What Is Program Increment (PI) Planning?

by Anna Khrupa on May 31, 2022

When you just start working with Agile frameworks, you might get confused about how you can combine planning each iteration separately and conducting planning for, say, three months. Let’s take a closer look at how it is possible, how you can benefit from it and how to do it. 

What does PI planning stand for?

According to the Scaled Agile program increment planning definition, it is the process that helps to align all teams taking part in product development to the same goal. 

PI Planning usually takes place once every three months and serves to sync the work of all teams and stakeholders. For example, if there’s a person who is responsible for budget allocation, it’s easier for them to plan it less often than every two weeks (or the length of your sprint). Still, each team will plan its iterations and make necessary changes and adjustments to the plan. 

What is the goal of the PI planning?

The main purpose of program increment planning is to ensure everybody is aware of the main purpose, the work is prioritized, and each team’s health isn’t a concern. 

The point is to ensure that the whole team has up-to-date information and sticks to the same general plan. Also, if there are any changes from the last planning, it’s a chance to update the data. 

What are the benefits of PI planning?

Another question that might arise in the team or among the stakeholders is why PI planning is important. To get a more clear answer, let’s explore the benefits of program increment planning. 

  1. You can think in advance. Sometimes trying to solve the task before you start doing it can bear new ideas and solutions. Also, it helps the team to think of all the tasks ahead and prevent blockers or other critical work issues. 
  2. You can raise innovative ideas. When you have some time to think over a task before starting to work on it, you can produce some innovative ideas, try new technologies, discuss them, and decide to take or not to take.  
  3. You give the whole team a chance to speak up. When you’re planning an increment delivery, the team might agree or disagree upon deadlines, technologies, or even the whole solutions. The planning meetings are the chance to discuss such issues, listen to all the points and come to a logical conclusion. 
  4. You win time for work. Without PI planning, the team will have to think of risks, solutions, technologies, and plans all the time through iteration, while PI planning can take all these actions and let the team work with interruptions for sprint planning only for half an hour per two weeks (or the length of sprint on your project).
  5. You can check the whole teams’ health. With the focus on each team member you can ensure the health of your team and its ability to move further. These activities can prevent human resources issues. 

As you can see, spending several days on planning program increments can bring you benefits for three months long. So now it’s time to look at how to do program increment (PI) planning.

Program increment planning steps 

Now that you understand that you need PI planning on your project, you have to define what steps to go through and what actions to take so that your planning turns productive and efficient. We’ve prepared a list of best practices that help you not only conduct the PI planning as it is, but also ensure its success. 

Prepare the agenda 

The first thing you need to do is to prepare a set of goals you want to achieve and actions you need to take. The point here is not only to create such a list, but also to ensure its following during the whole PI planning event. 

Don’t forget to include breaks to give the team a necessary rest from brainstorming and planning. Such an activity can be stressful for the team, that’s why you have to plan the breaks to take a cup of coffee, chat with colleagues or just relax. 

Ensure all the necessary information is included. You have to remind the participants about the business and technical goals. Pay attention to the form of information — it should be understandable and convenient for all stakeholders. 

Provide enough time 

You have to get ready to spend several days planning, without any rush and with all breaks. If you have your team in a hurry trying to solve several issues at a time, you might get no result. But the point of PI planning is not just to spend time planning, but to get a complete plan in the end. 

If you have to spend three days instead of two, better do it, and you’ll have the result and a healthy team ready to work on their goals. 

Prepare the tools 

Nowadays everyone knows that physical presence at the same place is not obligatory to conduct successful meetings. But still you have to prepare the tools that will allow you to work with full productivity. These can be Skype or Zoom to communicate with the team and some task tracking boards like Myro, Trello, or Jira. 

Sync the expectations 

There are many stakeholders in such a meeting: the team, the management, the product owners, and so on. All of them have some expectations, all of them can have issues during the planning process. Sync up to ensure that everything goes as it should be, all the tasks are on track. Also use breaks to sync about the team health, which is also very important for the project.

Don’t strive for perfection 

Your goal is not to prepare a full plan for each iteration several months ahead. That’s why you don’t have to stick to writing user stories or listing all the features you have to develop. Instead, focus on the goals you have to achieve, which, by the way, might require less effort than you suppose in the beginning. For example, you can achieve the goal without completing all the user stories assigned to it. Don’t forget you will still plan each iteration and adjust the scope of work on the go. 

Analyze the results 

After the PI planning and after the period is over, you might carry out another Scrum activity — the retrospective. Look at what went well and what didn’t, define action items for each point and take the corresponding actions during the next PI planning. 

Ensure no points are left without attention and you do all you can to make the work of the team as convenient and productive as possible. 

Final word 

Program increment planning is a beneficial Agile activity, which helps you organize the work of all your product teams for some time ahead. Still, you have to remember one of the Agile principles — to stay flexible. This will help you plan and align your actions while still being open to changes and mitigating all risks. 


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