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This writeup aims to help teams, ARTs and Coaches understand the series of events leading up to & post a PI planning event, that is the ceremonies & the activities recommended in order to execute a high-impact planning session.
Though there is content existing around this topic from a tooling perspective, but here the intention is to share the milestones leading up to the event, in order to provide a more specific practices-centric guidance.
Based on my personal experience of rolling out Align across large Enterprises, there are sections of the enterprise which might be operating in nascent stages of Agility or the RTEs / Stakeholders might initially struggle to tie together the powerful views in Align with the execution realities of the teams.
So, just like when we tie together beautiful pearls to create a necklace in the same way if we have the right set of Agile@Scale Practices supported by JIra Align views, we can create a high-value experience for all stakeholders involved with the PI planning.
We will be looking at primarily 3 stages
This is the stage wherein I see most enterprises struggling because certain ceremonies and activities are required here in order to make the planning event a success and unfortunately, there is very little standardisation around activities in order to properly prepare for the PI planning day.
And we all know if the preparation is weak then the outcome will not be very favourable or valuable.
These milestones are the ones which I have seen working well but definitely plenty of room for customisation based on the needs of an organisation.
Let's go through each milestone starting from minus 5 weeks as we approach the PI planning event along with the relevant Align views -
Minus 5 Weeks - Reviewing and Priortising Portfolio Epics (Initiatives) - Though refinement is an ongoing activity, having a ceremony with relevant stakeholders for prioritising / de-prioritising Initiatives plays an important role here because during feature prioritisation we can inherit the rank from the parent initiative. Also based on the Intake process (Kanban lifecycle) of the initiatives we can scope the relevant initiatives for the upcoming PI.
Minus 4 Weeks - Business Objectives for the PI & Alignment Check - Well-defined objectives can take the PI planning to the next level. This is something that currently lots of organisations are aspiring for as well. Once we have well-defined objectives ( a ballpark number would be around 5 to 7 for a single ART for a quarter).
The reason objectives are important is that they clearly define the value intent for the ART (program) and also it’s a common detrimental practice to have 60-70 features(or even more) scoped for a single PI thus for the leadership it’s not possible to go through the complete list of features hence if we have well-defined objectives which are also laddering up to the Portfolio Objectives then value delivery and it’s strategic importance both become clear to all stakeholders.
Also, in JIra Align we can connect work items (features) to ART objectives which makes it even more transparent to track the progress of the work (output) against the defined outcomes (Objectives).
Minus 3 Weeks - Objectives refinement & feature creation - We might already have a handful of features scoped to the upcoming PI, but it’s best to make sure that we have the intended list of features for the upcoming PI created and connected to the relevant objectives. This also means breaking down the initiatives which are scoped for this PI into features or adding additional features to the initiatives.
We will also make sure that our features are connected to the relevant Objectives and the parent initiatives as well. Even if the features are contributing to KTLO (Keep the lights on) category of work, still it’s best to connect them in the work item hierarchy so that at the end of 3 months or 6 months we can understand how much of our capacity we have spent on KTLO vs Strategic Initiatives.
Minus 2 Weeks - Feature Prioritisation & Capacity Check - I have observed teams frantically prioritising features or raising capacity objections during the actual PI planning event instead this important activity should have been completed at least 1-2 weeks before the actual event.
Refinement of top-priority features should start before the actual event and apart from the POs working on it, you can also involve the relevant senior delivery stakeholders for this purpose as well.
There are multiple views in Align which, based on your historical velocity provide you insights into whether teams will be able to deliver on the current demand/backlog or not. This really helps us in de-scoping some of the features planned for the PI as we have better capacity insights based on historical data. And this works not just at the team level but for the whole ART / Program.
Minus 1 Week - Finalised list of Prioritised features - We are now only a week away from the planning event, we should have finalised the list of top features to be presented before the team for the upcoming PI.
Along with the feature, we should also be in-flight with key objectives which these features are contributing towards, of course during the team breakouts the teams can further refine some of the objectives but having the top objectives ready as well before the event help in conveying the strategic intent of the plan to all attendees.
Now, let's look at the actual Planning event -
The detailed two-day agenda is already available on Scaled Agile website, hence here we are going to look at some of the major activities -
Business Context - This is where we share the Business context with the attendees at the event. This could mean sharing with them Strategic initiatives which are scoped for this Increment. Or giving them a quick view of the roadmap which contains the delivery expectations along with the Key Objectives and how they ladder up to the Annual goals.
Team Breakout # 1 - Teams start to identify risks, and dependencies, and start committing to the features on the program board along with starting the process of creating stories for the committed features.
Draft plan review - Management & related stakeholders review the team’s plan along with any capacity constraints, backlog, and objectives to be delivered and provide feedback to the teams.
Team Breakout # 2 - Finalising the features & objectives to be delivered in this increment. Relevant risks & dependencies have been identified and any capacity issues have been handled.
Final Review - Teams present their final plan which either gets the final nod from the Business owners and stakeholders or they continue with the relevant adjustments to their plan based on the feedback before presenting it again for approval.
Post planning event
Sync with the Portfolio team- It’s always great to relay the outcomes of the PI to the Portfolio stakeholders in terms of the committed objectives and any features which had to be descoped and their impact on the parent initiatives.
Team-based activities - And ofcourse we don’t expect the teams to breakdown all the features into stories during the Planning event, hence once the planning event is over gradually as part of the planning & refinement sessions, teams along with their POs can start decomposin features into relevant stories.
I hope this article will help you be better prepared for the planning event in order to deliver a greater impact with a clear strategic intent and business value delivery for all the stakeholders involved, right from the teams up to the portfolio leadership.