An Ultimate Guide to SAFe Pre PI Planning

As organizations continue to adopt Agile methodologies, the importance of effective planning processes cannot be overstated.

One such planning process is the Program Increment (PI) Planning event, a critical element of the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe).

However, before diving into the heart of PI Planning, it’s essential to set the stage for success through thorough preparation. This is where Pre PI Planning comes into play.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the importance of Pre PI Planning and provide actionable insights to help you navigate this process.

We’ll discuss the benefits of effective preparation, the key steps involved, and best practices to ensure a smooth transition into your PI Planning event.

Understanding Pre PI Planning

Before diving into the specifics of Pre PI Planning, let’s first define the concept.

PI Planning is a periodic, cadence-based event in which Agile Release Train (ART) teams come together to align on a shared vision and create a plan for the upcoming Program Increment.

Typically, a PI consists of 4-6 iterations (or sprints) and lasts 8-12 weeks. Pre PI Planning is the preparation phase that precedes the main PI Planning event.

It involves gathering key information, setting objectives, and ensuring that all stakeholders are aligned and ready to participate effectively in the upcoming planning session.

What is the Purpose of Pre PI Planning?

The key objectives of Pre PI Planning include:

1. Establishing a Shared Vision

Pre PI Planning provides an opportunity for Agile Release Train (ART) leaders, Product Management, and System Architects to come together and create a shared understanding of the business and technical goals for the upcoming PI.

This shared vision helps to align the entire organization towards a common set of objectives.

2. Identifying Dependencies

By discussing the upcoming features and their potential impact on other teams, Pre PI Planning helps identify any critical dependencies that require cross-team coordination.

Early identification of dependencies allows teams to plan accordingly and avoid potential roadblocks during PI execution.

3. Preparing for PI Planning

The Pre PI Planning session serves as a preparatory step for the larger PI Planning event. It allows for the identification of risks, issues, and assumptions that need to be addressed during the main event.

Additionally, it helps in the creation of a draft Program Board, which is used as a starting point for the main PI Planning session.

4. Prioritizing Features

During Pre PI Planning, Product Management and System Architects work together to prioritize features based on their value, risk, and dependencies.

This prioritized list, known as the Program Backlog, helps guide the ART’s work during the upcoming PI.

5. Estimating Capacity

Pre PI Planning enables teams to estimate their capacity for the upcoming PI by considering factors such as team size, available resources, and historical velocity.

This information is crucial for making informed decisions about which features can be realistically completed within the PI timeframe.

When is Pre PI Planning Needed?

Pre PI Planning is essential when teams need preparation and alignment before PI planning.

If teams have new members, are unfamiliar with the PI planning process, or have dependencies to address, Pre PI Planning helps ensure everyone understands how to contribute to developing a meaningful plan.

It is also useful when teams have made significant progress in the current PI that must be reviewed to set future goals.

Discussing achievements and lessons learned will shape a vision for the next PI and focus PI planning conversations.

External commitments are another reason for Pre PI Planning. Evaluating stakeholder needs during Pre PI Planning allows teams to determine how to address those needs in their PI plan.

Teams can brainstorm ideas for the next PI to clarify priorities before planning and deliver a productive PI Planning event with concrete results.

Pre PI Planning Checklist

Before diving into your Pre PI Planning session, it’s essential to be well-prepared to maximize productivity and alignment. Here’s a quick checklist to ensure you’re ready:

  1. Define Objectives: Clearly outline your team’s goals and objectives for the upcoming PI.
  2. Review Backlog: Prioritize and refine your backlog items, ensuring they’re well-defined and estimated.
  3. Stakeholder Input: Gather feedback from key stakeholders to understand their expectations and priorities.
  4. Capacity Planning: Assess your team’s capacity to deliver work, taking vacations and holidays into account.
  5. Dependencies: Identify and document any dependencies between teams, systems, or resources.
  6. Communication: Establish a plan for how information will be shared during the session, including remote participants.

When Should Pre PI Planning Take Place?

The timing of Pre PI Planning typically depends on the organization’s PI cadence, which is usually set to a duration of 8-12 weeks.

