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Explore the Difference Between PI Planning and Sprint Planning

Planning is an essential part of any successful project, product, or initiative.

In Agile frameworks like Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) and Scrum, planning happens at multiple levels – from high-level portfolio planning down to sprint planning.

Two of the most important planning events are Product Increment (PI) planning and sprint planning.

While PI planning and sprint planning share some similarities in that they are collaborative meetings to determine upcoming work, they differ in their scope, objectives, and outcomes.

For organizations adopting Agile practices, it’s important to understand how these two planning events complement each other to orchestrate alignment and delivery across teams.

In this post, we’ll explore the differences between PI planning and sprint planning, and how they work together to enable incremental development.

Whether you’re new to SAFe or looking to improve your planning practices, this deep dive into PI planning vs sprint planning will provide clarity into these two foundational events.

What is PI Planning?

PI planning (Program Increment) is a cadence-based or iterative event in SAFe where multiple Agile teams come together to coordinate and plan program increments that span 8-12 weeks.

The key objective of PI planning is alignment – aligning teams to a shared mission and vision, aligning PI objectives to enterprise goals, and aligning individual team backlogs to program needs.

The PI planning event lasts 2-3 days and involves business stakeholders, architects, product managers, and Agile teams.

Teams engage in all kinds of interactive planning activities like brainstorming, modeling, and breakout discussions to determine how work will get done in the PI.

The objective is to build a shared understanding of program mission and priorities to align all teams for maximal impact.

PI planning sets the course for the next 8-12 weeks of development. The high-level plan and vision it establishes enables Agile teams to continue sprinting ahead at full velocity.

The outcomes of PI planning include:

  • A program board with a list of features and capabilities for the upcoming PI. This helps provide visibility into what all teams are working on and how it integrates into a releasable solution.
  • Program backlog items (PBIs) that feed into individual team backlogs. PBIs are high-level features that are deconstructed and developed by Agile teams in their sprints.
  • Identification of program risks and mitigation plans. PI planning brings together diverse perspectives to brainstorm various risks and determine collaborative solutions.
  • A system demo to showcase the current solution. This helps inform planning for the next PI and provides an integrated view of progress to stakeholders.

What is Sprint Planning?

Sprint planning refers to planning meetings that occur at the start of each sprint, typically every 1-2 weeks.

The objective of sprint planning is to determine and commit to the Product Backlog items that individual teams will work on in that sprint.

Teams select the top prioritized stories in their backlog and estimate how much work they can commit to based on their historical velocity.

Sprint planning typically lasts 2-4 hours for a 2-week sprint. The team, Product Owner, and Scrum Master participate in planning.

Discussions revolve around decomposing stories into tasks, identifying technical or UX assumptions, and optimizing workload for the team’s capacity.

The outcomes of sprint planning include:

  • A Sprint Backlog of selected stories to work on
  • Task lists for each story with owners and estimates
  • A forecast for the team’s capacity in that sprint
  • Revised story point estimates based on discovery during planning

PI Planning vs Sprint Planning

PI Planning vs Sprint Planning

PI planning and sprint planning are two key events in the Scaled Agile framework, but they serve different purposes.

Here are the main differences between PI planning and sprint planning:

  • Scope: PI planning focuses on planning a full Program Increment (8-12 weeks), while sprint planning plans a single iteration (usually 2 weeks).
    PI planning addresses strategic, high-level planning, while sprint planning focuses on tactical, granular planning of user stories and tasks.
  • Scale: PI planning involves the entire Agile Release Train, including all teams and key stakeholders. Sprint planning is done by a single Agile team and its Product Owner and Scrum Master.
  • Level of detail: PI planning deals with vision, features, and capabilities. Sprint planning focuses on user stories, tasks, hours, and implementation details.
    PI planning keeps the discussion at a high level, while sprint planning provides detailed planning for a two-week sprint.
  • Frequency: PI planning is done once per Program Increment, while sprint planning occurs at the start of each new sprint, typically every 1-2 weeks.
  • Estimation: PI planning relies on T-shirt sizing and relative estimating, while sprint planning uses story points, hours, or other absolute estimating techniques. Estimates in PI planning are more high-level.
  • Outputs: Key outputs of PI planning are high-level features and a program backlog. Key outputs of sprint planning are a Sprint Backlog, Sprint Goal, tasks, and capacity forecast.

