Program Increment Planning

The Program Increment 'Big Room' planning event is the seminal, cadence-based synchronization point of SAFe Agile Release Trains (Programs).

PI planning is a routine, face-to-face event with a standardized agenda that includes presentation of business context and vision, followed by team planning breakouts wherein the teams create the plans for the upcoming Program Increment.

Planning is not an individual endeavor. The PI planning event includes ALL, I repeat, ALL the roles required to deliver the scope of the program increment. You can only imagine the benefits associated with having all those responsible and accountable for doing and making decisions in one-room to drive out a coherent, realistic, achievable and committed to plan. We typically accomplish in two days more than would ordinarily be achieved in two months. Energy levels are off the chart, it’s a forum specifically tailored to share ideas and solve problems, awareness by all grows in unison and transparency/alignment are key outcomes. Nope, I can't see a downside of this forum either...

This is Scaled Agile and what I like about that is that we’re pragmatic and real – not academic and theoretical. Therefore, in geographically distributed situations, the event may occur at multiple locations simultaneously, with constant communication between the locations. Similarly, in multi-program environments, Pre-PI Planning meetings are held to set the context and input objectives for the PI planning sessions to follow with Post-PI Planning sessions used to integrate the results.

Agile Planning Implementation

I touched on a few benefits above – alignment, transparency, idea sharing, jointly defined, estimated, planned and agreed-to work commitments etc. But we’re not done just yet. A few more of the main benefits include, but is not limited to:

Establishing high-bandwidth communication across all team members and stakeholders

  • Building the social network/relationships that success hinges upon

  • Aligning development/IT domains with business via business context, vision, program and team objectives and value based delivery plans that are plain for all to see

  • Identifying risks, dependencies and fostering cross-team and cross-initiative coordination

  • Providing the opportunity for “just the right amount” of architecture and user experience guidance

  • Matching demand and business value to capacity, eliminating excess WIP

  • Accelerating decision-making

  • Set the operating rhythm that enables SAFe governance, controls, metrics etc. to increase release predictability


PI planning is a major event that requires preparation, coordination, and communication. Event attendees, including Product Management, Agile Teams, System and Solution Architect/Engineering, the System Team, and other stakeholders must be notified and well prepared.

Preparation for a successful event is required in three major areas:

  • Organizational readiness – Strategic alignment and teams and trains setup

  • Content readiness – Management and development preparedness

  • Facility readiness – The actual space and logistics for the event

Outputs of a Successful Event

A successful event delivers three primary artifacts:

  1. A set of “SMART” objectives for each team, created by the team, with business value set by the business owners. This may include stretch objectives, which are goals built into the plan but not committed to by the team.

  2. A “program board,” which highlights the new features delivery dates, dependencies between teams and with other ARTs, and relevant milestones, as illustrated in Figure 4.

  3. A vote of confidence/commitment from the entire ART to these objectives

Post-Event Activities

Teams leave the event with a pre-populated backlog for the upcoming PI. This serves as fresh input into the normal Iteration Planning processes that follow.

After the meeting, the team PI objectives are synthesized into program PI objectives and used to communicate expectations to stakeholders and to track progress toward the goal. This usually happens after and not during the PI planning meeting. Given the PI plan, the roadmap is typically updated by product management. And finally, and most important, the program proceeds to execute the PI, tracking progress and adjusting as necessary to changes that occur as new knowledge emerges.

Want to experience PI Planning first hand. Ask us about one of our 2-day SAFe training courses.

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