SAFe 5.0 - Everything you need to know about delivering PI Planning online with distributed teams.

Updated: May 17


SAFE PI Planning - Delivering toughest SAFe ceremony online, with success

Learn from my experience as a SPC having delivered the PI Planning session successfully 4 times with a distributed team, fully online!


In the current situation when almost the entire World is dealing with a deadly Coronavirus outbreak, it is essential that enterprises, businesses, industries, companies adopt a more flexible way of working by supporting their colleagues and partners by collaborating virtually.


It's equally important to focus on Social distancing, and adopt collaborative methods using the current technology.

As you are already aware that SAFe following enterprises run Agile Release Train (an ART contains up to 150 people) to support their value streams. Thus, for trainings, system demos, big room planning sessions and importantly for the SAFe roadmap related activities we have to mobilize and get in touch with big teams in one room.


Especially the Big Room planning or PI Planning event which is attended by more than 150 people at a given time. Some people even traveling across countries and land borders.


When I came up with this challenge to run PI Planning session online, there was very little information or knowledge base which was available. Scaled Agile official material on how to support remote and distributed teams online came very late for my particular case, as i am stationed in APAC and here the onset of the Virus outbreak happened way early than in Europe and US.


While both the Agile manifesto and scaled agile framework highlight the importance of face-to-face planning, often getting everyone under the room is just not possible. The reasons for a distributed PI planning event can be varied – like in the current circumstances, the COVID2019 outbreak. It is very likely that you also feel this need due to financial constraints as very large teams are in highly distributed locations causing extensive travel time and cost commitments, difficulties with visas etc..


The first thought that comes to the mind in such situations is to postpone the PI planning event for a couple of weeks and see how it goes.. see how the situation evolves, as calling everyone in, with the virus outbreak spreading exponentially, was not a vise idea. But as per the different governments directives we all went to the work from home setup already. So my entire Scrum Team members were working from home. This is when I realized that postponing the PI Planning session is not gonna help.. we have to go through with it and manage all this very quickly.


Thus, as a SPC and RTE I took a decision to run the PI Planning session online. Bring the entire ART face to face virtually.

Time to plan everything was very limited. I have to mobilize people working from home, make sure that tools which I choose can be easily accessed on a wide variety of devices. It was a very important choice. At home not everyone necessarily have access to the best devices or best internet speeds. My situation was even more complicated because half of the team members were in China, where the internet is regulated and not all tools work equally effectively.


I overcame this challenge and so can you!


You can follow my advice below to plan for your next PI Planning session or for an important training session or webinar.. These tips will provide you enough necessary guidance..


Focus on team locations - time zones, & understanding team member's situation


It's very important to understand the time- zones that your attendees will be joining from. It will be great if you do the following.


  • The biggest meeting room is booked with camera and TV. Depending on selected approach amount of rooms can differ.

  • Preferable to equip every team member with laptop to ensure mobility.

  • Good quality of video and audio is a must.

  • Lunch/Food should be part of the agenda, budget should be approved. Make sure that no delays will occur.

  • Based on people feedback, length of the “PI Planning” can differ from 1 week to 1 day. Adapt to your process and requirements, but remember that classic set-up is two days.


Training on how to work efficiently using WFH option.


This is more like a dry run which Scrum Masters can do with their teams to see how the chosen tools are behaving for their teams. This way you can gather the feedback and address their issues early. Also, this allows team members become familiar, and help manage expectations..


I had a very interesting experience with this - When we did a dry run, we saw some members were taking calls from their cars, or from balconies, terraces. When I asked the reason, I understood this is because their is background noise at home or network is clunky.. Someone's dog was barking as the Dog wanted to play.. or kids are playing in the background. In Asia particularly not everyone has a separate study room available for themselves. So I decided to let them take calls from their comfort spots.. I was ok if the dog barks in the background.. This allowed people to freely jump in during discussions without worrying about the background noise.. If it was too much we just speak about it openly... If you don't do that.. everyone goes on mute and then every question response is just silence..


