What is PI Planning and its importance in SAFe®?

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Last updated on
17th Mar, 2021
19th Feb, 2021
What is PI Planning and its importance in SAFe®?

PI Planning or Program Increment Planning can be said to be the heartbeat of the Agile Release Train(ART). Even more precisely, it sets the tracks for the train to ensure that all rail cars(scrum teams that are a part of ART) travel in the same direction. It is similar to Iteration planning in crum. It is an extension of Iteration planning under a bigger umbrella i.e ART.  

PI Planning sessions are regularly scheduled activities held during the year where various teams within the same Agile Release Train (ART) collaborate to agree with a common vision, discuss functionality, prepare the roadmap and define cross-team dependencies. It's a fixed timebox for planning , designing, and validating a complete system, showing value, and having quick feedback.  

When you first follow SAFe, chances are, it will start with PI Planning. This is because it forms the basis for the Scaled Agile FrameworkTM. The PI Planning ceremony is the foundation of your transformation and the driver for SAFe. We will take a deep dive into PI planning in detail in this article and understand its importance in SAFe.

Program Increment Planning and its importance in SAFe®?

What is SAFe®?

Before understanding SAFe ,let’s first understand what Scrum is. Scrum is an iterative product creation approach focusing on a regular production cadence. It relies on cross-functional teams, a set of ceremonies, and certain specific supporting roles to help drive these deliveries.

SAFe is an extension of Scrum at the larger organizational level. SAFe or the Scaled Agile FrameworkTM is a set of principles and strategies designed to help deliver resilience to all departments and levels of the organization. The system is designed to enhance visibility, coordination and cooperation which will result in improved efficiency , better outcomes and faster delivery.

Scaled Agile Framework

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Introduction to Program Increment :

PI Planning is particularly useful for agile companies of large scale. Let 's look at some figures, to understand the effect. Some bigger companies , for example, may have 300-400 teams and 5,000 developers. These teams may never have spoken to each other before, in the old way of working until a crucial issue forced them to collaborate.

Previously, coordination would have been at the level of the leadership team, and they would have had several levels of managers in between who would trickle down details, but the people on the teams would never speak to each other. There would always be a constant struggle to work on the biggest projects for money, budget, and opportunities.

Projects had a habit of overlapping - one team would release something which would then break something in the project of another team. PI Preparation is the first time that many of these very large businesses have joined their teams in a space or on the same call to speak to each other. They are given the opportunity to nut out those crucial talks about who is working on what. When you enter a code or a code repository, you need to know how it can affect another team. You may also need to do some work to allow another team to work first (and vice versa) on their feature.

An ART (agile release train) is a shared objective accomplished by the soul of the different teams that work together. In very large companies, there can be three trains working together, and that is the reason why the teams need to step back every eight to 12 weeks and make sure that they continue to work towards the overall vision and company goals.

Here’s what PI Planning enforces:

  • Communication
  • Visibility
  • Collaboration

As a result, teams can more easily get work done, deliver more updates in less time, and remain on budget.

  • Executing the PI /Agenda- It is very important to understand the steps involved in executing PI. Let's try to understand the same:

1) Preparation: It will cover the prerequisites for successful PI.

  • Organization preparation : PI meetings are supposed to be arranged well in advance, and it is important to call into account all the stakeholders and leaders involved in the program. Usually, large organizations arrange this as a quarterly meeting, which helps to talk about the end of the preceding quarter and to set all in order for the start of the next quarter.
  • Content preparation: For the launch the preparation on the aim and the vision has to be made well in advance. This should be drilled into the team from day one, which is done by the Company owners and the leaders of the projects who are in the best position to do so.  
  • Facility preparation: A spacious room that is twice the size of the amount of people should be prepared, where the employees are able to walk around and ask other employees questions.

2) Agenda:

Setting the agenda is very important and should be mapped out at the outset. Motivational speakers should be called in, who can take time to remember the successes of the last PI. Always provide some time for introductions through ice breaking games. It is important that the teams get to know each other, so that they can work well together. All these can be helpful in work teambuilding and bringing a social aspect to the case.

Here is an example of an agenda from ScaledAgileFramework.com. It outlines the critical steps for a successful case.

