What is Program Increment Planning (PI Planning)?

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Jan 31, 2024

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PI Planning Meaning

PI Planning full form is Program Increment Planning. PI Planning is one of the most important ceremonies of SAFe implementation. Program Increment (PI) Planning is the core of the Agile Release Train. In other words, precisely, it rests down the trails for the release train to ensure that all the releases are following the same path. i.e. all the releases follow one another incrementally to form an Agile Release train.

The PI Planning meeting is a two-day event in SAFe methodology where proper planning is done. The Participants of the PI Planning meeting are all the team members, the business clients or the stakeholders the managers if any and product owners. The PI Planning is done with everyone assembled at the same place to assess the program backlog and based on which prioritize the items for upcoming sprints. If everyone is not located at the same location then probably, everyone can get into either audio/ video call to conduct the Program Increment Planning. Basically, this planning is done to understand what the client expects in next couple of sprints and what all are the value adds to the customer. This meeting characteristically occurs once in every eight to 12 weeks.

Pi Planning

Benefits of PI planning 

PI Planning is done to help the developers and every team member to stay connected with the other team members, and stay updated about the processes once in 8 to 12 weeks. Therefore, it offers major benefits as listed below.

1. Increases the team communication 

It is mandatory to have a face-to-face PI planning in agile meeting every 8 to 12 weeks which will certainly pave way for team communication. When the entire team meets they will understand things better and can brainstorm challenges. Further, the client need and organization goal is also updated to all stakeholders providing clarity to all in the team 

2. Productivity improves 

Once there is clear communication then there will be clarity. Also, every individual will get the owner to complete their respective task. This ownership will aid in better productivity. Every productive team will reduce the cost and thus deliver results on time. 

3. Team and their respective goals are aligned together 

Now that they meet and talk it is easy to convey the goals of each team and understand the overall objective as well. Even when individual teams work on different goals the final aim to deliver the product to the customer. 

4. Decision-making process improves 

People feel empowered when they are called for meetings. Otherwise, they will restrict to their workstation and might stick to their work. When they take part in PI planning in agile meetings they will get to know the larger picture and hence will provide suggestions to improve the decision making. 

5. Demand to capacity is matched and extra WIP – work in progress is eliminated 

The business will be aware of the demand and supply and hence there is no need to work on extra things. This will remove the additional WIP and thus cost to the project. 

Overall, we can understand that PI planning enhances communication, provides clarity, and thus helps in strategizing the share vision to all the team members.  

The Agile Release Train (ART)  is the fundamental of multiple teams working together for the same vision. In case of multiple teams, it becomes difficult to set up a common goal for all the teams. So it becomes necessary that every 8 to 12 weeks, everyone get together to understand what client needs from each one of them and also to ensure that every team is working together to achieve that very same common vision or not. Before the Program Increment gets started, Program Increment Planning is done. Also, after every iteration, PI planning is done. So, Program Increment Planning becomes a very important event so as to bring all the teams to the same page after every Program Increment

Inputs and Outputs of PI Planning.

Following are the inputs to the PI Planning:

1.    Customer should be ready with what he needs from the Program. The context needs to be set and ready. Basically, the in-scope items, its priorities
2.    Product Owner or Client should be ready with Roadmap and goal.
3.    At least top 10 priority items should be identified.
4.    Whatever learnings come out of Inspect and Adapt Iteration, goes as inputs to the PI Planning session.

Following are the outputs of the Program Increment Planning.

Dedicated Program Increment purpose – A collections of SMART points that are formed by each team which add value to client’s business.
PI Planning board – The physical or digital Program Increment board which consists of new feature release plan, inter team dependencies for a feature and goals.

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Steps of PI Planning:

For any planning, there are certain points or steps to be followed to make the planning successful. Similarly, following are the steps for Program Increment Planning:

1.    Preparedness at Organization level:
Preparation must be done at the organization so that the client, managers, product Owners can attend the PI Planning especially when we know in advance of any upcoming PI Planning meetings. The correct roles need to be identified and assigned. Strategies need to be planned. In most of the Mid-level and large organization, this PI Planning is done every quarterly. Since we know the occurrence of the meeting well in advance then all the necessary preparations should be made so that maximum can attend and benefit out of it

2.    Preparedness in terms of Content or Context:
It is very necessary that the vision and context is set before the Program Increment Planning. Business stakeholders Product Owner or RTE should brief the team about the vision or goal for the upcoming Program Increment.

3.    Preparedness in terms of Facility:
Arrangements must be done in terms of logistics. Since multiple teams would be participating the Program Increment Planning event. Proper, video conference room should be booked so that teams located across locations can come over video/ audio call and attend the Program Planning. The Program Planning tools be it in terms of logistics or digitally should be arranged accordingly.

4.    Standard Schedule:
The Program Increment Planning has 2 days agenda which is common across all the PI Planning meetings.

Day 1 Schedule:

Business point of view
– In this, the top level management, Clients, Stakeholders or Product Owners share their achievements, what are their thoughts on the ongoing program, what needs to be done further, what all things that they are envisioning with upcoming Program Sprints. What are their plans to keep up in the market and to satisfy the end users etc.

Product/Solutions goals – Product Leadership will put forward the goal and business mission for forthcoming PI. Usually, the management foresees what they wish to release in the Release Train. At least the top 10 priority features as planned by client for business users or stake holders will help achieve their goals.