Work from home.. it brings up its own challenges and joys..

Appropriate Tooling.


It's very important that you choose a suitable tool for your online session. This choice will have the most impact on the experience of your attendees during the session.

My recommendations:


  • For Communication: MS Teams, Skype for Business, Zoom, WebEx, BlueJeans. More extensive comparison can be found here


  • For PI Board visualization: Miro App, Kendis.io, Piplanning app, Rally / JIRA (plugins like Big Picture, Portfolio, structure) and Confluence, Google Docs (PowerPoint). More comprehensive list is here

  • If you are wondering how to share computer sound during sessions.. read this article from Zoom

  • Possible to combine tools (for example - Scrum Master works with Miro App and team works with JIRA boards.

  • For Retrospective: FunRetro.io

  • For voting: Mentimeter, or you can use the polling option in Zoom, which is available in the licensed product.

  • Regular sticker boards and good video conference calls was also mentioned as a possible solution.

  • If you can prepare real time chat, polls, Electronic question queue (hand raising), private chats and access over all kinds of mobile devices, it can enhance the experience.


A trick - Join screen share with your laptop/desktop, and if possible join Audio from your iPad / Mobile phone.. this way the sound quality is improved, and network usage is controlled.. especially if you can operate with voice over mobile internet instead of a Wi-Fi.. It works like doing manual load balancing :)

What's important here is that you identify the most stable web-based conferencing software which does not utilize loads of bandwidth and chokes the network. This software should be able to provide you with two way audio and video facility with annotations. Shared whiteboard, where people can doodle and collaborate could be a very important choice. An interactive drawing can beat your 20 slider PPT easily. Breakout rooms for scrum teams and good capacity virtual meeting rooms support is needed.. For me personally Zoom worked the best.


I am not associated with any of the tool providers in any way.. this is just my collection of what works well for me.. and what not..


Making clear working agreements.


  • Better to clarify potential scope in advance and come to PI planning prepared: HL vision, stories, etc….

  • During the planning to justify that scope, understand external dependencies and prioritize.

  • Have wiki page with short description of process, easy to read for everyone.

  • Detailed schedule for planning ceremonies should be clarified in advance and email invite sent. What can be inside: schedule, links to the calls/chats, links to the team boards etc.

  • Have good schedule with all proper timings and enough breaks. Will be good to allocate some time to test all infrastructure before meeting start to resolve all issues in advance. For example, Skype for business may have issue with connectivity for many people.

  • Planning session in teams - better for everyone to stay on own desktop. You will need to force all work to be done electronically, so it can be shared easily.

  • Allocate time for new tools introduction (Knowledge Transfer).




Identify Co-Hosts - with above average Facilitation skills.


You need co-hosts for this one.. Maybe more than one SPC to deliver the SAFe PI Planning session or more than one to two facilitators for the big trainings / webinars.


  • SPC 1 is the main instructor who presents course content, maintains timeboxes, facilitates large group discussions and class activities, and moderates breakout rooms.

  • SPC 2 moderates the course chat, breakout rooms, and maintains the parking lot items.

  • Technology support employee co-leads the web conferencing software overview webinar and provides technology support during the course.

Adapt the schedule and break it into smaller durations. This allows for better focus and participation from the attendees. Remember, everyone is at home.


Regardless of the reasons, every organization adopting SAFe will benefit from having a plan in place for effectively conducting PI planning with geographically distributed participants.


Let these co-hosts get familiar with the stuff, prepare content beforehand. Follow the best practice to prepare your PPT slide in font size 16 atleast.. This allows greater visibility to the reader on a web-conferencing tool.


Please maintain social distancing during this virus outbreak, Stay Safe and healthy!

You can go through the below links for awareness on the COVID 2019 situation:

CDC and WHO


Happy Reading and wish you a successful work from home period!

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