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Alignment Over Planning

Updated: May 15, 2020

With the huge growth in popularity of the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) we're seeing a lot of people introduced to Program Increment (PI) Planning. We're also seeing bad habits creep in. Habits that don't align with our Agile values.

PI Planning is a very visible cost to the organization. Bringing a team of teams and their stakeholders together is not a decision taken lightly. As a consequence we are seeing a lot of pressure on the planning event to be wildly successful.

This pressure is felt most by those preparing for the planning. They spend many weeks ensuring the backlog is in great shape. The pull of the past is strong. Difficult conversations and work assignments start to occur outside the event and, in the blink of an eye, PI Planning morphs into a mere blessing of a plan developed by someone else.

In 5-10 years time we might look back at PI Planning as we view use-case modeling today. Seemed like a great idea once but we could never quite get it right for mainstream implementation. I hope it's not too late.

I used to advocate that planning is more important than the plan. I still think that’s a good mantra but now I’ve come to believe that more important than planning, is the alignment that is achieved from a well facilitated collaboration. I suggest we start replacing the word planning with the word alignment. Using the word alignment takes the emphasis away from the plan and places it on the key deliverable - ensuring everybody has a shared understanding about the way forward.

Try it on for size. Sprint planning would become sprint alignment. PI planning becomes PI alignment. But why not take it a step farther, and be more inclusive. Team alignment is much more inclusive than sprint alignment. After all, Kanban teams need alignment too. PI Planning is exclusively a SAFe term. Why not go back to our roots and bring back an old favorite and use the term release alignment to place the focus more squarely on the customer.

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