in the same way. For example, you may show everyone the same recorded message. Then questions and answers should be submitted in written form to ensure that everyone can see each question and answer whenever they are able.
And, remember to circulate the agenda well in advance of the PI event.
Working agreements are a set of pre-determined guidelines that help teams remain productive and accountable. Your set of agreements should identify who is allowed to speak and when (e.g. raise your hand and the facilitator will call on you.) It can also include basic rules like be respectful. These agreements will evolve as new ones are identified over the course of the planning.
You should dedicate at least one facilitator for every group that you have. This person can address issues that come up, like the need to repeat a question, looping support into a technical issue, clarifying what was said, and so forth. With meetings being completely online, it’s wise to also dedicate one or two additional people to monitor questions and other queues you may have.
Before the live event, The Release Train Engineers, Scrum Masters, and Facilitators should do a dry run. Consider scenarios that could come up, and make a plan to address them. Get everyone clear on the process and their roles. Test the tools, and work out and kinks that surface.
SAFe Methodology Made Easier
PI Planning is just one SAFe practice you will have to tailor for remote teams. It’s easier to accomplish many changes when you have one tool that supports numerous Agile efforts.
Hansoft is an Agile planning tool that supports Kanban, Scrum, Gantt, and combinations thereof all in one tool. It makes collaboration easier for remote teams and is great for scaling.