Everyone on Board – Impressions from a PI Planning

With products getting more complex and thus development goals and teams growing larger, keeping everyone on the same page is getting increasingly difficult. Both horizontally across teams and vertically between stakeholders and developers. I implemented numerous different approaches during the last years. Now was the time to experience a SAFe® PI Planning of another Bosch group.

Did it keep what it promised?

Key Take Aways

  1. I met a great team of highly energized engineers. They fought for their topics while having the greater goal in mind.
  2. The interdisciplinary mix lead to a rich variety of discussion topics. And therewith allowed broad problem-solving.
  3. Having the management team join at the end of day 1 made management aware of the challenges. It also showed the management’s commitment to support the development team.
  4. I experienced it as an amazing chance to get many people aligned in shortest time.

With a team of 50 members,
an approach comparable to PI planning
is definitely worth to consider!

Day 1 Highlights

The PI Planning is an event for larger development teams to sync on their status. It involves all necessary stakeholders and usually is a two-day event which repeats every 10 weeks. For more background, you’ll find tons of resources at the Scaled Agile Foundation

The Release Train I visited is working on the core of an innovative vehicle automation function. Part of a larger structure, they are roughly 90 people of which 70-80 were present at the PI planning. They are growing fast: 12 new members introduced themselves this morning. Bam!

I’ll highlight not all, but only some of the more crucial agenda items.

Start with a retrospective


Quite unusual for a standard agenda, it started with a program level retrospective. I saw engaging discussions in an open space setting:

  • Empowerment: People chose topics themselves. They brought up, presented, moderated the discussion and derived the todos for change.
  • Urgency: Because topics came bottom-up, people only discuss what truly keeps them from doing their work.
  • Variety: Everyone was able to freely move between the topics, contributing their view to numerous topics during this one session. This brought many diverse views into the solutions space.
  • Relief: Having the program level retrospective at the beginning, everybody was able to put away their concerns first. This allowed a fresh and positive start into planning.

Business Context

The mayor input for all teams was then given by Product Management. With this, everybody in the hall knew the context and expectation from the business side.

  • Customer priorities and their concerns were addressed to everybody.
  • The overall situation of the program within the company became transparent.
  • Level of urgency was set and therewith priorities for the upcoming period.

I had the clear impression that the team was overwhelmed by all that information. I saw it in their faces and herd it loud:

“OK, this is gonna be tough!”

Planning

So with all this tough vision, it was important to hear the setting for the planning from Product Management and Release Train Engineer:

The goal is clear and tough,
but YOU have the full AUTONOMY
in HOW to do it.

Now the teams came together and prepared their “working hubs”: Laptops, printouts, flip charts, pin boards,… Everything they needed was either prepared by their Product Owner already or put togetherness ad-hoc. After a short preparation within the team, discussions across the teams started rapidly:

  • Requirements were discussed and their understanding streamlined.
  • Teams validated their own scope with the scope of others and identified gaps. Planning started to close these.
  • Interfaces were discussed and plans for their adaption made.
  • Capabilities were matched and discussed with the Release Train Engineer (the Program Level Scrum Master).
  • Integration tactics were created to make sure everything is going to fit together at the end of the iteration.
  • Impediments were identified and put on boards for later management support.

This was one of the highlights of the day because no indirect communication like emails was necessary…

all this happened face to face. It was super fast with minimum cycle time from issue detection to solution approach.

One of my favorite dialogs went like this:
– “Hey, we’ll need this data from your interface”
– “Ehm, we don’t have this data at our interface”
– “But we need it!”
– “We’ll, we don’t have this data. We actually don’t even work with this kind of [stuff] in our team.”
– “Oh. Then we should sit together and find a way.”
– “Sure, let’s talk!”

Draft Plan Review with Management

After the planning, about 10 stakeholders from management joint the meeting. They got a wrap-up of this morning’s vision alignment and the planning process:

  1. By hearing a condensed version of the vision which Product Management gave the teams earlier this day, management was able to check whether everything was well understood.
  2. Impediments were easily solved by management. Things which caused quite lengthy discussions within the teams in the afternoon, were moved aside by cross-department gentlement agreements (“Hey, we’re all working on the same goal!”).
  3. Understanding for the team’s planning and some smaller requests for adaptation during day 2 made assured that everyone has the same understanding of scope and time for the next iteration.

Wrapping it Up

It was an impressive day for me. I have been close to an introduction of such an event years ago. Without a fancy name for it.But there were quite some stakeholders who weren’t willing to spend the time. I found other ways that matched those days’ requirements.

To see it working this perfectly was a wonderful affirmation of the idea:

Bringing all stakeholders together on one place gets things aligned in the most effective way possible.

  1. Communication is key. Face to face is still the best way.
  2. Alignment of the teams towards one goal was well visible.
  3. Expectations between management and developers got very clear (in both directions – regarding delivery and support)
  4. Misunderstandings were solved in short time which saves a lot of email ping-pong later.

I’m looking for the next PI Planning to see how it worked out.

-> What would you like me to look at specifically for an update?

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