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INTERVIEW QUESTION:

What is Program Increment Planning as it applies to the Scaled Agile Framework?

Posted by Chris Adams

Article Rating // 752 Views // 0 Additional Answers & Comments

Categories: Business Analysis, Systems Analysis, Agile Methods, SDLC, Process, and Methodologies, Project Management

ANSWER

The Background of Program Increment Planning

Program Increment (PI) Planning is one of the biggest and most important events in the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe). It aims to set the direction and activities for the Release Train’s next 8-12 weeks of work through a large scale planning session. To understand PI Planning properly we need to first take a step back and understand three key terms; SAFe, Agile Release Trains and Program Increments.

  • Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe); a methodology which aims to help larger organizations implement Agile when more than one team is working on a product. Individual teams still use Scrum but there are additional roles and events used to help co-ordinate multiple Scrum teams working on the same product or project.
  • Agile Release Train (ART); A key part of SAFe. This is a cross-functional group of 50-125 people who are working on one product or project. They should all be dedicated to the ART and function as a mini organization within the wider enterprise.
  • Program Increment; An 8-12 week long fixed time period at the end of which the ART all of the Scrum teams should have worked together to complete the Increment goal. It is similar to a Sprint in that it is a defined time period, with a set goal but applies to a much bigger group than a Scrum team.

If you’re familiar with Scrum it is worth thinking about the ART as a big Scrum team, with the PI like a big Sprint and PI Planning like a big Sprint Planning event. The scale of the PI Planning event is massive; it can involve over 100 people - some organizations don’t have a space large enough to hold their PI Planning events so they hire large conference centers or hotel ballrooms! 

What does PI Planning aim to achieve?

PI Planning aims to ensure that all of the teams are aligned and have a plan for the increment. PI Planning is also used to map dependencies across different teams and make sure work is prioritized in a way that ensures teams aren’t blocked by other teams.

By the end of the PI Planning event all of the teams should have a plan for the next PI and understand what all the other teams in the ART are planning to deliver too. They then take that plan away and refine it further into individual Sprint plans to ensure they successfully deliver the PI.

How is PI Planning run?

Like other Agile methodologies, SAFe encourages teams to work face-to-face in real time and PI Planning is no exception. The structure and agenda of PI planning is set out in the SAFe framework and normally lasts 2 full days. There is also a lot of work before and after a PI planning event to ensure that it is a productive use of everyone’s time.

The PI planning starts with aligning the team, providing the context and explaining the goal for the next PI. Each individual team then breaks out to refine their part in the goal and raise any issues or dependencies.

There are several rounds of planning during the event, with reviews and negotiations between teams. Having everyone in the same place doing this planning at the same time allows for this to happen without delay and really helps all the teams understand how they fit into the bigger picture.

The PI planning ends with a retrospective of the event where participants reflect on the effectiveness and make suggestions for future improvements.

Is PI Planning worth it?

Having a large group of people working together on a project always requires a lot of co-ordination and planning. While having a whole team dedicate two full days to planning takes a lot of time and commitment, PI planning allows SAFe teams to come together and effectively plan their work. This ensures that the whole Release Train is aligned and is able to deliver complex projects efficiently.

Further information

A visual overview of the Scaled Agile Framework
The Official Guide to PI Planning
PI Planning in practice

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