From July 24 to July 26, we paused operational work and moved away from the office. We did so to break the routine and boost our creativity, much needed for planning the upcoming six months. During that time, our focus was the strategy of the company and the direction we should take in working toward our goals and, ultimately, toward fulfilling that strategy. These days of planning also serve as a forum for updates on the most appropriate steps we should take toward our goals. This practice is our take on Program Increment (PI) planning which is part of the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe®).
PI Planning as part of SAFe
PI planning is fundamental to SAFe®. So much so that proper SAFe® cannot exist without PI planning. Each and every team member’s participation is crucial to discussing, working and, essentially, planning in teams.
PI planning depends on three type of readiness:
- Organizational readiness relates to the alignment of the whole team and identification of roles.
- Content readiness includes the shared clear vision that the company has.
- Facility readiness involves logistics and the physical preparation for such an event.
At the event itself, participants work following an agenda while keeping the input, i.e. the business context and the vision, in mind. The planning should then produce clear objectives and timelines as output. The benefits of such inclusive, focused planning include improving communication, fostering collaboration, developing the ability to match demand to capacity, and accelerating decision-making while also aligning development to the goals of the company.
ITCE’s Approach: Under the Stars
ITCE has already demonstrated we value the business benefits that SAFe® can bring to the company. One illustration of that is the presentation our CEO, Nina Prodanova-Iozeva, gave at PMDay Bulgaria 2018. She gave 3 examples of companies that implement company-level scaled agile including ITCE itself where we have developed our own approach to PI planning called Under the Stars.
Under the Stars is the three-day period that the whole team at ITCE spends in Borovets. The event is the result of a long preparation. Prior to the event we hold retrospective meetings, including both presentations of factual results, data, and numbers and self-reflection on past projects, practices and activities. Additionally, during the so-called Vision Days we ensure that the whole team is aligned on the vision for the next six months and the strategy of the company. In the language of SAFe®, that is our input.
At the event itself, we follow a pre-determined agenda which includes breakouts into various smaller teams we call circles. Each circle keeps the company vision in mind while determining their goals for the upcoming six months and decides the steps toward those goals, lead and lag measurements and how to visually represent the progress so that everybody in the circle and everyone else can understand the progress of each team and the company as a whole.
The output of the approach of ITCE to PI planning includes making sure the whole team is up-to-date with the goals of the company and works toward them regularly while making that progress visible on scoreboards.
As ITCE has been applying that practice since 2016, we have realized the many benefits PI planning has for the company:
- The event brings together, involves, and engages all team members who, in different circles, then embrace their work as they participate from the very first step: planning
- Those various circles encourage team members to volunteer to participate in different activities and by doing so, to build new skills outside their core responsibilities.
- This kind of multi-disciplinary involvement empowers people and enables the agility of the whole organization.
- In addition to being empowered and given freedom to plan, design, and execute, people can also work to their fullest potential.
- The team, in smaller circles, and as a whole commits to optimal WIP (work in progress).
It is safe to say that as a result of all of this, our team has never been as committed to and aligned with the organizational strategy as now. Additionally, in the past 3 years we have managed to introduce more vision increments and in an increasingly well-paced manner.