Here’s an outline of when Pre PI Planning should take place in the context of the overall PI cycle:

1. Towards the End of the Current PI

As the current PI begins to wind down, it’s crucial to start preparing for the upcoming PI. This is when Pre PI Planning should be initiated.

The exact timing may vary depending on the organization’s specific needs and calendar, but it’s generally recommended to schedule Pre PI Planning around two to four weeks before the main PI Planning event.

2. Before PI Planning

Having Pre PI Planning before the main PI Planning event sets the stage for a productive and successful PI Planning session.

It aligns the Agile Release Train (ART) leaders, Product Management, and System Architects around a shared vision, identifying dependencies, and preparing a draft Program Board.

3. During the Inspect and Adapt (I&A) Workshop

In some organizations, Pre PI Planning activities may be integrated with the Inspect and Adapt (I&A) Workshop, which typically takes place at the end of each PI.

The I&A Workshop serves as an opportunity to review the accomplishments and challenges of the current PI and identify areas for improvement.

Integrating Pre PI Planning with the I&A Workshop can help to ensure that lessons learned from the current PI are carried forward into the planning of the next PI.

Key Steps in the Pre PI Planning Process

To set the stage for a successful PI Planning event, it’s crucial to follow a structured approach to Pre PI Planning.

Here are six key steps to guide your preparation:

1. Establish a Timeline

Begin by determining the dates for your PI Planning event and working backward to establish a timeline for the Pre PI Planning process to help ensure you have ample time to complete each step.

2. Identify Stakeholders

Next, identify the key stakeholders who need to be involved in the Pre PI Planning process.

This typically includes representatives from product management, architecture, and business stakeholders, as well as Agile Release Train (ART) leaders and Scrum Masters.

3. Define Objectives

Work with stakeholders to establish clear objectives for the upcoming PI.

These should be aligned with your organization’s strategic goals and priorities and should provide a clear focus for the PI Planning event.

4. Gather Inputs

Collect the necessary inputs to inform your planning process.

This may include items such as customer feedback, market research, architectural guidance, and any dependencies or constraints that may impact your teams’ ability to deliver.

5. Prioritize Features

With the necessary inputs in hand, work with stakeholders to prioritize the features and capabilities that will be included in the upcoming PI.

This should include a balance of new functionality, technical debt, and architectural improvements.

6. Communicate expectations

Finally, communicate the objectives, priorities, and expectations for the upcoming PI Planning event to all team members to ensure that everyone is aligned and prepared to contribute effectively during the planning process.

Benefits of Pre PI Planning

Taking the time to conduct thorough Pre PI Planning can yield significant benefits for your organization.

Here are four key advantages of investing in this preparatory phase:

1. Improved Alignment

Ensuring that all stakeholders understand the goals and objectives of the upcoming PI helps to foster alignment and collaboration across teams which can lead to better decision-making and a more cohesive final plan.

2. Improved Efficiency

By gathering essential information and addressing any potential roadblocks in advance, you can streamline the PI Planning process, reducing the likelihood of delays or disruptions.

3. Greater Confidence

Preparing for PI Planning allows teams to enter the event with a clear understanding of their objectives and the resources available to achieve them.

This can help to foster a sense of confidence and ownership among team members, which can lead to better overall performance.

4. Adaptability

Effective Pre PI Planning provides a strong foundation for teams to adapt and adjust as needed during the PI Planning event, enabling them to respond more effectively to new information or changes in priorities.

5. Reduced Risk

Early identification of dependencies, risks, and assumptions allows organizations to proactively address potential issues before they become critical, reducing the overall risk associated with PI execution.

Challenges of Pre PI Planning

Pre PI planning, while critical to the success of a PI Planning event, does come with its own set of challenges.

Some of the key challenges to be aware of include:

1. Lack of Clarity on Objectives

The objectives and key outcomes of the PI planning event must be clearly defined and communicated to all participants ahead of time.

Without a shared understanding of the goals, the event can easily get off track or become unfocused. It is important for leadership to spend adequate time aligning on the objectives and desired outcomes before the planning begins.

