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SAFe Practice Tips: Program Increment (PI) Planning Part 2

04-Apr-2018 16:19:51 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.

Here is the 2nd part of the SAFe® Practice Tips series, where I discuss Management Problem Solving, including thoughts from other SAFe practitioners. Also, I explain confidence voting and how the team can do this to help meet their objectives for the PI. If you haven’t checked out the previous parts of the series - read Tip 1 here and Tip 2 here.


As mentioned last time, PI Planning is essential to SAFe. If you are not doing PI Planning, you are not doing SAFe. These tips will enable you to do your PI planning in a better way.

PI Planning: Practice Tip 3 – Management Problem Solving


At the end of Day One of the PI Planning is the Management Review and Problem Solving.


“It’s likely that the draft plans present challenges such as scope, people and resource constraints, and dependencies. During the problem-solving meeting, management may negotiate scope changes and resolve other problems by agreeing to various planning adjustments. The RTE facilitates and keeps the primary stakeholders together for as long as necessary to make the decisions needed to reach achievable objectives.”    -  Scaled Agile Framework

I love Mark Richards’ description of this event:

“The longer I have been facilitating PI planning, the more I have come to believe that the primary purpose of Day 1 is to set the scene for the Management Problem Solving session. The energy of the visioning, team breakouts and plan reviews are well-known, but the management problem solving at the end of Day 1 is a crucial part of the event often glossed over.”

In this article Mark provides some great ideas about how to facilitate this meeting.

Tip: RTEs, put this blog on your reading list!

However, my colleague and SPC Tom Sedge had a great idea. Why do we wait until the end of the day to solve the problems?


So, Tom created a very simple way to make the problems visual throughout the day – a flipchart with a heading ‘Decisions required’.

As soon as the team has something that needs a decision from the Management Team, post it on the board. That way the Management Team gets early visibility of what the teams are struggling with rather than trying to determine the problems the teams are struggling with!

Moreover, the RTE or SPC should encourage the Management Team to visit the board and see if they can solve the problems there and then – why wait until the end of the day and feed back the following day?


The sooner the decisions are made the sooner the teams can reflect them in their plans.


PI Planning: Practice Tip 4 – Confidence Vote


The final part of the alignment:

  • We understand the context and the priorities,
  • we have created draft plans that we have shared with the room, management have helped to solve some of our challenges,
  • Business owners have assigned value to our PI Objectives,
  • We have completed our plans and again shared them with the room and then we have looked at all the program risks.

So, what is our confidence in committing to the PI Objectives?


“Once program risks have been addressed, teams vote on their confidence in meeting their program PI objectives.” - Scaled Agile Framework


This is a two-part vote, first at the team level, then at the program level. We use a technique called ‘fist of five’ where 5 indicates high confidence and 1 low confidence.


Confidence Vote.png

Providing I have no lower than a 3 then I am happy, however, if I see a 1 or a 2 then I would want to have a discussion, because if we have genuinely missed something, then I would rather discuss it now - plus we have time in the agenda for re-work.


This is where we have to be careful.


Let’s say that in the first team someone shows either a 1 or 2. I would ask that individual to perhaps stand up, probably with the microphone, and explain to everyone in the room why they only have a confidence of 1 or 2. For a large train, this could be in front of 125- 150 people including senior management and key business owners.


This could be very intimidating, especially for someone new to the company. I will guarantee that if this is done on the first team vote, the remaining teams will all be 3 and above! And yet we want to create an environment where people feel ‘safe’ to express their concerns.


My suggestion is that before the end of Team Breakout 2, the ScrumMaster does a sense check of the team. If anyone has a low confidence just check that they are happy to represent themselves. If not, see if there is a proxy that will speak on their behalf.

Moreover, why leave this to the very end?


Tip: Scrum Masters, regularly check the confidence of the teams.


At the end of Team Breakout 1, Scrum Masters should do a sense check, because if there are problems, let’s surface them as soon as possible so that we have the chance to solve them in Team Breakout 2!


So that was tip 3 & 4 of the SAFe Practice Tips series. I hope that you now have a better insight into how to facilitate a problem-solving session, and the best way to go about it. Also, I hope you are now feeling ‘confident’ enough to have confidence in committing to the PI Objectives. Look out for our last part of the series where I will be discussing The PI Retrospectives. Once again any questions or feedback please do let me know.


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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