Day One

  • Business Background – The background of the business is  provided by a senior management member or a company owner who offers insights on business performance and on how they are able to keep up with market demands and customer needs.
  • Product / Solutions Strategy- The Project management will outline the company vision for the next PI. The salient features that will help achieve these targets will be defined by the company management.
  • Architecture Vision & Development Practices – Next, the Systems Architect or IT department will talk about the systems and architectural vision for infrastructure upgrades that will help increase market time and will affect growth during the upcoming PI. Process changes associated with Agile that would improve speed and communication will be discussed.
  • Preparation Background & Lunch – After this, it is the turn of the Release Train Engineer (RTE) to explain the planning process for PI and what the teams and the general meeting are required to do. The planned results for the meeting will be discussed, and any questions from the Team will be addressed.
  • Team breakouts- Teams will meet around the boards (analogue or digital) to measure their pace for each iteration and look at their backlogs and what needs to be progressed to help the functionality outlined in the vision. They will apply their draft plans to review and provide input to all the teams. They'll need to recognize and mitigate possible threats and addictions.
  • Draft Plan Review- During this time-boxed meeting, teams will deliver their draft plans and receive input from product owners, company owners,  stakeholders and other teams. They may use the feedback to fine-tune their drafts before consulting the management. They will also discuss possible issues to be addressed by the management.
  • Review by Management and Problem Solving- Draft plans would also raise problems with design, scale, and people and resource constraints. Only the management renegotiation and future features may often solve these problems. The RTE (Release Train Engineer) organizes this meeting and stakeholders and business owners must come out of the meeting with a new set of goals or features for the teams

Day 2 Agenda

  • Program Adjustments- At the start of the day,  changes or decisions taken at the problem-solving meeting by management and stakeholders will be considered. Teams are apprised of these changes and decisions and priorities may be revisited. These adjustments will be put on the board of the company so that all departments can take a look and reorganize themselves.
  • Breakouts- During breakouts, teams take the changes back to their discussion meeting and come back to the program board with their PI targets. Company owners may assign values to each of the goals and rate them for execution. At this stage, teams will get a clearer sense of their targets in the context of the iterations ahead.
  • Final Plan Review and Lunch- Finally, each team will carry their plans to the front and present them. Threats and dependencies will be listed out at the finish of the presentation. While this is not the time to try and fix those problems, the various plans are posted to allow the teams to review and get inputs from others.

Program Risks-All teams listed their risks and dependencies in the preceding phase. Now that all the goals are written, the teams will tackle each risk in turn and decide whether they can be resolved. The risks fall into one of below categories:

  1. Resolved- The teams conclude after discussion that the topic is no longer a problem.  
  2. Owned – Someone on the train takes ownership of the item to work on a later resolution of the issue.  
  3. Accepted – Certain threats are simply facts or future issues that need to be acknowledged and embraced.  
  4. Mitigated- Teams will strategize together to mitigate a risk item's effects. The solution or fix is implemented.
  • Trust Vote – Once all the challenges and targets are discussed and addressed, the teams can vote on their conviction that the target can be achieved in the coming PI. The Trust vote is a quintessential vote, when team members can hold up one to five fingers in a show of hands. Anything that is less than a three-finger ballot should be re-looked at. The team member who has an issue with that particular goal would need to give more clarity, so that the teams can fix it. Once the issue has been resolved, the target of achieving a vote of confidence for the coming PI is again put to vote.
  • Retrospective – The RTE will have a brief retrospective on the PI Planning case at the very end of the meeting to collect input about what was going well for the case, and what needs to be modified or enhanced for the next event.
Day 1
8:00am - 9:00amBusiness context
9:00am - 10:30amProduct/solution vision
10:30am - 11:30amArchitecture vision & development practice
11:30am - 1:00pmPlanning context & lunch
1:00pm - 4:00pm Team breakouts
4:00pm - 5:00pmDraft plan review
5:00pm - 6:00pmManagement review & problem solving
Day 2
8:00am - 9:00amPlanning adjustment
9:00am - 11:00amTeam breakouts
11:00am - 1:00pmFinal plan review & lunch
1:00pm - 2:00pmProgram risks
2:00pm -2:15pmConfidence vote
2:15pm - X:XXPMPlan rework (if needed)
When readyPlanning retrospective & moving forword

This plan may be ideal for you or you can change it according to the needs of your team. Distributed teams, very large ARTs, and other factors can require the schedule to be modified in a creative way. You will find some sessions require more time, while others may need to be shortened. If it's your first PI Planning experience, try the regular agenda, get input from your team and play with different formats.

