PI planning

What is PI planning?

Reading time: about 6 min


  • Agile and project planning

Pretend for a moment you’re in charge of planning and launching a massive music festival. You’ve got to coordinate food, logistics, hotel rooms, marketing efforts, parking, and dozens of high-profile celebrities. How would you go about making sure the event goes off without a hitch? Perfect planning.

Launching a software product isn’t much different. There is quite a bit of money riding on a successful launch, and there are many teams that must be managed and coordinated to make sure everything’s cohesive. That’s where PI planning really shines. Here are the details of PI planning so you get started with a successful software release. Or music festival: your choice.

PI planning meaning

It’s difficult to describe PI (program increment) planning without defining terms around it. Here’s what you need to know before we dive in.

Scaled Agile framework (SAFe): This is a type of organization used in Lean-Agile software development. These principles try to make large teams and organizations as nimble as their smaller counterparts, so they can deliver high-quality products at a fast pace.

Agile release train (ART): The ART is a group of several Agile teams that combine to develop and deliver specific solutions. The train usually contains between 50–125 people who all work together to develop and deploy specific solutions. 

Program increment (PI): A set of time for planning, building, testing, and getting feedback on a solution. This set of time is normally between four and eight weeks long. During this time period, the ART will complete the following four steps:

  1. Plan: This is where PI planning comes in.
  2. Do: Execute the PI plan.
  3. Check: Check the solution with a system demo.
  4. Adjust: Inspect and adapt.

PI planning is the first step in determining what will be completed during the program increment by the ART.

What are the essential elements of PI planning?

As with everything else in the Lean methodology, PI planning has a very specific set of criteria to guide ART through their PI. 

The essential elements of PI planning are:

1. Business context: Where the enterprise currently stands and how effective the business’s solutions are at meeting customer needs.

2. Product vision: A proposed solution.

3. Architecture vision and development practice: How the system architect sees the vision from an engineering perspective.

4. Draft plan review: Outfits that need to fit within the PI. This should include dependencies and risks as well as objectives and capacity.

5. Management review: The management team will need to meet to address challenges in the draft plan and may propose scope changes or other solutions to problems.

6. Final plan review: Teams present their portion of the PI plan to the entire group and the business owners sign off on plans.

7. Risks: Each team is responsible for identifying risks and blockers. Each risk is addressed.

8. Plan rework: Teams rework their plans to address risks and blockers, if necessary.

9. Moving forward: This should be a brief recap of the PI event itself to determine how to improve the next PI planning. Then, teams move forward with their objectives.

How often is PI planning held?

PI planning is a two-day event that contains 8-12 weeks of PI. At the end of the designated PI, another PI planning event will be held and the process repeats itself.

Who is involved in PI planning?

The great thing about PI planning is how collaborative it is. During the PI planning event, every single person on the ART is involved. There are typically between 5-10 Agile trains and everyone participates. In fact, participation is of paramount importance so that all viewpoints can be considered.

What does each team do?

Teams are responsible for defining their roles in the vision and presenting any blockers or issues that could prevent them for achieving their output. Teams also need to determine how much they can achieve during the PI and then present their draft plan to the entire ART.

What is the goal of the PI planning event?

The PI planning event should yield two specific things:

  • Agreed-upon PI objectives: Each team should present their individual objectives that contribute to the overall business value. There should be no confusion about what the goals are for each team.
  • Program board: A PI planning board breaks down deadlines, deliverables, and milestones that need to be met throughout the PI.
PI planning
PI planning board (Click on image to modify online)

What are the benefits of PI planning?

PI planning takes quite a bit of work and commitment, but it’s all worth it when you consider the benefits:

  • Increased communication: Collaborative magic is in full force during PI planning. Teams come together and are more comfortable with communicating with each other throughout the PI.
  • Making sure outputs enhance the business: Each team’s goal should enhance the business’s value. It’s a way of separating “nice to have” versus “important to have.”
  • Establishing dependencies: If one team is waiting on another team to complete a deliverable, that’s time wasted. PI planning ensures an order of operations to maximize each team’s workflow.
  • Working with practical capacity: Teams know what they’re capable of doing given their available work hours and limitations. During PI Planning, the ART can define feasible output based on capacity.
  • Gain consensus: It’s easier and faster to get all teams and stakeholders to agree when they’re in the same meeting. 

3 steps for PI planning 

Believe it or not, the most successful PI planning involves pre-planning. Here’s how to do it:

1. Pre-PI planning 

Before the PI planning event, you should consider the scope of the meeting, the teams that will need to attend, and the outcomes you wish to achieve. You’ll also need to consider things like which rooms to use, who will facilitate the meeting, and meeting timing. 

2. Create an agenda

You must keep to a strict agenda during the PI planning event, or it can quickly degrade into chaos. Consider an hour meeting for each essential element of PI planning and about six hours of breakout time for teams to meet together. You should also identify and meet with owners of specific sessions to make sure they understand what they’re expected to present during their time slot. For instance, the system architect will need to come prepared with an architecture vision. The agenda should be shared prior to the PI planning event.

3. Determine what will happen post-PI planning

You’ll need to establish the PI planning board and its components and inform attendees what else you expect after PI planning. Teams should know which backlog items they’ll be working on and have their team’s objectives and timeline. The easiest way to do this is to keep a cloud-based record of the meeting that can be accessed by everyone.

PI planning with Lucidspark

Remote and distributed teams can participate in PI planning with Lucidspark. Lucidspark allows for increased collaboration for remote workers and real-time, cloud-based meeting documentation. Each aspect of PI in project management is made easier with Lucidspark, from pre-planning to the actual PI planning event itself. Program boards can be created and presented in real time and teams can know exactly what their outcomes should be over the course of the PI.

PI planning template

Create a PI planning board to track deadlines, deliverables, and milestones.

Try it now

About Lucidspark

Lucidspark, a cloud-based virtual whiteboard, is a core component of Lucid Software's Visual Collaboration Suite. This cutting-edge digital canvas brings teams together to brainstorm, collaborate, and consolidate collective thinking into actionable next steps—all in real time. Lucid is proud to serve top businesses around the world, including customers such as Google, GE, and NBC Universal, and 99% of the Fortune 500. Lucid partners with industry leaders, including Google, Atlassian, and Microsoft. Since its founding, Lucid has received numerous awards for its products, business, and workplace culture. For more information, visit lucidspark.com.

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