PI Planning is a 2-day event that takes place at the beginning of the Program Increment (which lasts 8-12 weeks) and is the overall plan for the Agile Release Train (ART). But what does this mean, and why should you care?

What is PI Planning?

PI Planning (or Agile Program Increment Planning) is a 2-day event that takes place at the beginning of an organization's Program Increment; it is a key extra step in Agile project management.

According to the Scaled Agile Framework, PI Planning is the “heartbeat” of an Agile framework; a face-to-face, large-scale planned event that brings together many teams. Doesn't the Agile Manifesto say that “the most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is a face-to-face conversation”?

What happens in PI Planning meetings?

The PI Planning meeting is where the ART team comes together to discuss objectives; that includes team members, business owners, product managers, key stakeholders, and so on. It’s basically a large event where problems get solved quickly given everyone is present. The meeting (if planned and organized properly) can have a massive impact on the success of your Program Increment, as you align ideas, identify the roadmap and create a vision together.

What is the point of PI Planning?

The main goal of Agile PI Planning is to optimize your organization's processes for higher efficiency and productivity. The PI Planning framework helps companies implement effective Agile project management strategies across various departments and employees, to align the missions and outline the workflows and objectives.

Essentially, a PI Planning meeting is about increasing communication throughout your organization.

The backdrop of PI Planning

The scale of the PI Planning event is massive, as it can involve over 100 people trying to set the direction and release activities for the next 8-12 weeks of work.

PI planning terms you should know
The backdrop of PI planning

Some PI terms you should know:

  • Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) is an Agile methodology that helps large organizations implement Agile, with many teams working on the same product. These teams will need to use Scrum, alongside other tools to help them align.  
  • Agile Release Train (ART) is a collection of 5 to 12 Agile teams (50-125 people) that are doing cross-project work, and so they act like a mini organization within the company.
  • Program Increment, as mentioned, is an 8-12 week-long period by which all of the Scrum teams within the Agile Release Train have worked together to complete the Increment goal.
If you’re familiar with Scrum; ART is like a big Scrum team; PI, a big sprint; and PI Planning, a big Sprint Planning event.

What is the difference between Sprint planning and PI planning?

Sprint planning is part of a Scrum framework; PI Planning is part of the SAFe framework.

Sprint Planning is done by a single scrum team; PI Planning is done across all teams.

PI planning is done once in 8 to 12 weeks for four sprints together.

For more on Agile methods, here’s an article.

The differences between Sprint planning and PI planning
Sprint Planning vs. PI Planning

Do larger companies benefit more from PI Planning?

PI Planning seems to be most beneficial for large-scale organizations that follow Agile. Which makes sense, given the huge disconnect that happens between departments in bigger companies. Thanks to PI Planning, employees who wouldn’t normally collide, can now share a vision and the opportunity to work together; this means better efficiency, productivity and transparency!

What are the benefits of PI Planning?

The benefits are many:

  • Communicate face-to-face, in person or online
  • Develop a bigger social network
  • Identify all dependencies across teams
  • Align business goals with context, vision and objectives
  • Eliminate any excess work
  • Make better decisions overall
PI Planning meeting benefits across your organization
The benefits of PI planning meetings

How about we get a little more technical:

Output of PI Planning

  • PI objectives every team intends to accomplish in the upcoming PI, so that the language is common, as well as the focus and vision. The contribution of each team to the business value is highlighted and dependencies are exposed to encourage coordination.
  • Program board which highlights the new features, their delivery dates, dependencies and milestones.

Input of PI Planning

  • Content readiness (+ organizational + logistics)
  • Roadmap and vision
  • Top 10 features from backlog

How to prepare for PI Planning inputs?

Before any Jira PI Planning session, there’s a preparation phase. It is especially important as you’re bringing together hundreds, even thousands of people, in an organized and goal-oriented way. This meeting will set the pace for the coming months, so you better be prepared to make the most out of it.

“An hour of planning can save you 10 hours of doing” - Dale Carnegie

Pre-PI Planning is important

  • Pay attention to both coordination and communication.
  • All event attendees should be notified and documented in advance.
  • According to the Scaled Agile Framework, three key areas need preparation before a PI planning event:
    - Organizational readiness
    - Content readiness
    - Logistics readiness

Organizational readiness

Organizational readiness refers to the strategy and alignment of people (teams, participants, owners and stakeholders).  This is where you look at the planning scope and whether it’s understood, what teams need to plan together, if there’s agreement on priorities between the business owners, and if every Agile team has identified a Scrum Master and Product Owner.

Content readiness

Content readiness refers to a clear vision of the meeting by identifying the tasks and roles of the many stakeholders. This includes an executive briefing to define context, separate product vision briefings by product management to come up with the top 10 features in the program backlog, and an architecture vision briefing which is a presentation made by the CTO to communicate new features, NFRs, and enablers.

Foxly for content readiness in Jira

Stories are prepared in advance; so you know what needs to be delivered to achieve the objectives you set. And so when it comes to product vision for example, the product owner prioritizes with the teams beforehand, and they come up with a list of the top 10 features to scope and plan.

