AgileVisual Collaboration

The future of PI Planning is digital

Julien Revel 4 min read

Traditional Analog PI Planning

Program Increment Planning, or PI is a major planning event orchestrated by SAFe® (Scaled Agile Framework®) practitioners for large-scale projects. Typically, they involve coordinating all teams on the Agile Release Train (ART) across the organization (sometimes up to 150 people or more), who - under the framework of a shared mission and vision - meet face-to-face to formulate iteration plans and objectives for the next three to four-month period. These events work to align the corporate mission with product development and business goals, while identifying project dependencies, and fostering cross-team collaboration and faster decision making.

Scaled Agile photo of a PI Planning Room with team members collaborating on visual boards.

Typical PI Planning Event.
Courtesy: https://www.scaledagileframework.com/pi-planning/

Unfortunately, as we know in times of disruption, and especially when travel is restricted, traditional face-to-face planning events can become seriously compromised.  Even in normal situations, the cost and fatigue created by traveling, not to mention the ecological impact, are additional good reasons to go digital. Given these and more, there is a vital need today for an effective, robust and efficient digital solution that supports remote collaboration as well as the various presentations, plans, and break-out sessions involved in PI planning.

SAFe® PI Planning: From Local to Remote Collaboration

In the spirit of the Agile Manifesto, SAFe® methodology stresses the necessity of face-to-face collaboration ideally in a shared physical space, to promote efficient, effective communication and PI planning. During the planning process, individuals are strongly encouraged to work in small teams, as well as “teams of teams” which at face value, can appear impossible to achieve when staff are not working in the same physical location.

This reminds me of concerns we heard from Lean Management thought leaders in 2012, when we first launched iObeya. At the time, experts in the field were strongly opposed to using digital solutions, as they believed that software and computers would disrupt the human factor and group practices of Lean Methodology. They couldn’t envision how whiteboards, stickers, markers and paper - much less stand-up meetings - could possibly translate successfully into a digital work environment. Similarly, SAFe® PI planning experts also doubted it possible to hold productive, remote, large-scale planning events while maintaining the important benefits of in-person interaction, and fully supporting SAFe® practices.

Today however, our Digital Visual Management (DVM) platform has been endorsed by a variety of Agile, Lean and SAFe® practitioners who initially were dubious about the potential of DVM, but have come to embrace it. They’ve seen that combined with the appropriate Audio/Video conferencing tools, iObeya’s platform allows remote teams to experience productive face-to-face meetings using digital whiteboard solutions that foster real-time collaboration. As such, we’ve seen wider acceptance across the industry with leaders who state that DVM not only works (especially for those companies who embrace remote work, and/or who employ a more widely distributed workforce), but that also it works to improve their Visual Management practices by unleashing collaborative potential minus the constraints of paper, across all layers of the organization.

Variety of Digital PI Planning boards such as planning packer, user story mapping, program board and more shown in iObeya’s visual collaboration tool.

In fact, as the iObeya platform has evolved over the last 8 years, we have successfully addressed the challenges of transcending the traditional “Obeya”. We’ve achieved this through developing a great user experience; one which improves on the limitations of paper, while maintaining the human / natural aspects of traditional Visual Management practice and keeping Lean methodology concepts firmly in place.

The iObeya / Scaled Agile / SAFe® Partnership: Beyond a Digital Whiteboard

It is not sufficient to simply provide a virtual whiteboard and expect it to effectively surpass an in-person, PI Planning experience. The right SAFe® PI software solution must be both flexible and structurally sound enough to support all the additional work that happens before, during and after a planning event (such as feature decomposition into stories, expressing dependencies, recording confidence votes, etc.). As a recognized SAFe® Platform Partner, we’ve been successfully accelerating the transformation of large and small organizations towards greater Business Agility.

Whether using SAFe® or other alternative methodologies for scaling Agile, we’ve built our visual management platform on the fundamentals of the “House of Lean”, and have increased its functionality by integrating it with Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) tools such as JIRA. iObeya has proven effective at facilitating large-scale distributed PI Planning events while supporting all necessary Agile/Lean development practices including: Program boards, Team Breakout boards, Kanban boards, Retrospectives, Story Mapping, Example Mapping, Value Stream Mapping, Lean Portfolio Canvas, SWOT, Design thinking, Product Discovery and much more!

Team conducting PI Planning with digital tools such as touch screen monitors and computers to optimize visual collaboration and SAFe® rituals.

It is time to take PI Planning Digital

The current global disruption we are experiencing has forced us to become more flexible, and that includes moving more aggressively towards digital, remote solutions. Going digital is no longer a “good to have” option - it has become a critical and mandatory act for those businesses intending to stay ahead of the competition in increasingly uncertain times.

iObeya has proven itself capable of supporting large-scale, PI Planning events as well as other SAFe®, Agile, and Lean every-day practices. As we’ve worked closely with clients to implement our platform, we’ve seen a variety of success stories as more and more organizations incorporate our DVM solution into their daily work. We’d be happy to share these stories with you.

If you want us to help you make the switch, our PI Planning experts at iObeya are here to answer your questions.

*SAFe® and Scaled Agile Framework® are registered trademarks of Scaled Agile, Inc.

Julien Revel 4 min read
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AgileVisual Collaboration