Technical/ Developmental goals and Plans
– The solution Architects or Technical Leads will walk through the architecture that they have come up with for the upcoming Program Increment. They also suggest the changes or modifications to the existing architecture or infrastructure to overcome the shortcomings of previous release that will help cut down the time to market. Either Release Train Engineer or Agile Coach may suggest any changes in terms of Agile processes which will help improve velocity.

Planning Context & Lunch – The Release Train Engineer (RTE) sets up the context for the Program Increment Planning. He describes as in what is PI Planning, how it works and sets up the expectation to the teams. The RTE also explains what is the outcome that is expected from this meeting and ensures that the team members are clear with the processes, context, vision and goals.

Team Breakouts – Here, Teams along with Scrum Masters come together to estimate the Program backlog based on priority and determine rough velocity for each iteration. After estimation, they submit this rough draft for the review and feedback from leadership. During this time, risks and interdependencies are identified on other teams and other Agile Release Trains if any. Communication is key here.

Review of Rough Plot – This is a Fixed time length meeting. In this meeting the rough estimate plan shared by the team is been reviewed by the business owners, product owners, stakeholders and other teams can give feedback. Based on the feedback received, Teams rework on their drafts and improve it. Once that is done, it is sent for the Management review.

Management Review and Problem Solving – This meeting is conducted by the Release Train Engineer or RTE. It is generally observed that the rough draft does have issues and challenges be it technical, scope, resources or people related. Sometimes, for all such issues, Management Review has a solution through negotiations on Scope and features and making necessary adjustments to the planning. The stakeholders and business owner are expected to set priorities on the backlog items which will help team to plan the work accordingly.

Day 2 Schedule:

Program Adjustments – This meeting is the outcome of the Management Review meeting. In this meeting, the alterations or conclusions that were made by management and shareholders in the problem-solving meeting are discussed and shared. These changes are then displayed on the program board, so that it is noted and made available to all the teams and can plan accordingly.

Team Breakouts – Based on the modifications in the scope that is declared by the product owner or shareholders, the team takes into account, these changes and re-plan and bring in the PI objectives for the program board. Business owners assigns values to each of the aims or goals to prioritize them for execution.

Final Plan Review and Lunch – During this meeting, each team comes up with their strategies and plots. At the end of the demonstration, the they list out the risks and inter dependencies. These risks and inter dependencies are then reviewed by the client and feedback is provided by the client.

Program Risks – In the preceding step, all the teams came up with their risks and dependencies and all the objectives are updated on the Program board. Now the teams can talk about each risk in turn and decide if they can overcome those risks. The issues are categorized as one of these: Resolved, Owned, Accepted, Mitigated.

Confidence Vote – Once all the jeopardies and objectives have been sketched and conversed, the teams vote based on their confidence to determine if the objective can be achieved in the upcoming Program Increment. This is done by five-finger vote. The team members hold up their hands ranging from one to five fingers. Anything less than a three-finger vote means it needs to be addressed and re-planned. The team member who has a concern with any objective is given a chance to discuss about it. By doing this, it can be addressed by the teams. If the problem is resolved, the objective is once again voted to gain a confidence vote for the future Program Increment.

Retrospective – Once everything is done, the last thing left to do for a RTE i.e. Release Train Engineer is to conduct a Retrospective Meeting of the Program Increment Planning session, the very same way as it is done for the Program Scrum or at the end of sprint. The feedback is then collected and improvements if any is taken up for the next Program Increment Planning session.

Remote Challenges of PI Planning:

One of the major challenges is cross-located teams. Though, Agile principle says, face-to-face communication, it becomes practically impossible to have face-to-face communication. If bringing everyone on the same page is the first challenge, then keeping all the remote teams interactive and focused is another big challenge. Though video conferencing can help make it possible to connect, still it remains a challenge.

PI Planning Vs Sprint Planning

Sprint planning is a part of a Scrum framework whereas PI Planning is a part of the SAFe framework. You can consider Sprint Planning as a subset of PI Planning. Sprint Planning is done for the single Sprint whereas PI planning is done for four sprints together to get a vision of business value. Sprint planning is done once in either 2, 3 or 4 weeks at the beginning of the Sprint depending upon the sprint length. PI planning is done once in 8 to 12 weeks for four sprints together. Sprint Planning is done within a single scrum team whereas PI Planning is done across all the teams.

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Also Read: SAFe PI Planning


In the outstanding organizational structure of today’s development arena, teams are spread across the locations globally. Most of the companies are following the onsite-offshore model. All the teams work together for a same and common program and hence we must think beyond scrum framework. For this type of structure, SAFe methodology is the need of an hour. Since you are following SAFe, you will have to conduct the PI Planning which is part of the SAFe methodology which will help bring all the teams together. SAFe is nowadays in lot of demand due to its various benefits. In order to conduct or implement SAFe correctly, it is utmost necessary to have a complete knowledge of SAFe. For this, there are certifications available. SAFe Agilist Certification is one such popular. This will help you get through knowledge of SAFe methodology, its processes, role of Release Train Engineer, Scrum Team, business owner, Agile Release Train and implementations.  SO what are you waiting for, go and get yourself certified.

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