PI plannings are an integral part of the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), even more so for big enterprises with teams distributed across multiple locations and time zones. In the business context, this means that the teams, alongside business owners and stakeholders, determine the scope of the project as well as its business value, discuss risks and dependencies, and plan out in detail their work for the next PI.
The client would hold PI planning events in London, bringing together sometimes up to two hundred people from all around Europe and spending the whole of two days planning, establishing cross-team relationships, and not to forget having fun. However, in the wake of the Coronavirus crisis and complete ban on travel, we were presented with a new challenge to overcome.
Up until a week before the PI planning, we didn’t know to what extent it would have to be transferred into online mode. At first, we thought that only the client would be connected, and all the teams would be in the office. We had already sent our boards to the print shop when the news about the quarantine hit us. We had to think fast to come up with a solution. And just like that, within one week we switched to complete online mode.
Sofiya Savka, Service Delivery Manager at Symphony Solutions:
A lot of effort went into the preparation of the online PI planning, which was a major factor in its success, allowing for smooth collaboration across all locations. It was a challenge in and of itself, as the remote teams had to be flexible and adapt to the situation with the news regarding the quarantine changing by the hour.
When talking about what exactly was done, first of all, there was a checklist compiled of all the things necessary for the PI planning event. There needed to be an online alternative to whatever would usually be readily available offline – boards and artefacts, rooms for team breakouts, teamwork and face-to-face communication. Then the teams decided on who would be responsible for moderating the meetings, how to organize all the calls.
Luckily, there were online tools available that could be easily integrated with apps which agile teams use for project management or communication. Some needed minor adjustments, to set them up for the online event. For instance, a separate channel of communication was created for each individual team, as well as chats for product owners and business analysts. There was a list of virtual “rooms” so that you could easily navigate between team chats and be kept in the picture. Then there was the agenda with all the major meetings scheduled ahead of time.
Jira is the number one tool for project management and team collaboration, widely used as a way to introduce scaled agile principles in project execution. Agile teams are already using it daily to manage epics and features, keep a program backlog, and track their stories and tasks in each sprint. It’s visual, intuitive and easy to use. In Jira, you can see the whole scope of the work that needs to be done, know what your teammates are working on and see all the dependencies and blockers right away. If used correctly, Jira allows you to organize your workload and always be exactly on track with your tasks.
Big Agile came into play as this is a tool that can be integrated with multiple Jira projects. It gives the complete picture on all levels, accumulating Jira projects from all the teams involved in PI planning and summarizing them into one program board. In real-time, teams can determine the PI objectives, plan for the upcoming sprints and manage dependencies across all teams. In the previous PI planning, Big Agile has already been considered as a tool to keep track of the results of the planning. However, with the need to transfer the PI planning event to online mode in its entirety, the teams ended up using the full functionality of the tool, which proved to be very effective and time-saving.
MS Teams is a platform for team communication in chats and video meetings, with a multitude of other useful features and integrations, which can pretty much be the starting point of your every working day. Having used it before as a hub for teamwork, now MS Teams is even more relevant to help keep the teams in touch and aware of the current processes within the team and across the company. It was only natural to use it for video calls and meetings in the PI planning as every Symphonian is already an active MS Teams user (or should be, for that matter). For this PI planning, individual MS Teams channels were created for each team, that were used for conducting team breakout sessions.
Voting Poker is a web application, introduced as a replacement for the confidence vote that usually takes place at the end of the PI planning and is aimed at determining how confident the teams are for the upcoming Program Increment and if the results are satisfactory, what concerns may be raised in regards to the successful implementation of the project plans.
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