Until the beginning of 2020, if we had been asked about running a programme increment (PI) planning session virtually, we would have seriously advised against it.
PI planning was the one event it was felt the entire programme or portfolio needed to attend in person, to get the most out of it. Getting the whole team face to face meant the team could network, socialise and build a plan they could commit to. Having everyone in the same place meant they all had to input to the plan and objectives.
But as of 26th March 2020, a third of the world is under lockdown and settled into working from home – we now need to come up with new ways of delivering ‘business as usual’ activities.
As everyone was required to work remotely via video conference we decided to host the PI planning virtually and have different ‘virtual rooms’ for the breakouts. Initially the session was planned as if it was to be hosted as normal but as the lockdown came into place we started to plan for a virtual session.
Turning to virtual PI
As certified SAFe Programme Consultants (SPCs), we have delivered multiple SAFe and agile transformations, and we have frequently run and facilitated PI planning for our clients.
PI planning is a key part of an agile transformation and requires significant preparation, and co-ordination. One of our clients was due to start their SAFe transformation and to ensure there was no unnecessary delay wanted to try running a virtual PI planning session.
Having a session with over 80 people, all in different locations, was going to be a challenge. The social aspect of PI would be missed – but from that experience we discovered a number of unexpected benefits:
The team was much better prepared for the virtual PI planning session than normal, possibly because it was felt that less could be left to chance. This led to the session running much more smoothly that it often does when run face to face.
The level of focus was much higher as everyone was in their own location and was not distracted by others in the room or peripheral conversations.
With everyone dialling in from home and in separate locations it meant everyone had an equal voice. When you have distributed sessions with teams co-located in the same venues the rooms with the greatest number of people have the loudest voice.
We used the PIplanning.io tool for the team board that shows all the updates in live time and multiple people are able to edit. This resulted in everyone being very familiar with what the team was committing to delivering.
When done in person post-its are normally used, which are amateur by comparison –they can fall off the board and the content can be illegible and difficult to understand afterwards. Environmental As everyone stayed at home teams were not travelling across the world or commuting. It had the additional benefit of people being well rested, in a comfortable environment without jetlag or a disturbed schedule from travelling.
The teams collaborated better as all conversations happened in the virtual room with the whole group and there was no opportunity for conversation to take place between individual or part of the team in other locations. This led to much more focused discussions and better outcomes.
Running the sessions virtually gave the leadership a great platform to join all aspects of the PI planning and for the team to get 100% of their attention on specific aspects. This meant decision concerns were discussed more quickly and decisions made faster.
A huge success
Considering this was the first PI planning session hosted by this organisation it was a huge success and there was a high degree of confidence in the overall programme plan for the PI.
Key benefits included:
- 92 Online participants
- 20+ Features planned for delivery
- 89% “High confidence” vote on the plan
Theo Angelidis, Client Advisory Partner, NTT DATA UK
Ravi Purushothaman, Associate Director - Delivery & Transformation, NTT DATA UK
Henrietta Marsh-Smith, Practice Lead, Enterprise Agility & Head of CSR at NTT DATA UK