Remote PI Planning – Insights into what worked and what didn’t

Running remote PI planning for the first time 100% virtual was a bit daunting a few weeks ago when the reality set in that with the current crisis, this was now our reality. We prepared, thought through worse case scenarios and had back up plans and felt eerily calm as the day began. Whilst we have done distributed PI Planning before with half the team in different geographically located offices, this was the first time we had all 200+ teams members and stakeholders, joining in remotely from home.

With the change to a virtual event the challenge that the remote agile teams would face was that it would be harder to connect with other dependency teams. If the teams have their own plan prepared and thought out, as well as where they have dependencies for delivery, it allows the planning day to just focus on having discussions, negotiating with others and confirming their plans. As one of the scrum masters commented – PI planning is not a time to write our PBIs it is to confirm our assumptions, resolve issues and discuss plans with business stakeholders to ensured we have a shared plan and objective.

Preparation was Key

Preparation to do this remotely started 4 weeks out. We did a remote planning guides for agile events and PI planning checklist, worked closely with product and delivery team to ensure we understood vision and priorities as these were evolving and changing daily, adjusted for remote ways of working and tested the technology well before the day.

Most of the agile teams had self selected their initial features 2 weeks ago from a prioritised product backlog so they had done a fair bit of refinement and breakdown of their features into PBIs and had an understanding of their capacity given changes and pivots in direction during this COVID crisis. They came well prepared to collaborate and resolve issues and gaps in their understanding of the features.

With teams arriving with their proposed plans the focus of the day was to align all the team plans. This is to ensure that the dependencies are committed to and every team is confident what objectives they can deliver within the PI planning timeframe.

Before the day, we ensured that participants were given an info pack with all the relevant information they would need for the day – product vision and roadmap, agenda, who was in each team and what features they were working on, who were the business people and SME for that feature and their contact details, what WebEx rooms to use, what back up to use if WebEx fell over, key dates for integration and chat rooms for coaching, scrum masters, product owners and dependency teams. This was the go to guide for the day.

What Worked Well

  • Had a central facilitator (RTE) for the event supported by agile coaches and a back up to take care of any technical issues on the day
  • Facilitator opened succinctly with house keeping and logistics and specifically took time to remind people of our Netiquette guidelines for remote meetings
  • Acknowledging that this was the first time that it was 100% remote for asked people for patience and provided a channel for people to raise questions and concerns through a chat room
  • Have one common room WebEx session running all day with a chat line to facilitators for communications and issues resolution  monitored throughout the day
  • Clear instructions on logistics – which WebEx rooms to go for next session based, when to come back to common room for group discussions like presentation of plans etc.
  • Each agile team had a WebEx room and business people and SMEs knew what discussion to join and when and back up contacts were in the info pack
  • Webex was able to handle the bandwidth with no significant issues all day – yeah. We actually had 5 programs of approximately 200+ people each doing simultaneous PI plannings across the organisation on the day so really was a big test for the tech.
  • Team robustness and preparation before the day even as feature proprieties changed and pivoted
  • Despite not being face to face, all team members participated and actively contributed to discussions and even had built in some social comments to their WebEx rooms to bond and share the experience
  • Team draft and final plan presentations shared via common room screen and focused on objectives and gave all a clear view of what features were forecast to be delivered and when as well as any issues and dependencies to be raised for manager review
  • Virtual Boards made it extremely interactive. teams used electronic whiteboards, one-note and Mural and MS teams to capture and develop their plan. We had Virtual boards for program planning such as  Risks and Issues ROAM Board, Kudos Board, Retrospective and Program Board that kept populating throughout the day which was a really healthy planning sign

What Didn’t Go Well

  • Only one team struggled to get started and adjust to this being 100% . For example they worried they didn’t have printed copies to refer to and write on as is their normal PI planning experience. This team is also 100% collocated so this was a big change for them. They did move on and it was important to allow them time to settle in
  • Geographically dispersed teams in different countries and timezones had a really early start – 6:00am compared to 9:00am for the host country
  • Intense day as agenda was was jam packed with very little down time between sessions on the agenda
  • First time doing a one day format  and tried to condense everything to fit everything into one day remote format over 9 hours (we normally have two day face to face PI planning)
  • Limited opportunity for business to deliver overall product vision at the opening due to agenda constraints (instead this was delivered in team sessions but would make room for this in the agenda next time)
  • Monitoring all the simultaneous chats and having multiple  WebEx session was also strenuous and people felt chat room and screen fatigue at the end of the day
  • Can only be dialled in to one WebEx session at a time even though multiple sessions can be open on your browser
  • Most people commented that they missed the face the face discussions but made the best of it remotely by doing video chats and staying connected all day

Conclusions

Overall the day was a big success as evidenced by a high confidence vote across the train and a consolidated plan with very few risks or issues that weren’t resolved on the day. Given the success of the remote PI planning, we asked ourselves at the managers meeting as to whether given we do have a lot of distributed teams as most teams are not collocated, whether the costs of bringing every one in to a central location for big room planning face to face was worthwhile?

Look, the day was very successful and largely due to a lot of intensive thinking and planning given the fully remote format change, however, when this crisis is over and teams start to go back to offices and are no longer working remotely, we still feel that benefits of having the PI planning face to face  is worth the cost. The collaboration and buzz of planning together  and getting together to understand other stakeholders and teams is invaluable.

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