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How I ran my first virtual PI Planning?What is PI Planning? For non-SAFe folks, PI Planning

What is PI Planning?

For non-SAFe folks, PI Planning is a cadence based 2 days planning event which is at the heart of Release trains. You plan for the next 5 sprints and provide team commitment to Business stakeholders. Ideally, it’s advisable to have it in a physical space, here is me starting my first physical PI Planning (pre COVID19 era)-

COVID-19 has made it hard to meet and the whole Scaled Agile community has been trying to find a solution to run it virtually. There are many tools out there, but due to security reasons, it’s hard to use them at an enterprise level.

Purpose of this article is to share my experience with the wider community on how I ran PI Planning with Microsoft tools –specifically excel and Teams. I will be honest, I was freaking out, I didn’t know which tools to use when I had to plan for my 3rd PI in the release train. Specially, since my first two were in a physical location and people did complain about lunch (I hear you all the release train engineers  ), I was looking at tools like ‘PI, Mural, Miro etc. I didn’t have enough time to get security clearance, so I worked with my team and found a way to use Teams and Excel (just 2 tools) to have an effective PI Planning. To give a perspective, it was Monday and PI Planning days were Thursday and Friday. My confidence level on this day was pretty low (4/10), I didn’t know how I was going to pull it all together in this COVID19 impacted world. Well they say – necessity is mother of invention, not actual fit but you get the message.

Preparation – I established a team of 5 Agile team members to make a template in excel. The template was a result of 2 brainstorming sessions. You can tell how much faith I have in my team by my tone , I digressed. Anyway I have two Squads[i], for each of the squad, a template was made. The template had following tabs –

· PI Objectives (for Business Value and Actual Value – In the physical world, you would use a flip-chart for this)

· Team (for Capacity/Velocity calculation)

· Sprints (A pivot table to calculate the load)

· Story Map (This is where all the Features & User Stories lived – it was extracted from JIRA and output was imported into JIRA)

· Risks

· Dependency mapping

· Parking lot

In addition to the PI Planning templates, I also got my team’s buy in to use Teams ‘Meet Now’ function for breakout sessions. This preparation was key for us to go into the 2-day virtual PI Planning. At this time, my confidence level went from 4/10 to 7/10.

Day 1 Execution – I started PI Planning on Thursday; it started much better than what I initially thought. Key to any PI Planning event is the ‘Team Breakout’ sessions. I kept my Teams meeting on for the full day on day 1 and started 2 other ‘Meet Now[ii]’ for breakout sessions. I kept all three Teams Meeting running in parallel. It helped me in jumping from one breakout session to other one. So, by end of day 1, my confidence level was at 8. Having templates helped both the squads in having focused discussion whenever needed. I also encouraged team members to use the parking lot if there is something that they needed to discuss separately. And best thing is – since we were all using Teams, collaboration was seamless. And Day 1 ended with the Management review and Problem Solving.

Day 2 Execution – We did another breakout and an addition 1 hr. breakout due to some key priority changes identified by the Business owner, however at the end it turned out well. Now it was a time for retrospective. I was keen to get the feedback from all the team members especially this being the first virtual PI Planning and all the team members had previously attended the first 2 PI Planning in person. I was surprised to hear that there were no complaints about lunch (well everyone was eating at their home restaurant ;) ) what was great to note that people were happy with the outcome and some also made a comment this turned out better than physical PI Planning as attention was focused. Here are few comments that I can share –

· Remote PI Planning as it helped in driving conversations better

· Excel as a base for Story Writing really helps in User Story management - saves us time importing to JIRA


So, there you have it, my confidence on virtual PI Planning by the end of Day 2 was at 9/10. I was so pleased to get this outcome from my team. I never thought Microsoft excel and Teams can be enough to save the day and achieve the outcome that the Release Train wanted from the PI Planning. I think sometimes you have to try and give the tools you have a chance before you say No and sometimes (as in my case) circumstances force you to find a solution for the immediate problem you are facing. I am sure you could relate to this would like to share your story.

[i] A Squad is a group of team members, you can think of them as an ‘Agile Team’ [ii] Meet Now is a feature in Microsoft Teams - Calendar

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