PI Planning Preparation — Get Ready For The Planning Exercise!

PI Planning the nightmare on the Safe Street for each new RTE, not to mention the teams.

Maria Chec


What is PI planning?

Program Increment (PI) Planning in SAFe is a two-day event aligning multiple teams on the next features to do. In theory, it’s aligning the teams towards a common goal but we all know that usually it boils down to aligning the teams on the next features to implement.

Usually, it is done on a quarterly cadence, so we could easily call it quarterly planning but why simplify things if we can complicate them, right?

PI Planning Preparation video on YouTube

The task at hand

I will explain the PI Planning preparation in practical steps before you faint trying to read the SAFe page explaining the PI Planning which has no summary, TLDR, or an index of any sort.

But let’s stop for a moment and get an overview of what it takes. I decided to make two videos/articles about it, so I don’t bore you to death in one.

We start with all the steps previous to actually starting the planning. You will see it’s no piece of cake.

We will go over the roles that SAFe names, the priorities, the team assignment, the designs and architecture needs, etc. — every step needed to facilitate the planning for the teams.

In the second video, I will share the agenda and how to conduct the planning in remote.

OK, so let’s start with the first one!

PI Planning Preparation cover photo

What problems does PI Planning solve?

The idea is that when you have multiple teams in a company, it is hard to make sure they know what to work on next, mitigate all the dependencies they have, and leave room for any requests coming from outside of the given team.

…And of course, help the managers control what the teams work on and hold them accountable for any delays.

PI planning was thought to help with that. The idea comes from the big room planning. You put all the teams in the same place for two days and have them figure out the work for the next quarter and commit to it! So that later the management knows who to blame for any delays.

Is planning a quarter of work any Agile?

Is it agile, you might ask, to plan the whole quarter of work, sometimes to the detail of each user story in each Sprint of a quarter?

A waterfall

You know the answer already. And this video is not about deliberating how Agile Scaled Agile Framework really is. It is about how to do it when your company went SAFe and you were named an RTE and tasked with conducting the planning for all the teams in the company.

Show a timeline

Think that if you are afraid of it and you have the most visibility on it — since you are organizing it — how terrified the teams must be?

Your job is not only to plan it but also to make all the steps for teams known, so they know what to do. You can fight fear with knowledge.

But before we go there, there are some other steps to follow. When you finish one PI Planning, you start preparing the new one. A timeline to understand the PI Planning readiness would be a good idea.

PI Planning cycle timeline

Bird's eye view

Let’s look at it from a bird’s eye view: you are planning for a quarter, which means 6 sprints.

Program Increment in PI Planning equals a quarter of a year

The last sprint is called I&P — Innovation and Ppanning — it is when the teams in theory have time to do some hacking days, hence innovation, and do the planning.

In practice, though, they usually finish their commitments, descoped a few times already. And then we take roughly a week for the planning. Take your time at the start, it will be chaos, prepare for it mentally and just start doing it.

The easiest way is to plan activities according to Sprints.

You are doing your first PI planning then the big number is 1 and the first sprint 1.1. If you’d be doing PI Planning 9 it would be 9.1.

At first, it will be impossible but after 3 quarters you will be able to come up with a rough PI Planning preparation or readiness calendar.

PI Planning Prerequisites

1. Make The Priorities Clear

In order for the planning to go well the teams need to know what to plan.

You need to make sure the main stakeholders on the product side know what they want and that they are aligned with the architects, UXers, and others who need to provide some guidance for the teams.

We spoke about the teams' alignment to company goals. That would be optimal if the stakeholders defined the goals for the quarter. They can also define annual goals and then some more specific ones for the quarter. Any goal is great.

Yet, from my experience, that is rarely happening. Usually, the teams get a huge list of priorities in the form of features to implement. Has anyone said “feature factory” here now? I must have misheard. Let’s move on.

Feature Factory

You need to find a place where this priority list will lie — a Jira, a Product Board, whatever, just make sure there is alignment among the key company stakeholders about the organization of that backlog. Once you get it, that’s a huge win.

2. Identify the teams working on each priority

It is a good idea to have the Team Leads or Product Owners from each team look at the list and identify where they contribute. Those teams are rarely cross-functional, they are typically component teams so they know where their work is needed.

3. Work with Architects and UX Designers on the preparation of the designs

It is like working in a dual track, during the delivery of the current PI you need to start working on the next one. The product backlog needs to be prepared by the tech leads or Architects along with the UX Designers to define the main user journeys to be covered and increase the understanding of what is expected.

4. Go to the planning session

Only after the teams know which priorities they contribute to, we can start the PI Planning.

Walk through the structure and agenda of a typical PI Planning event.

Hope this short overview will help you with this big endeavor. It is an ongoing task, as when one PI Planning is over, the next one begins. ANd with a little bit of experience you can make it much more seamless for everyone involved. Good luck!



Maria Chec

Agile Coach and Content Creator at Agile State of Mind and Head of Agile Practice in Fyllo