Twinfield is a leading online accounting software powered by Wolters Kluwer, which is an international provider of information services to finance, tax and administration professionals with around 19,000 employees in 150 countries.
The Twinfield product is developed by 1 Agile Release Train including 12 agile development teams, 4 shared services teams and 1 system team.
A typical PI Planning event is participated by around 155 people across 5 locations and 3 time zones.
Looking back to the past PI Plannings teams identified these major challenges regarding distributed PI Plannings:
At every location, multiple teams come together. For a proper communication Twinfield built up two dedicated internet connections. One for the presentation traffic, individual workstations, and mobile devices and one for the video conferencing systems.
Adequate connectivity is crucial for success in distributed PI Plannings
Of course, this kind of infrastructure doesn’t come for free, but still, the investment is more than reasonable. Gianfranco, RTE at Twinfield points out: “Bad connectivity is always lurking and can really destroy the planning experience.”
Adequate connectivity across locations is crucial for having success in distributed PI Plannings. That was the basis for taking further actions:
At each location, there is someone who is responsible for technical support and able to intervene immediately in case of problems.
«Postponing usual lunch times may release heavy reactions»
The question is how to create a schedule for teams participating in 3 different time zones as PI Planning is an event where synchronizing and aligning people to a common mission is the main purpose. When do we start at which location? How does it work with lunchtimes? How long do teams need to stay in the evening? These questions need to be answered. The key was to leverage gained experiences and inspect the agenda after every PI Planning event. That’s the received feedback after the first 3 distributed PI Planning events.
After a few feedback loops, Twinfield nailed an acceptable schedule for going into the next PI Plannings.
Yes, time zones are a challenge with which the whole Agile Release Train needs to deal with. Everyone involved need to show proper respect towards people and cultures. “Postponing lunch for just 30 minutes may lead to heavily negative reactions and unmotivated people”, says Gianfranco.
In a co-located environment Agile Release Trains usually set up physical boards. A Program Board, Scrum of Scrums checklist, a Retrospective Board and individual Team Boards, where people break down Features into Stories and Enablers, gather Risks and decide on PI Objectives. In other words, teams need Information Radiators to visualize planning outcomes.
Having physical boards in a distributed environment leads to one deal-breaking challenge: Synchronize physical boards across locations and provide a single source of truth in real-time!
For Twinfield, the piplanning app is key for keeping teams on the same page, establish real-time synchronized Information Radiators on Team and Program level and therefore, enhance transparency and collaboration throughout the whole planning process. With a minimal learning curve, teams got a single source of truth across all locations and the whole planning event. The piplanning app offers a Backlog Board, a Program Board, Team Boards, and a Risk Board.
For Product Management presenting the Product Vision, the piplanning app provides the Program Backlog Board. Teams already prepare the Program Backlog before the PI Planning. With the Jira-Integration, relevant Features and Enablers get imported in the prioritized order, based on Weighted Shortest Job First (WSJF).
Throughout the Team Breakout sessions, the RTE and Program Management are always up to date about which Features are in planning by what team and which Features are still waiting for getting pulled.
On the Team Board teams break down Features into User Stories, Enablers and other pre-defined sticky types in a SAFe® recommended structure. On the same board, teams also gather Risks and define PI Objectives fully transparent to other teams and stakeholders.
For the Scrum of Scrums RTE together with Scrum Masters use a simple spreadsheet with all relevant questions on it. The key learning was to ask Scrum Masters fill in the answers (Yes/No) already before the Scrum of Scrums. That allows the RTE to focus on the given answers, get a common understanding and immediately discuss needed actions.
On a big touchscreen, one at every location, teams visualize their plan on Program Level. Features, Dependencies and important Milestones/Events for the upcoming Program Increment.
Teams gather Risks on Team Board during Breakout Sessions. Those Risks, which need discussion are sent to the Program Level Risk Board. In brackets, all attendees see which Team has raised the risk. One by one, Risks are presented and clustered during the ROAMing session.
Due to the real-time synchronization between Jira and the piplanning app, teams don’t need to think about manual work after the PI Planning. All User Stories, Enablers, and other defined sticky types are already synchronized back to Jira after the PI Planning event.
And it goes even further.
First, the visualized Dependencies are instantly synchronized with Jira.
Second, during the Program Increment execution, the Program Board is used to visualize progress for every Feature and Enabler.
The Program Board gets even more valuable during the Scrum of Scrums and PO synch meetings.
Jesús Marcos Martín, CSO Quality Management Support Group at Wolters Kluwer, points out:
”Rentouch’s piplanning app is key for our PI Planning meetings! The PI Planning App creates a clear view of all the team’s plans, risks and objectives. Teams could share at any moment with any stakeholder their plans and also collaborate during the Program board creation! It provides us an incredible visual and clear view of the picked Features at any moment… The software has this high quality that for us it’s a must even when not doing distributed PI Planning meetings. We like the use of the tool very well, it improves previous planning and insight inefficiencies in our development process.”
Connectivity is crucial for successful distributed PI Plannings. Not to spend any money on flights and accommodations is better invested in a powerful network and necessary facilities. Consider time zones and respect culture. Listen to all involved people to make the PI Planning a happening. Real-time synchronized information radiators for different levels and stakeholders are the heart of enhanced collaboration across locations and teams. Automate everything which needs to be done more than once. Last but not least, relentless improve your PI Planning experience through Inspect and Adapt.
These insights were also presented by Gianfranco at the RTE Summit 2018 in Amsterdam, which is organized by Gladwell Academy. You can also watch the whole session on video here: RTE Summit — Challenges of a Distributed PI Planning Event
At a first glance, compliance and agile seem very distant, even conflicting. While the former sees variability as risk, for the latter that uncertainty comes as an opportunity to adapt and generate better outcomes and more valuable assets.