2. Inadequate Preparation

Pre PI Planning requires significant preparation to be effective. Teams must analyze metrics, review priorities, and come prepared to discuss key risks and dependencies.

Without proper preparation, discussions may be superficial or unproductive. Teams should allocate enough time in advance of the event to gather data, analyze results, and prepare proposals or discussion points.

3. Conflicting Priorities

With multiple teams involved, there are likely to be conflicting priorities or disagreements on direction.

If these conflicts are not resolved during the pre-planning, they can derail the actual PI planning event.

Leadership must facilitate alignment between teams and address any priority conflicts before bringing the larger group together.

4. Lack of Engagement

If teams are not truly engaged in the Pre PI Planning process, the quality of the preparation and outcome of the event will suffer.

Leadership must inspire teams and rally enthusiasm for the planning to ensure high-quality participation and engagement.

Lack of engagement during planning will translate to lack of engagement at the event itself.

Best Practices for Successful Pre PI Planning

To maximize the effectiveness of your Pre PI Planning efforts, consider incorporating the following best practices:

1. Involve the Right People

Ensure that all necessary stakeholders are involved in the Pre PI Planning process. This will help to foster alignment and ensure that all perspectives are considered during the planning process.

2. Leverage Data

Use data and insights from previous PIs to inform your planning efforts, identify trends, uncover opportunities for improvement, and make more informed decisions about priorities and resource allocation.

3. Foster Open Communication

Encourage open and transparent communication among stakeholders throughout the Pre PI Planning process to surface potential issues or concerns early on, enabling you to address them proactively and avoid surprises during the PI Planning event.

4. Break Down Silos

Work to break down any existing barriers or silos between teams and stakeholders to foster a more collaborative and cohesive planning process and ensure that all perspectives are considered.

5. Set Realistic Expectations

Be mindful of your teams’ capacity and any external constraints when setting objectives and priorities for the upcoming PI.

Setting realistic expectations can help to avoid overcommitment and ensure a more sustainable pace of work.

6. Continuously Improve

Treat the Pre PI Planning process as an opportunity for continuous improvement.

After each PI Planning event, gather feedback from participants and use this input to refine and optimize your Pre PI Planning efforts for future sessions.

Pre PI Planning vs PI Planning

While Pre PI Planning and PI Planning are critical for a successful Program Increment (PI) in the SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework), they actually serve different purposes and involve different levels of collaboration.

To have an understanding of the difference between Pre PI Planning and PI Planning, here’s a comparison:

1. Objective

The primary goal of Pre PI Planning is to set the stage for a successful PI Planning event. It focuses on creating a shared vision, identifying dependencies, estimating capacity, and prioritizing features for the upcoming PI.

On the other hand, the primary goal of PI Planning is to create a detailed, executable plan for the upcoming PI, including specific features to be developed, dependencies, and milestones. It focuses on cross-team collaboration and commitment to the plan.

2. Participants

Pre PI Planning typically involves Agile Release Train (ART) leaders, Product Management, and System Architects. It’s a smaller, focused group of key stakeholders who work together to align on the objectives and direction for the upcoming PI.

While PI Planning involves all members of the Agile Release Train (ART), including Scrum Masters, Product Owners, and development team members. It’s a large-scale, collaborative event that aims to align all teams on the plan for the upcoming PI.

2. Timing

Pre PI Planning is conducted before the main PI Planning event, usually towards the end of the current PI or during the Inspect and Adapt (I&A) Workshop.

While PI Planning takes place at the beginning of each PI after Pre PI Planning has been conducted. It usually lasts for two days, and the entire ART comes together to create a plan for the upcoming PI.


Pre PI Planning is a critical component of the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) and plays a vital role in setting the stage for successful PI Planning events.

By investing in thorough preparation, you can help to ensure alignment among stakeholders, streamline the planning process, and set your teams up for success in the upcoming Program Increment.

By dedicating the necessary time and attention to Pre PI Planning, you can lay the foundation for a more efficient, collaborative, and successful PI Planning event, ultimately driving better outcomes for your organization.

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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