PI Output- The output which comes out from PI planning is as follows :

  • Smart goals are set by each participating team.
  • The program manager updates the program board based on PI output.
  •  The feature list is accepted by each participating team.
  • The new release date for features is aligned between teams.
  • Dependencies of roles (between teams and other ARTs) are set.
  • Milestones are noted down.

Planning for PI offers many business advantages including:  

  • Setting up face-to - face contact with the stakeholders and all team members – It is critical to keep everybody focused on the event.  
  • Establishing the social network depends on the ART – The purpose of icebreakers and team-building games is to help instill trust and collaboration even for remote team members.
  • Matching progress on business goals with the business background, vision, and priorities of the Team and Program PI – Everyone comes together so that they feel like a part of the process and are able to grasp the vision of the organization.
  • Finding similarities and promoting cross-team and cross-ART communication – Many people who have been virtually in touch are now able to put a face to a name. When resolving concerns, dependencies and threats, it's important for everyone to feel comfortable reaching out for support and finding out how the teams can work together.
  • Quick decision making –No need to worry if they have received your text or wait for someone to get back to you when everyone is together. Rather than days or weeks, discussions and decisions take place in minutes or hours.

When is PI Planning held?

Many businesses think that the correct period of time for an increment is 8-12 weeks (which adds up to 4-6 x 2-week iterations).  

Some firms keep PI Planning quarterly, for example:  

  • Q1 PI: December  
  • Q2 PI: March  
  • Q3 PI: June  
  • Q4 PI: September  

But timing and duration depend on how long each phase of the program is planned to last. The positive thing about PI Organizing activities is that they happen regularly on a set timetable, so you can plan well in advance for them. That means there is plenty of notice from teams and business owners to ensure they can turn up for the case.

What is a pre-PI Planning event and when is it needed?

Since the two-day PI Preparation case obviously is just not enough, pre-planning events may be required. These exist for a very good purpose  -to make sure the ART is synchronized before PI Preparation is carried out within the wider Solution Train. It's all about synchronizing with the other ARTs to ensure that the answer moves in the right direction, along with the organization. What normally happens is that key people from the Solution Train, along with members from the ARTs and related suppliers get together. Here are some of the people you'll find at such an organizing event :  

  • Solution Train Engineer
  • Solution Management
  • Solution Architect/Engineering
  • Solution System Team
  • Release Train Engineers
  • Product Management
  • System Architects/Engineers
  • Customers

They'll look at the top Project Backlog, Project Goal, Vision, and Solution Roadmap capabilities. It's a lot like PI Preparation, but at a higher level, through the solution as a whole and not just the individual work. The event begins with each ART summing up its previous increment and achievements in order to set the context. A senior executive would then brief the attendees on the current situation before Project Management addresses the new vision of the project and any improvements from what had previously been discussed.

Remote Teams must be engaged and accountable

The Agile Manifesto says, "A face-to - face interaction is the most effective and efficient method of conveying information to and within a development team."  

Keeping the members of the remote team involved and focused on the planning tasks can be challenging indeed. A range of video conference services are available on the market that allow teams not only to carry out video conferencing with individual members, but also to interact with local teams with cameras. Everyone can see and communicate with one another in the same way as if they were all seated in a conference room together.  

Applications like Zoom / Web ex / Google Meet /Microsoft Team offer video conferencing facilities for teams and can be used for group sessions for PI preparation. Remote participants can be asked to keep their cameras on so they can be seen.


Within the grand scale of today's development environment, teams are often divided across geographies. Team members who are going to be on-the-spot can attend the PI meeting in person, but entire groups might not be ready to participate from the same location. Remote teams should be able to collaborate and give their feedback, in order for SAFe to develop.

In such cases, RTEs and company owners need to think outside the box as online technologies evolve. They must prepare to organize and train teams to use these technology resources for effective collaboration.  

The more frequently the teams use the tools, the simpler it'll be to use them for major events like PI Preparation and alternative iteration conferences and ceremonies. For answers to questions, often teams operating within the same building will profit from providing a remote source of knowledge and a common source of truth within the organization. It can also help to encourage team members to know their stakeholders and product managers, so that at the right time the right people can answer the right questions.

Teams who are able to meet this challenge will benefit from the largest pool of skills and expertise, and can get set to reap the highest chance of success in this fast-paced industry.


Ashish Kumar

Senior Technology Specialist

Ashish is working as a Senior Technology Specialist in leading financial bank has more than 13 years of experience in developing enterprise applications