The owner can use Foxly to prioritize their Jira backlog with the team, based on metrics that take into consideration every type of Jira project. Foxly is a simple tool designed to help master the backlog prioritization game in a smart, inclusive way! For more on Foxly and what it can do for your Jira PI Planning prioritization sessions, here’s a good article.

Foxly - project and product backlog prioritization plugin for Jira
Foxly backlog prioritization metrics

Logistics readiness

Logistics readiness refers to the physical space where the meeting will take place and the support personnel needed to make it happen, as well as the technology and tools that will allow you real-time access to info and the ability to communicate across channels.

Swanly for logistics readiness in Jira

Once features are prioritized, you want to be able to draw them on a Jira roadmap timeline in order to plan. So, say your Product Owner does their research, then prepares (or has someone else prepare) the storyboard and designs to represent the vision they have for the product. Once this process is done, the Product Owner then asks developers to help them figure out how to build it.

Jira product roadmap for PI planning
Swanly product roadmap for PI planning

Through direct access to the Swanly PI Planning roadmap in Jira for example, engineers can then validate your Product Manager's plan to ensure it makes sense.

Say, you envision getting an app built in three months. First, you need to align the new app with your overall vision, and then see how to build it based on your resources, dependencies and so on; so unless you get everyone’s input, while having access to the information you need, you might fail to realize that six months is a more accurate depiction than three!  

For more on how you can manage a product roadmap in Swanly, this is a good article!

Plan product stages with Swanly Jira roadmap plugin
Swanly product roadmap for Jira

What is the agenda for the PI Planning meeting?

Once the organization, content and facility are set up, then we begin to plan our in-depth two-day agenda.  

Day 1 of the PI planning meeting agenda
PI planning meeting agenda - day 1

PI Planning meeting agenda - day 1

Business context
A senior executive shares the portfolio vision, with a presentation on how existing solutions address your organization's customer needs.

Product vision
Product management presents the current vision based on ten top features chosen from the product backlog, highlights changes made from the previous PI Planning event, and discusses new milestones.

Architecture vision
System architect/engineer presents the vision, while a dev manager introduces changes such as DevOps, integration and deployment to be used in the new PI.

Planning context
The Release Train Engineer (RTE, whose job it is to facilitate the PI Planning session) presents the planning process and outcomes to be expected.

Team breakout
Teams breakout to create individual draft plans where they estimate their capacity for each iteration and identify the backlog items they need to make their features come to life. Teams use this session to identify risks and dependencies, so they can draft their initial team PI objectives.

Draft plan review
Teams present their key outputs such as capacity and load, PI objectives, risks, and dependencies, while product management and other stakeholders review and give input.

Management review and problem-solving
Challenges always arise when teams are this big, which means that scope, people, dependencies and resource constraints will have to be discussed; this is where negotiation happens!

Day 2 of the PI planning meeting agenda
PI planning meeting agenda - day 2

PI Planning meeting agenda - day 2

Planning adjustments
Management presents any changes to the planning scope, people and resources.

Team breakout #2
Teams finalize objectives for the PI while business owners assign a business value for each objective.

Final plan review
All teams present their plans to the group which then either get accepted or not, and based on that, plans get adjusted.

Program risk
Risks are discussed and addressed one by one, then categorized as resolved, owned, accepted or mitigated. Owned means someone takes ownership of the risk since it wasn’t resolved, while accepted means we leave it as is; mitigated means that the team can identify a plan to reduce impact.

Confidence vote
Teams vote on how confident they are in meeting their team PI objectives. For more on how to build an inclusive voting process for your team, check out this article on Priority Planning Poker in Jira!

Plan rework
If confidence level isn’t high enough, then teams can rework their plans; here it’s all about alignment and commitment.

Planning retrospective
The RTE leads a brief retrospective to see what went well, what didn’t and what can be done better the next time around. After all, Agile is all about retrospectives!

Jexo Agile logo for Jira
Agile is all about retrospectives

Discussion towards the future
This is usually where calendars get reviewed, and where the ART can decide on whether they want to use an Agile project management tool to capture PI objectives for every team and stories.

For more on the functions your Jira project management tool should be able to fulfill, and how Swanly fulfills them all, this is a good article!

How do you manage remote Jira PI Planning meetings efficiently?

The pandemic has changed a few things; one of which is our ability to conduct Jira PI planning meetings face-to-face. Is it a good thing? Who knows; for one, it’s cheaper, and weren’t we anyway on our way to a more remotely interconnected work structure?

One thing’s for sure though; remote PI planning in Jira can be efficient as long as you’ve got the right collaboration tools for it. There are some great Jira plugins available for organizing successful, remote PI planning meetings, so if you’re looking for something fun, easy and inclusive, check out Foxly's Priority Planning Poker!

Priority Planning Poker Jira - with Foxly plugin
Foxly Priority Planning Poker for Jira

PI planning is fundamentally about bringing teams together, to improve on value delivery as an organization. With good preparation, the meeting can help achieve any goal - from managing every kind of project, to creating evolving products for a fast-changing world, or even taking your organization on a new digital transformation ride.