For organizations in the process of ambitious transformation initiatives and digital product development, Program Increment (PI) planning and Agile development are crucial tools to ensure everyone is on the same page. Inconsistencies and misalignment across teams can cost organizations missed milestones and delayed delivery of increments of value.  In the big picture, it can even mean missing the mark on the business’s larger goals to embrace change and optimize ways of working.  

PI planning is a key event in the SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework) that serves as a critical alignment and planning mechanism for Agile Release Trains (ARTs). It typically spans two days and involves all members of the ART, including teams, product management, and other stakeholders. By involving the key team members, PI planning supports mission-critical product development goals, nurturing a stronger culture of innovation. It can also help ensure that teams remain committed to a shared path. 

Read on for insights from Blankfactor’s VP of Product Management, Tina Fackett, on implementing effective PI planning that drives meaningful impact and transformation across your teams.   

What is PI planning?

PI planning brings horizontal teams together to set goals for the coming quarter. Depending on your organization’s size, this could include dozens of teams. 

While the time investment — typically two days — seems large, it is a crucial process for aligning teams, managing dependencies, optimizing delivery, and solidifying the product roadmap for the coming quarter. 

It’s also an important forum to help teams express concerns, manage organizational risk, and understand how teams fit into the larger organizational vision. 

Key elements of effective PI planning

  • Pre-work: Teams prepare by writing user stories and features they plan to deliver in the next quarter.
  • Reviewing past performance: The previous quarter’s accomplishments are briefly highlighted, including any incomplete work to be carried over.
  • Team presentations: Each team presents its planned work for the upcoming quarter, highlighting dependencies and resource needs.
  • Collaborative negotiation: Teams negotiate dependencies with other teams involved, ensuring everyone is aware of potential roadblocks.
  • Breakout sessions: Teams delve deeper into their plans, finalizing tasks and workload distribution.
  • Readout and finalization: A final plan is presented, incorporating adjustments and agreements made during breakout sessions.
  • Confidence voting: Teams vote on their confidence in delivering their committed work.

For delivery and execution, PI planning helps improve alignment with a clearer vision and roadmap. Since the process also aims to identify risks and dependencies early on, delays for product features and other development needs should be minimized. Organizations will see improved team management through a more proactive planning process that allocates skill sets and tasking more effectively. 

And its core, PI planning helps provide a more constructive avenue for team communication and build a stronger, more innovation-focused working culture. Many PI planning structures follow from the Agile Manifesto core principle that “The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is a face-to-face conversation,” so transparent communication is key. (Scaled Agile Framework) Through participation in the planning process, teams can execute a vision and negotiate concerns openly, which can help promote buy-in and confidence for more challenging initiatives. 

Why organizations struggle with effective PI planning

Excelling from the results of PI planning requires going beyond scheduling a cadence of quarterly meetings. Teams can face challenges that may be holding them back, including:

  • Inconsistent PI planning schedule.
  • Lack of direction for comprehensive pre-work completion. 
  • Varying team delivery processes, including differing Agile frameworks, story pointing, and sprint lengths in the scaled Agile implementation. 
  • Manual or ineffective processes for delivery date forecasting.
  • Ad hoc intakes that come in after PI planning. 
  • Insufficient or non-unified approach to product defect tracking.

Successful Agile adoption and PI planning requires embracing organizational change

In a short time, the process of PI planning may uncover a host of organizational challenges that go outside of the scope of the digital roadmap transformation. That means leaders must be open to tackling larger organizational blocks and barriers that may be keeping teams from truly unlocking the potential of Agile frameworks. 

PI planning is vital for aligning teams towards a shared vision and objectives, identifying cross-team dependencies, and setting a clear direction for the Agile Release Train for the upcoming increment. Taking the time to make the event a success is crucial for maintaining rhythm and synchronization in large-scale Agile projects. A stronger culture of innovation across the entire business is just on the other side of a good PI planning routine.

Unlock growth and innovation with Blankfactor 

At Blankfactor, we help industry leaders change and transform with next-generation technologies. No matter where you are on your digital journey, our teams can help. From digital transformation and optimizing ops models to data strategy and complex data design, our team can help you unlock growth and innovation. 

Get in touch with us today to explore where our capabilities align with your business’s needs. Take advantage of a complimentary strategy session or learn more about how we’re helping companies in financial services and beyond drive impact.