In summary, PI planning takes a big-picture view, while sprint planning focuses on short-term execution.

Both types of planning are however essential for Agile teams to align on vision and execute work efficiently.

What Is the Ultimate Goal of the PI Planning Event

What Is the Ultimate Goal of the PI Planning Event?

The ultimate goal of PI planning is to align all teams across the Agile Release Train on a common vision and plan for the upcoming Program Increment.

PI planning aims to achieve the following key objectives:

  • Share the PI Vision: The leadership team presents the high-level vision for what needs to be achieved in the next 8-12 weeks. This helps all teams understand how their work fits into the bigger picture.
  • Build buy-in and cross-team collaboration: By getting all teams together in one room, PI planning fosters new connections and partnerships between teams. Teams can discover new ways of working together to achieve business and customer goals.
  • Identify dependencies: Teams gain a better understanding of dependencies between systems and products. They can then incorporate cross-team coordination and integration points into their plans.
  • Estimate, plan, and commit as a team: Rather than estimating as separate teams, Agile teams go through the estimating and planning process together in PI planning. This allows for better risk management, dependency tracking, and commitment to a realistic plan.
  • Gain insight into resourcing needs: PI planning provides visibility into the resource needs across teams for the upcoming PI. Teams and leadership can then work to ensure all needs are met before starting the PI.
  • Commit to a common plan: The end result of PI planning is alignment around PI Objectives, Key Results (OKRs), milestones, and features/capabilities to be delivered. All teams leave PI planning with a clear understanding of the PI plan and their commitments.
  • Build excitement and morale: PI planning energizes and motivates the entire Agile Release Train by bringing people together around a shared vision and purpose. Teams can celebrate small wins and feed off the enthusiasm of their colleagues.

Overall, the overarching goal of PI planning is to create alignment, clarity, commitment and energy across an Agile Release Train to drive value in the upcoming Program Increment.

It is a collaborative planning event that inspires people around a common mission.

What are the Benefits of PI Planning?

PI planning provides several important benefits for teams following the SAFe framework:

1. Shared vision and Alignment

PI planning enables the entire Agile Release Train to understand the vision, priorities and key objectives for the upcoming PI. Teams can then align their plans to achieve that shared vision.

2. Improved Collaboration

By bringing all teams together, PI planning fosters better cross-team collaboration and partnerships. Teams can uncover new ways of working together to build solutions for customers.

3. Earlier Identification of Risks and Dependencies

Teams gain insight into dependencies between systems and the work of other teams. They can incorporate risk management and coordination points into their PI plans.

4. Commitment to delivery

Teams make collective commitments on what they will deliver over the next PI. This commitment, along with cross-team visibility, leads to greater accountability for on-time delivery.

5. Resource Transparency

Leadership gains visibility into the resource demands for the upcoming PI across all teams. They can then make sure teams have the resources they need before starting the PI.

6. Morale Building

PI planning is an energizing event that brings people together around a shared purpose. By celebrating small wins together, teams can motivate each other and build excitement for the work ahead.

7. Continuous Improvement

Retrospecting at the end of each PI planning event allows teams to identify what went well and opportunities for improvement. They can then incorporate lessons learned into the next PI planning session.

8. Better Plans and Estimates

Teams do estimation and planning together in PI planning, which leads to better risk assessment, dependency management, and more accurate commitments. Plans also reflect a cross-team and customer-centric view.

9. Leadership Transparency

Leaders present the PI Vision and priorities directly to teams in PI planning. This gives teams transparency into the reasoning and context behind the vision, so they can plan accordingly.

What are the Challenges of PI Planning?

PI Planning, while hugely valuable, is not without its challenges. Here are some of the common hurdles teams face in PI Planning:

1. Lack of Preparation

If teams come into PI Planning unprepared, without a backlog of stories groomed and sized, and without a good sense of their capacity for the upcoming Program Increment, the sessions won’t be very effective.

The planning requires effort and preparation in order to work well.

2. Unrealistic Expectations

Some teams may set overly ambitious goals for what they can achieve in a PI. It’s important to ground the planning in data from past PIs and be realistic about how much work can actually get done.

