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SAFe Practice Tips: Program Increment (PI) Planning

26-Mar-2018 14:26:04 SAFe How-To SAFe 4.5 PI Planning
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Safe PI Planning diagram

*This post is part of the series ‘SAFe Practice Tips’, which aims to offer helpful advice to anyone using SAFe.

As a SAFe® Program Consultant Trainer (SPCT) I can’t remember how many PI Planning events I facilitated and attended last year. However, what I do know is that this is a seminal event in SAFe, which aims  to create alignment with the Teams, the Product Management, the Architects and Business Owners.

“Program Increment (PI) Planning is a cadence-based, face-to-face event that serves as the heartbeat of the Agile Release Train (ART), aligning all the teams on the ART to a shared mission and Vision.”

PI Planning is essential to SAFe - If you are not doing PI Planning, you are not doing SAFe.

Over the last 2 years, I have been experimenting with different techniques and practices which I thought I would share with you. The first one is regarding Business Context and Team Space

PI Planning: Practice Tip 1 – Business Context

“A senior executive/line-of-business owner describes the current state of the business and presents a perspective on how well existing solutions are addressing current Customer needs.” -Scaled Agile Framework

When launching your first train this is critical so that everyone understands the ‘Why’. If you are not sure why ‘the Why’ is important then watch the following video by  Simon Sinek called “How great leaders inspire action”:

And inspiring is really important! We need the team to understand why this is important to what we are doing. That’s why it is normally a Senior Executive who presents the Business Context.

However, Senior Executives are busy people and can be called away at the last moment – it just happens. Not because the PI Planning is not important but sometimes there are other things that happen, including illness and family emergencies, not just work.

Tip: Always have a backup plan ready!

An option is to get another Business Owner to step into the breach. This is not my preferred option because it can send out the wrong message like:

“Senior Executive couldn’t make it so I have had to step in at the last moment.”

Plus, generally speaking, the Business Owner may not be fully prepared and may have to deliver the Senior Executive script, which can affect the ‘inspiring’ part - after all, when you’re not using your own words, these can lose their momentum.

My first option would be to see whether we could get a live link to the Senior Executive, particularly if they can’t physically attend on the day but could schedule a live feed.

“I am so sorry that I can’t be with you today in person, but this is a really critical event and I didn’t want to let the moment slip without having the chance to talk to you directly…..”

You get the picture.

However, my best backup option is to always have a pre-recorded video made by the Senior Executive especially if they are called unexpectedly at the last moment. 

There are many desktop tools such as Smart Pixel, Cam Studio or VLC that allow you to record a simple video. However, don’t do what one Senior Executive did and record it in his sunny garden with a glass of wine!


PI Planning: Practice Tip 2 – Team Space


We need to create some plans to understand what we can and can’t commit to. There are two sessions within the two-day agenda; the first on Day One – Team Breakout One.


“In the breakout, teams estimate their capacity (velocity) for each Iteration and identify the backlog items they will likely need to realise the features. Each team creates their draft plans, visible to all, iteration by iteration.”

Then on Day Two – Team Breakout Two!

“Teams continue planning based on their agenda from the previous day, making the appropriate adjustments. They finalise their objectives for the PI, to which the Business Owners assign business value.”

We create a Team Space for each of the teams that generally will look something like this:


Program Board 1.png

However, I like to provide a bit more clarity in terms of how the stories relate to the features. So, I create feature swim lanes like this:

Program Board 2


Not only can I see which stories are related to which feature, I can easily see when a feature is complete (black diamond) and, with the red sticky notes, can also see which features have dependencies on other teams.

Both the black diamond and red sticky notes make it really easy to complete the Program Board for the ScrumMaster!

And if you are asking, a red sticky note means that the team has identified a dependency on another team AND a ticked red sticky note means that it has been discussed with the other team and has been planned appropriately in that team’s plan.


Hope these two practice tips helped. Especially for the beginning of PI Planning. If you have any comments regarding these tips let me know. Make sure you keep an eye out for the remaining tips of the series where I will be discussing Management Problem Solving and Confidence Vote.


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Does PI planning or any other term sound a little foreign to you? Brush up your SAFe knowledge with one of Radtac’s SAFe training courses.

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Darren Wilmshurst

Darren Wilmshurst

With his strategic C-suite-oriented approach to IT leadership – and his infectious energy – Darren has successfully delivered multi-million pound business transformations for e-commerce sites, ERP implementations, outsourcing and offshoring, including multiple Agile transformations. Read more