• Darren Faraway
  • Published: 31 May 2019

With the explosion of Agile and the realization of tangible business benefits, it’s a natural progression for organizations to want to build on this success, wanting more of the same but at a larger scale. This presents a very different set of challenges than the wildfire/beachhead scrum team.

Per the recently published ‘13th Annual State of Agile’ report, the most popular Agile framework to apply at scale is scaled Agile framework, or SAFe with 30 percent of the votes. Its core values are ‘alignment’, ‘built-in quality’ and ‘transparency’, but essentially for those growing Agile organizations, the fourth core value of ‘programme execution’ is the one that resonates.

A question I often get asked is “how do I really make SAFe work in an organization, especially in large financial ones historically steeped in traditional programme management?”. The answer is in one key element of SAFe, under that core value of programme execution.  It is known as programme increment planning (or PI planning), which bridges the gap between the perceived laissez faire short term, scrum-only approach, to the hardcore, ‘dyed in the wool’ stage gate world of traditional programme management. 

PI planning provides an extended view which iteration planning doesn’t - a view of the next four to six iterations instead of one. This is critical for a programme in an organization that is making a transition to an Agile mindset but is not there yet. But importantly this forward planning doesn’t lose the essence of being ‘Agile’.

SAFe state that ‘without PI planning you are not doing SAFe’ and they are spot on. This is why it really works. It provides a medium term, predictable view, which is paramount in any programme, especially those within the financial services which Capco operate. Without which, steering groups would have more questions than answers, programme directors and stakeholders would be fired sporadically and gray hair would be much more prevalent upon top level programme managements heads. So it’s just as well we have SAFe then to prevent all that unnecessary and misdirected carnage.

But there is also a secret sauce in PI planning and I’ll introduce it with a loose Shakespearean statement: Two (day) PI or not Two (day) PI?

As a release train engineer, or RTE, running PI planning sessions, we’ve tried the SAFe prescribed two days, we’ve tried just one day and we’ve used a compromise one and a half days, the secret sauce was missing from one of those experiments and it wasn’t during the paid hours where the difference was evident. The secret sauce is that time in-between the first day and the second day, and by extension, from our experience, the one-day PI planning doesn’t work.

When PI planning crosses two physical days you gain three distinct aspects which helps make PI planning a success:

  • The end of day one social drinks, when the conversation and creative minds relax, solutions present themselves, links are made that would otherwise not happen when you apply pressure to a creative process
  • When your superstars sleep their subconscious minds work away on their objectives, the blockers and ROAMed risks*, presenting more solutions and rumination, ready to air in the morning.
  • Your superstars return for day two, already in the moment, ready to pick up from the progress made the day before, there’s no delay (no answering a few more emails, taking a ‘quick’ meeting, call or staring at your mobile phones).

So, there you have it, SAFe works when you use PI planning but like any great recipe don’t forget the secret sauce!

Contact myself, Darren Faraway, to discuss your implementation of SAFe and your own secret sauce!

(* ROAMed risks are Resolved, Owned, Accepted, and Mitigated)
[Note: SAFe and scaled Agile framework are registered trademarks of Scaled Agile, Inc.]