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Time to Give Up On PI Planning?

Updated: Oct 5, 2023

I see many questioning the value of PI Planning. As you weigh up options: a) avoid repeating the mistakes of the past; b) understand the benefits beyond "doing SAFe".

Scaled Agile coined the term PI Planning but the practice predates SAFe. What are the benefits?

Aligning on Objectives

We need time to align on the journey ahead and what to expect. Regardless of how good an idea is, without giving people time to prepare, you invite failure. We used to see this with Scrum teams. The Product Owner would show up for Sprint Planning with new stories and expect a team commitment. The results were predictable.

Balancing Capacity with Demand

Setting expectations are healthy and natural. However, we know what happens when expectations exceed our capacity to deliver. Without input and consideration from those doing the work, we can’t set realistic expectations.

Reduce Value-Stream Delays

When we build large systems, the scale of the effort requires multiple teams. Collaborating teams need to ensure that dependencies are discussed and deliveries are synchronized to avoid lengthy value-stream delays.

Done well, PI Planning will help you realize the benefits above. Yet, many fail. What are some of the common culprits?

Not an Agile Release Train

Do you have many teams that need to collaborate or do you just have many teams? Forcing people to collaborate who have no interest in each other is a recipe for disaster. If your teams are loosely coupled, bring them together for sharing and visioning but they will not need the full PI Planning experience.

Value Stream Delays

PI Planning causes a bottleneck as features wait to be pulled. One cause is loading teams to full capacity with no room for emergent work. This lack of agility incurs a cost of delay. We must build slack into our plans so that we can respond to change. Alternatively we can move more towards continuous planning where features flow continuously through the system.

Emergent Work Dominates

With innovative work, learning is fast and the landscape constantly changing. Similarly with production support the work will be uncertain. If you can't predict the next quarter how can you do PI Planning? You can’t.

Failure to Collaborate

PI Planning is a time for alignment. Constructive conflict and learning are essential. Often, PI Planning becomes a mere stuffing of team backlogs. Little discussion is given to capacity or if we are doing the right thing. One root cause is over-preparation. The event becomes a mere blessing of a plan created previously. Another root cause is that many teams are pressured to say yes regardless of whether it makes sense or not.

If one of the first three scenarios apply you may not be a fit for PI Planning but you should find ways to come together and: a) agree on shared objectives; b) discuss how you can improve.

However, if your PI Planning is coercive not collaborative, then PI Planning is not the problem, PI Planning has uncovered the problem.


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