What is PI Planning and why do we need it?
- Here's a brief example. Sometimes, a stakeholder would come to us and insist on implementing their specific feature. As a full-cycle development agency, we consistently consider the product comprehensively rather than in isolated parts. We make it a point to clarify the hypotheses, understand the feature's impact on the product, ensure other stakeholders are informed, and so on. However, our queries often remained unanswered. We would proceed without sufficient clarity, only for other stakeholders to intervene later and revoke the decision. It resembled the moral of the tale "Swan, Pike and Crawfish." Clearly, a change in our approach was necessary.
How do PI planning meetings go?
- Both online and offline work have their pros and cons. In face-to-face meetings, there's room for elaborate setups and visually appealing presentations. These gatherings allow all employees, especially in smaller companies, to collectively prioritize tasks. However, organizing such meetings requires significant time and effort. Conducting PI planning online lets us stay flexible and conserve resources. Various online formats like Miro or Notion are available, but we find our task tracker to be effective enough.
This is how our board looks. You can see the planning structure and in this specific board, it's PI 12.0. Within it, there are the time boxes PI 12.1, PI 12.2, and so on.
When all stakeholders reach a consensus, we decide which timebox to assign to the task. Urgent tasks are placed into the nearest timebox, while less pressing ones are scheduled for later. However, it's essential that we complete these tasks specifically within this PI period, which, for us, spans one and a half months.
This is how we go through the entire backlog, and then we review the composition of the smaller timeboxes. They should not be overloaded or underloaded. We aim to balance them in terms of workload. This ensures that for the upcoming one and a half months, we have a clear understanding of our tasks, their deadlines, and their approximate size.
- The planning horizon varies for everyone and relies on factors like release management, task volume, and team capability. A 1.5-month PI works well for us, considering our client's limitations in planning for longer durations, though some may have a broader planning horizon. Given the client's numerous and substantial tasks, regular synchronization becomes imperative for our operations.
What to do if things don't go as planned
If a particular task needs to be completed in the current PI, the client may request someone from the team to focus on it. However, in most cases, we would just move another less critical and urgent task to the following timebox or PI.
Benefits of PI Planning
2. Teams at different levels should understand the ambitions and goals of the business. This divides responsibility among everyone, inspires, and motivates.
Imagine this scenario: top managers make all decisions on product development, then delegate specific tasks to departments. Team members lack clarity on why they're working on certain features, resulting in them executing tasks based on individual judgment. The manager notices that the implementation doesn't align with the overall concept, leading to conflicts and unnecessary discussions. PI planning prevents this issue by ensuring everyone understands the shared goals and mission, leading towards achieving a collective outcome.
3. PI planning allows for resource allocation: understanding what's available and what's lacking.
For instance, realizing there are more project tasks than available team members suggests it's time to recruit new specialists. Conversely, when noticing a task shortage and team members are idle, it's a signal to refill the backlog or tackle long-awaited tasks.
Who does PI planning suit?
And most importantly, all teams working on the product will equally understand business goals. This transforms, for instance, five separate teams into one larger entity because they all strive towards the same objective.
The team became concerned, asking questions like where did this task come from? Why was it necessary? And why are we in such a hurry? We refused to take it on without prior discussion with all stakeholders. Eventually, it turned out that the task was included in the timebox without preliminary analysis. Later on, it became clear that there was no need to do it at all.
PI planning is a way to turn an outsourcing team into a full-fledged in-house team. It helps us understand the overall context and prevent mistakes from occurring, just like an additional filter.
How PI planning helped us find common ground
- The integration has been beneficial as it lets us treat business tasks as our own. Stakeholders share their KPIs, discuss future plans, and seek our input on technical matters. Since we oversee the technical implementation of the product, having insights into the project's trajectory in the short or long term is vital. PI planning has significantly influenced our shared understanding and the caliber of our work.