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SAFe - The Power of PI Planning

When I first encountered SAFe last year I decided to explore more, and the more I got into it the more complex it became. It came across as extremely prescriptive and it seemed far from the simplicity that Agile was supposed to be. My views changed completely after my first PI (Program Increment) implementation and this is where I discovered the power of SAFe.

At a recent client engagement in China, the Temenos+Agility team was engaged for a two-week assignment to train and implement SAFe for one of their primary Value streams. The task was to train a 140 people to launch their first ART (Agile Release Train) and conduct their first Program Increment in the second week.

In the first week, the approach taken was to train the 100 developers on SAFe Scrum XP separately and the 40 senior managers and leadership team on Leading Safe. The training last 3 whole days for each group with day 3 providing practical hands on experience on the learnings from the trainings. Through the first three days our team faced an onslaught of challenging questions pertaining to roles, processes and intense debates on the need of SAFe. Most faces expressed skepticism and a lot of doubts with what seemed like a new process that was being forced down their throats.

Day 4 and 5 we ran the groups separately through a PI simulation where each team learnt the format of the planning session and understood their various responsibilities through the planning process. Various SAFe roles such as VSE (Value Stream Engineer), RTE (Release Train Engineers) were assigned during the simulation. While the teams were more engaged during the simulation and some of the walls broke down by now, the real magic occurred the following week in the actual PI planning.

The following week we conducted a 4 day PI planning which included a Pre-planning on day 1 and Post-planning on day 4. While during the simulation we had briefly brought both groups together, here on both groups were placed in one large room for the entire duration of Pre-post and PI planning. The pre-planning helped in alignment of the two different ARTs and set the expectations for the PI Planning.

At the beginning of the two day PI Planning the teams and leadership were at the very least familiar with each other and the social networking only grew as time passed. I you’re your attention to the magic I mentioned earlier. In the very first team breakouts itself teams were engrossed in their work, so much so that they even skipped tea breaks and some even lunch. People had opened up by now and had begun to take initiatives with team members reaching out to individual product managers and business owners for discussing insights into the development roadmap. The conversations gave clues to the synergy that was developing as I overheard one product manager mention “ It is eye opening to see the kind of challenges you face on the ground”, to one of the teams during their breakout sessions.

Many team members shared the sentiment that they felt more included in the bigger picture and got a better understanding of the larger vision. This inclusion in the big vision almost instantly resulted in great ideas emerging from the teams, I can only imagine this to be the beginning of several innovations to emerge in the days to come. Day two ended with the Confidence vote, which in itself is another blog altogether….


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