Overpromising will only lead to disappointment and the perception that PI Planning failed.

3. Conflicting Priorities

Teams may face difficulties reconciling conflicting priorities from multiple stakeholders. PI Planning works best when the whole team and key stakeholders align around a shared set of top priorities for the PI.

This isn’t always easy to achieve.

4. Lack of Buy-in

For PI Planning to be successful, the entire team and key stakeholders must buy into the process. Without that shared buy-in and commitment to the larger goals, the planning can feel like an empty exercise.

Securing buy-in is a key part of change management for SAFe.

5. Difficult Conversations

PI Planning often requires teams to make difficult trade-off decisions and have challenging strategic conversations.

This can be uncomfortable, but with practice, teams can get better at productive debates and discussions.

6. Follow-through

The work doesn’t stop after the PI Planning event. Teams must follow through on the plans and commitments made during the sessions.

Without execution and follow-through, the planning itself provides little real value. Maintaining momentum after the planning events is key.

How PI Planning and Sprint Planning Complement Each Other

In the SAFe framework, PI Planning and sprint planning are two key events that complement each other well. Here’s how:

PI Planning focuses on the big picture. Teams lay out their vision and priorities for the next 3 months and determine what business initiatives they can deliver.

While sprint planning has a shorter horizon, focusing on the next 1-2 weeks. It’s a chance for teams to dive into the details and plan at a more granular level.

Cadence matches development flow. PI planning has a cadence of 8-12 weeks to match development flows.

Sprint planning occurs every 1-2 weeks to match typical Agile sprint cadences. This multi-level planning gives teams a strategic view and a tactical pulse.

Continuous improvement across events. Lessons learned at each sprint planning event can feed into the next PI planning event.

And priorities established at PI planning guide the work planned at each sprint planning session. In this way, teams can continuously improve across planning horizons.

PI planning and sprint planning are two complementary rituals that help keep teams aligned and moving in the right direction at multiple levels of granularity.

When done well together, they provide a powerful combination of strategy and execution.

Best Practices for Effective PI and Sprint Planning

To ensure success in both PI planning and sprint planning, consider the following best practices:

  • Preparation: Encourage teams to prepare for planning events by refining their backlogs, reviewing dependencies, and discussing potential risks.
  • Collaboration: Foster a collaborative environment during planning events by encouraging open communication, active listening, and respectful debate.
  • Focus on Outcomes: Keep the focus on desired outcomes rather than specific tasks or activities, which can help teams maintain a results-oriented mindset.
  • Adjust as Needed: Be prepared to adjust plans as new information emerges or circumstances change, ensuring that planning remains flexible and adaptive.
  • Continuous Improvement: After each planning event, conduct a retrospective to identify areas for improvement and implement changes as needed.

Conclusion

In summary, PI planning defines what needs to get done at the program level while sprint planning determines how it will get done at the team level.

Both play integral roles in delivering software solutions incrementally and aligning work across the enterprise.

By understanding the differences between PI planning and sprint planning, and implementing the best practices outlined in this guide, you can help your organization navigate the complexities of large-scale software development projects and maximize the benefits of Agile methodologies.

FAQs

Is there PI planning in Scrum?

No, PI (Program Increment) planning is not part of Scrum. PI planning is a concept from the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), an approach for scaling Agile practices across large organizations.

Scrum, on the other hand, is a framework for Agile project management that focuses on small, cross-functional teams working iteratively on projects.

Do Kanban teams Participate in PI Planning?

No, Kanban teams typically do not participate in PI Planning as it is a specific event used in the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe). Kanban is a separate Agile methodology that focuses on visualizing work, limiting work in progress, and continuously improving workflow efficiency.

How many sprints are in PI SAFe?

In the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), a Program Increment (PI) typically consists of 4 to 6 sprints or iterations.

How long is a PI Sprint?

A PI (Program Increment) Sprint typically lasts 2 weeks.

David Usifo (PSM, MBCS, PMP®)
David Usifo (PSM, MBCS, PMP®)

David Usifo is a certified project manager professional, professional Scrum Master, and a BCS certified Business Analyst with a background in product development and database management.

He enjoys using his knowledge and skills to share with aspiring and experienced project managers and product developers the core concept of value-creation through adaptive solutions.

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