Charting Your Course ─ 8 Program Increment Planning Essentials for Agile Teams

For agile teams, successful Program Increment (PI) planning lays the groundwork for achieving strategic objectives and delivering value to stakeholders. PI planning is a critical milestone where teams come together to align on goals, prioritize work, and coordinate efforts for the upcoming iteration.

In this article, we’ll explore eight essential elements of PI planning that are crucial for agile teams to chart their course toward success. From setting clear objectives to conducting effective planning meetings, each element plays a vital role in ensuring that teams are focused, aligned, and empowered to deliver value consistently.

1. Establishing Clear Objectives

Before diving into the planning process, agile teams need to define their upcoming Program Increment (PI)’s purpose and goals.

This planning involves identifying key deliverables, milestones, and outcomes that the team aims to achieve during the PI period. When teams set clear objectives, they can provide a clear direction for their work, align efforts toward common goals, and ensure that everyone understands the overarching purpose of the PI.

Tools like Jira PPM can facilitate objective setting and tracking, enabling teams to monitor progress and stay focused on achieving their goals throughout the planning process and beyond.

2. Aligning Stakeholders and Teams


Engaging key stakeholders early in the planning process ensures that their input and feedback are incorporated into the planning decisions, fostering buy-in and alignment with organizational objectives.

Effective communication and collaboration among cross-functional teams are essential for ensuring that everyone understands their roles and responsibilities and works towards common goals. During this process, it’s important to facilitate collaboration and transparency, providing stakeholders and teams with real-time visibility into project progress and priorities.

3. Prioritizing Features and Epics

Prioritizing features and epics is a critical step in PI planning that helps teams focus on delivering the highest value to stakeholders. Teams should evaluate and rank features based on their business value, considering factors such as customer needs, market trends, and strategic objectives.

Identifying dependencies and risks associated with each feature or epic is essential for informed decision-making and effective resource allocation. Techniques like story mapping and impact mapping can also help teams visualize the relationship between features and prioritize them accordingly.

As much as possible, businesses should try to streamline the prioritization process because it enables teams to manage feature backlogs effectively and make data-driven decisions.

4. Resource Planning and Capacity Allocation

Resource planning and capacity allocation are essential aspects of PI planning because they give teams the necessary resources to execute their plans effectively. Agile teams must assess team capacities, skills, and availability to determine the resources needed for each iteration.

You’ll need to identify potential bottlenecks, skill gaps, and dependencies that may impact resource allocation. Planning tools can streamline resource management by providing visibility into team capacities and workload distribution.

5. Defining Iteration Goals and Sprints


During PI planning, teams collaborate to establish clear iteration goals that align with the overall objectives of the Program Increment. This process includes breaking down features and epics into smaller user stories or tasks and estimating the effort required to complete them. Once you define your iteration goals, teams can plan sprints, determining the scope of work to be completed within each iteration.

Techniques like sprint planning meetings and backlog grooming sessions can help teams prioritize tasks, allocate resources, and set realistic expectations for sprint deliverables.

6. Conducting Effective PI Planning Meetings

Setting the agenda and objectives for PI planning sessions helps keep meetings on track and ensures that all relevant topics are covered.

Facilitating collaborative discussions and decision-making allows teams to leverage the collective wisdom and expertise of all participants, leading to better-informed decisions and more effective plans. Capturing action items and follow-up tasks ensures that commitments made during the meeting are documented and acted upon, driving accountability and progress.

7. Embrace Collaboration and Transparency

PI planning is all about collaboration and transparency. It’s a chance for your agile teams to align and coordinate their efforts, as well as for stakeholders to provide input and guidance. To make the most of this opportunity, it’s essential to create an environment that fosters open communication, collaboration, and trust.

Here are some ways to do just that:

  • Use visual tools and techniques ─ Things like big visible charts, sticky notes, and whiteboards can help make the planning process more engaging, collaborative, and transparent.
  • Encourage active participation ─ Make sure everyone has a chance to speak up, share their ideas, and voice their concerns. This will not only lead to better outcomes but also strengthen the relationships and trust within your team.
  • Share the results and outcomes ─ After the PI planning session, make sure to share the agreed-upon plan, as well as any key insights or decisions, with everyone involved. This’ll help ensure everyone is on the same page and working towards the same goals.

8. Keep Your Plan Flexible and Adaptable


As much as we’d like it to be, the world of agile is anything but predictable. Changes and surprises are bound to happen, which is why it’s crucial to keep your PI plan flexible and adaptable. This means having a process in place for incorporating changes and feedback, as well as regularly reviewing and adjusting your plan as needed.

Here’s how you can stay agile with your PI planning:

  • Establish a change management process ─ This will help you ensure that any changes or feedback are handled in a structured, transparent, and timely manner.
  • Regularly review and adjust your plan ─ Use events like Iteration Planning, Scrum of Scrums, or System Demos to review your progress and adjust your plan as needed.
  • Be open to feedback and new ideas ─ Encourage your teams and stakeholders to share their feedback and ideas throughout the PI, and be open to incorporating them into your plan.

Mastering PI Planning for Agile Teams

Successful PI planning is the key to charting a course for agile teams to achieve their goals and deliver value to stakeholders. With the right strategies and practices in place, conducting effective PI planning meetings ensures that teams stay focused, aligned, and empowered to execute their plans with confidence.

Embrace the essentials of PI planning and steer your team toward success in every Program Increment today and into the future.