COVID-19 pandemic has changed the norms of society. From dining habits to working culture, everything has been changed. It is just a 400nm virus that caused all these changes. The word “remote working or working from home”, which we keep on hearing, again and again, was the sort of offensive in the past. But with the eruption of COVID-19, every business, whether small or big, has shifted towards remote working. From the past few years, psychologists and HR specialists were instructing businesses to adopt remote working strategy, but businesses were reluctant to adopt this. Maybe this reluctant approach was due to the fact that business executives wanted the new generation to go through the hardships they all gone through in their professional careers.
Are we ready to adopt remote working?
A survey was conducted by the Boston Consulting Group and Harvard Business School asking businesses about their readiness to adopt remote working. To the surprise of most, just 30% of businesses said that they are ready for remote working. But now, with the coronavirus outbreak, to sustain, the rest of 70% also need to gear up to adopt remote working. In a nutshell, every walk of life has suffered the bitterness of COVID-19. To sustain, everyone would need to go for alternate methods of doing business. Sooner or later, we all have to adopt remote working, and indeed, business virtualization is beginning its regime.
How prepared are Scaled Agile Framework organizations?
Those implementing agile methodologies in their organization still have plenty of room to incorporate these needs. Since these organizations were already up-to-the-mark with growing business needs, they will just need to streamline a few things, and they can easily adapt to the remote working environments. Let’s get to know how does agile organizations can implement PI Planning virtualization in this COVID-19 situation.
In an agile implementation, frequent human interaction has a pivotal role. For better planning ventures, face-to-face interactions have proven to be quite beneficial. Program Increment (PI) planning has a pivotal role in letting Scaled Agile Framework organizations achieve their corporate aspirations. PI Planning is basically a set of regularly scheduled events where various teams within the same Agile Release Train (ART) meet throughout the calendar year to discuss plenty of business matters and plan their future activities. After every 8 to 12 weeks, they conduct big face to face meetings to review the progress on their set goals and modify plans to achieve business growth along with customer satisfaction. The frequency of PI Planning is set as per the defined sprint cycles per PI.
But since COVID-19 has hit everything badly, beneficial as well as stringent business efficacy activities like PI Planning have also been affected. Therefore, there is no option left but to virtualize the team collaborations. There is no doubt that in Scaled Agile Framework companies, employing hundreds or thousands of executives, team leaders, and members, such virtualization can be challenging. But these challenges are nothing sort of impossible, and virtualization is rather possible.
PI Planning Virtualization
Depending on the need for virtualization, there can be different ways in which PI Planning can be virtualized. Out of many modes, partial and fully virtualization are two of the most sought and feasible virtualization plans. Partially virtualized PI Planning features a few of the participants to attend PI Planning from their homes. Whereas fully virtualized PI Planning would allow every participant to attend PI Planning sessions from their homes. Even though Quarter-1 goals may have been missed largely, companies can still move forward with meeting Q2 and Q3 goals of 2020 while adopting virtualized PI Planning.
However, there are certain determinants that need to be understood while going for the virtualization of PI Planning. The determinants like Information and Communication are counted as the fundamental elements, facilitating the transition from the real world to the digital one. Let’s discuss them in detail to see what they need and how they can be facilitated in the case of Scaled Agile Framework organizations.
For the virtualization of PI Planning, virtual information must be effective as well as accessible. The information structure of the virtualization should allow every participant to have access to the right information. However, on the other hand, information spread should not be exceeded to the level where participants would feel overburdened. For the effective flow of virtual information in PI Planning sessions, make sure to adopt the following:
- For the ART, allocate a central space where everyone can overview complete virtual planning details such as crucial information, contact data, and the link to other conferences and boards.
- Most crucial information, like contact data, virtual conference rooms, agenda, and other ART’s links, must be placed at the top of the virtual board.
- Team level virtual boards must be defined as PI objective boards, stories, and feature planning board, ART dependency board, and Risk ROAMing board.
There is one common message in these features that emphasis on the virtual information to be one single source of truth. For it to be true in virtual PI Planning, there is a need for information to be transparent, centralized, accessible, and presented much before in time than that of physical PI Planning.
