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The 5 Things Déjà Vu of PI Plannings

Silvio Wandfluh

June 19, 2019

5 min read

At one point every Release Train Engineer has his first PI Planning. Some things will go as expected but there will be more than five things that won’t go as planned. Don’t let it demotivate you. That’s the natural learning curve. But there is hope! You don’t necessarily have to make all the mistakes others made in their first PI Planning. We talked to several SAFe professionals about 5 things they wish they had known before their first PI Planning.
After more than 10 episodes of “5 Things I wish I’d known before my first PI Planning” it is time for a first recap. With this, I want to summarize and point out some of the given insights about PI Planning topics, traps, and good practices:

  • Purpose
  • Tribal Unity
  • Backlog Readiness
  • Readiness Checklists
  • Program Backlog Board
  • Gallery Walks
  • Closing the Feedback Loop

I’ll close with a couple of mentioned good practices for PI Planning Facilitation.


PI Planning starts with a series of important speeches seeding up your whole two days. Sit down with the presenters, tighten it up and get them down to 15 to 20 minutes. Keep it tight, keep it focused and keep it motivating. Even if there are different presenters, make sure they are aligned. Let them go through the presentations in advance.

Having everyone understand what Business Value the ART is creating, will give purpose to all involved people.

Participants deserve to know the reason why. Why are we coming together and spend two full working days for planning? Without giving people purpose, you risk losing peoples involvement. That’s why there is so much importance in the Business Context and Product Vision presentation. Within those two time slots, Business Executives and Product Management representatives have the unique chance to empathize the overarching purpose and inspire people. “Make sure that who’s gonna deliver the product vision and the roadmap is prepped and ready to go so that they hit the ground running and make the teams all fired up and ready for the next two or three-day event”, closes John Horwath.

Tribal Unity

See Agile Release Trains as a whole (Tribal Unity). Having everyone understand what Business Value the ART is creating, will give purpose to all involved people.

Wolfgang Brandhuber

said: “I want to strengthen this feeling of Tribal Unity right from the start. Even before the first PI Planning, I want to have people participating in the Agile Release Train feeling belonging to what they are growing into”.
SAFe is a step beyond team agility and provides guidance towards tribal and business agility. PI Planning creates a space where people come together and align on a common mission and create a common plan. However, creating a culture of tribal unity starts before the first PI Planning. Do SAFe for teams as a big room training, having all teams of your Agile Release Train trained together. That creates much more belonging than doing training in smaller groups. Let people decide in which teams to work and what service or part of the product they want to provide in self-selection workshops. Let the tribe, your Agile Release Train, form itself into teams.
Do regular self-assessment of how the train is doing with all teams together, gather feedback and visualize your ARTs maturity progress.

Backlog Readiness

Have your Program Backlog ready and in a sufficient shape. Without that, teams will not know what to plan. Teams expect and deserve Backlog Items presented in a certain quality. Therefore, let them create a clear and specific Definition of Ready upfront to guide your product management folks. A clear product vision statement, product roadmap, and general guardrails will provide the necessary mid- and long-term horizon.
Don’t jump into a PI Planning with an already prepared work breakdown structure. You’ll lose flexibility and face resistance for changes and updates to already existing plans.
You’ll have teams underprepared, and some overprepared. It’s going to happen either way and that’s ok. There isn’t a right amount of Stories prepared on a detailed level to start PI Planning. Start with less preparation and take the time to learn from past PI Plannings. “let’s cut down PI Planning to one day” shows clear evidence that your teams are overprepared.

Readiness Checklists

Stick to the basics. SAFe already provides really helpful checklists for the preparation. After dozens of PI Plannings Scaled Agile Inc. has supported, those checklists are full of in the field proved advice and good practices.
Adapt the checklists towards your organization’s flavor and make them fit into your context. Rolf Läderach points out:” be a little bit paranoid, there might be still enough unknown unknowns!”

Program Backlog Board

At the end of a PI Planning, you get a nice Program Board with visualized dependencies and your Program Level plan. What you sometimes lose on the way is an overview about which team has pulled which Feature. To keep an overview throughout the team breakout sessions, establish a “Program Backlog Board”. This Board shows all Features in a structured, prioritized way. Additionally, every Feature is duplicated, having two stickies for the same Feature stick one above the other. If a team pulls a Feature sticky they write the team name on the underneath sticky. That will keep all Features on the Program Backlog Board and you see which ones are already taken. Additionally, you’ll automatically get a PI Planning progress overview.
How that could look like in a digital way, shows this video:

Gallery Walks

If you as an RTE (Release Train Engineer) or STE (Solution Train Engineer) wanna know what’s going on, do gallery walks. Sit in the back of the room and watch the teams planning or walk around from team to team. As

Shane Harrison

points out: “Have your eyes open, ears open, mouth shut and you’ll see where you need to step in”.

Closing the Feedback Loop

PI Objectives play an essential role. With them, you close the feedback loop between your teams' plans, Business Owners expectations, and the prioritized Program Backlog items, respectively.

Value is in the triggered discussions

PI Objectives will be great if your plans are great. Review those plans properly as early as possible and make sure you and your teams understand what they are committing to. Assign Business Value is key for closing the feedback loop between your teams and Business Owners. Remember, the value is not in the figure, the value is in the triggered discussions.

Facilitation — good practices

  • Checklists, Checklists, Checklists! Have a checklist for everything and everyone.
  • Take care that the energy level stays high. Keep first half day talks short enough that you’re able to start with breakout sessions already in the morning.
  • People need time to socialize. Eat together, talk together and give them space to take a breath. Use the time between day 1 and 2 to socialize. Organize any kind of event which brings people together across teams. Having time to speak to each other is crucial for building your (cross-)ART culture.
  • A coffee corner will act as an open space area where people stand, start chatting and a lot of informal information will be shared and great ideas come out there.
  • Have decision-makers on site. You don’t want a hundred people waiting cause a decision can’t be taken.

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