PI Planning Remote or...

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... how well personal communication and Big Room planning can work remotely. This task was already set by our customers at the beginning of April 2020.

Agile methods are based on direct communication, direct feedback and quick decisions. In particular, the so-called "PI Planning" as the most important element of the Scaled Agile Framework SAFe 5.0 is a personal Big Room event, where 50 to 200 people physically meet at one location. Then, within 2 days, a good plan for the next 3 months of a product development or project is developed and coordinated with the present management to minimize the otherwise usual surprises in everyday development. The organisation of such a meeting is a major task for the SAFe role "Release Train Engineer". 

But how do you organize such a meeting in Corona times with 50 to 200 participants, who are not in one place but each sitting individually in their own home office? This task is not trivial, as the challenge is not only technical but above all organizational, to hold a meeting virtually, which is based on direct communication and quick decisions at the table.

After we, as KEGON, had been dealing with this issue of distributed "PI planning" for some time, reality overtook us. Due to the fixed PI cycle, customers had to carry out PI planning with all employees in their home office as early as the beginning of April 2020, because SAFe does not provide for such an important date to be postponed. Of course our experienced SAFe consultants gladly accepted this challenge and accompanied some customers directly at these events.

And despite the scepticism of all participants "Can an event that lives from the personal atmosphere simply be 'virtualized'", all remote PI plannings accompanied by us worked very well.

Our top learnings were there:

- preparation! Preparation! Preparation!
Especially for remote events it is important that all roles and teams know exactly what they have to do and when and that all necessary information is digitalized in advance in good quality.

- Flawless technology
A live remote event with one hundred or more participants quickly pushes technology that was not designed for this purpose to its limits.
We have made very good experiences with the following tools:
- zoom.us - Audio/Video Conferences
- miro.com - Visualization of the various boards and the PI planning process 
- slack.com - Messenger for asynchronous communication
- mentimeter.com - to display short mood pictures/feedbacks
Often there are data protection concerns of large corporations against these "American tools", we can only say from practice: "The above mentioned tools simply work, which we have rarely seen in internal solutions lately...".

- More qualified moderators
More people are needed for the moderation than in real PI planning to get the information to the right places and to make the planning process run smoothly. While "normal PI-Plannings" are often supported by us with 2 consultants, we recommend to involve additional consultants in remote settings to the internal RTEs and Scrum Masters, depending on the number of participants also 4-5 additional consultants.

- Independent communication channels, but please not too many:
Due to the lack of direct face-to-face communication, much communication takes place asynchronously in private video calls or chats. Here it is important to determine in advance exactly which people work with which channels and what information is exchanged in each case.
This is important to ensure that no information is lost during PI planning or delivered to the wrong addressees who have no use for it.

- Discipline:
Due to the difficulty of direct communication, discipline is particularly important to ensure that the right people are present in the right channels of communication at the right time. In addition to adherence to punctuality, the generally applicable rules of good communication are all the more important in virtual meetings. Only one person should speak at a time while all other participants mute themselves to avoid disturbing background noise and additional, sometimes virtual hand signals should be used to make themselves noticed.
Unfortunately, all this requires some training and experience and does not always work smoothly from the beginning.

If you are interested in this topic of "Remote PI Plannings", please get in contact with us.