To make sure that virtual PI Planning remains a hassle-free experience and for it to be close to reality, choose a communication mode that can replicate the face to face communication. It is so because real-time collaboration and communication is a big challenge in such virtualization initiatives.
For such ventures, synchronous mode of communication such as telephone or video conferences have proven to be much more relevant and feasible as compared to the asynchronous mode of communication such as e-mails. However, it does not mean that asynchronous mediums are ineffective. They are best suited for documentation and keeping a record of the communication. So, in this perspective, an ideal approach will be to go for a hybrid model of communication involving both synchronous and asynchronous communication modes. Instant messaging is one such type of mediums where pre-defined groups such as product management, scrum of scrums, business owners, and product owners can be formed to efficiently build the sub-clusters of the communication.
Video conference is also one such tool to realize all the information and communication-related expectations of the perfect virtual PI Planning. It caters to all sorts of situations, such as partial or fully virtual PI Planning sessions. In the case of partial PI Planning meetings, a live stream can be shared across all virtual rooms, and they can collaborate with the ART virtual room environment. In the case of fully virtual PI Planning meetings, team-based video conferencing sessions can be done. For it, intimidation can be given to the concerned participants about their relevant virtual team room. One such format can be X.1, where X denotes the name of the team and the 1 refers to the alleged number of the virtual team room. In such scenarios, all virtual rooms will be aligned in one clear architecture, providing sheer understanding instantly and seamlessly.
Agenda Setting in Virtual PI Planning
Release Train Engineer (RTE) has a very important role in handling the agenda related tasks in physical PI Planning sessions. RTE is responsible for all moderation and timeboxing arrangements for all individuals and teams. But in the virtual PI Planning, RTE and scrum masters are the ones who handle all agenda orchestration. For such tasks, every scrum master will be responsible for his or her concerned virtual teams, and the whole of the virtual event will be administered by the RTE.
Talking about fully virtual PI Planning, the agenda could span over 3 to 5 days of planning events. Here, before presenting their plans to the business owner, each planning team will be given team breakout time up to 12 hours to draft their respective plans. To further save the time about the overall agenda before the commencement of PI Planning, some of the agenda components can be taken into account in each team’s preparation session. Some of the sessions, like product vision, business context, planning context, or architecture vision, can be recorded before the PI Planning session and can be presented to every involved person, on-demand.
Since communication and engagement of Product Owners and Business Owners is a very crucial part of the PI Planning and so does the agile methodology. Therefore, some of the sessions, like management or plan review, must be conducted through video conferencing. This method will not only save the time of the business owners and product owners but will also allow them to have dialogue amongst them along with allowing them to review the overall planning drill in a much effective and qualitative manner.
Before the Launch
Before launching the virtual PI Planning, there are some considerations that must be accounted for. First of all, virtual PI Planning should be seen through the lens of being a single source of truth. For flawless virtualization, cross-team dependencies must be ensured along with the conduction of the pre-planning session with the BO.
In addition to the roles of scrum masters and RTE, following roles must also be defined:
- Technical support must be provided to handle all information and communication-related backlogs.
- The support desk for each virtual team must be defined so that in case any person needs to be called on, he or she can be get-on-board in the minimum possible time.
Since we are now facing numerous economic and human challenges, the change due to COVID-19 should be embraced as an opportunity. The challenges posed due to the COVID-19 should be taken as the opportunity by nature to streamline our culture and economic implications. The virtualization of PI Planning is the one sheer step of introducing flexibility and digitality in the conventional organizational culture. Companies with the Scaled Agile Framework are now facing the challenge of virtualizing their agile meeting rooms. Let’s work with the same agile-oriented mindset, as we used to work within pre-COVID scenarios, towards innovating our business culture. Indeed, virtual PI Planning is the chance for us to enhance our working methodologies and capabilities in this digital age.
Note: There is an event called #remotescrum going to occur on 19th May 2020, 5:15 PM – 6:15 PM. In this event, Dirk Pogrzeba will share his practical experiences in arranging virtual PL planning for more than 1,000 people. He will narrate the difficulties related to collaboration, communication, and information transparency in virtual space along with many other useful information. For event registration and updates, click here.