Learn how one company simplified the Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®) PI Planning with a digital approach. See how MasterCotnrol went from the use sticky notes, whiteboards, and manual data entry to an all digital approach leveraging touch-screen monitor and their enterprise agile platform.
Challenges of Traditional Paper-based PI Planning Sessions
About a year after implementing the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), MasterControl wanted to conduct an experiment. It wanted to see if it could run a paperless, digital PI Planning session. MasterControl began their SAFe journey like most organizations, using sticky notes and whiteboards to capture their plans which then had to be typed up and shared out after the meeting.
From the beginning there was some reluctance to use paper, but the team quickly learned the advantages of the tactile process of meeting around a whiteboard and moving sticky notes.
“We had to go back to stickies and whiteboards. I was a little bit skeptical and then I saw the magic of the whiteboard; it attracted the entire team to engage more.” – Brian Curran, SVP of Product Management with MasterControl
Despite the noticeable increase in engagement, the whiteboards and sticky notes did create some aggravation. Sticky notes would fall off, get lost, or be misinterpreted. The physical capture of the work caused challenges when remote team members joined the stand up meeting or needed to look at the backlog.
“Whenever we had stand up, we’d roll the whiteboard over and there would be trail of sticky notes left behind.” – Evan Smith, Release Train Engineer & Scrum Master Manager at MasterControl
The Move to a Digital SAFe PI Planning Process
The team knew they needed an enterprise agile platform that supported SAFe and they knew they wanted that system to replace the need for all the sticky notes, but they didn’t want to lose the engagement from the tactile experience of moving stories and tasks around a board during planning. They solved the problem by using large touch screen monitors and VersionOne.
When teams aren’t conducting the stand up, the monitors display their Taskboard along with a Scorecard for all to see.
“As an RTE, when I walk around, I don’t even have to pull up their stats. I can see it on their own touch screen when I go into their areas.” – Evan Smith, Release Train Engineer & Scrum Master Manager at MasterControl
Digital PI Planning Session
After a full PI of using touch screens and VersionOne, they wondered if they could run a paperless, digital PI Planning session. Paper posed the same challenges for the PI Planning session as it had for stand up meetings; sticky notes fell off and got lost and remote teams couldn’t engage fully.
After first starting to use VersionOne, ScrumMasters found that there was a lot of re-work involved with taking all the sticky notes from the PI Planning session and manually entering them into VersionOne. They often found that the meaning of the words on the note got lost in translation. Team members had one thing in mind when they were planning and writing the note, and the ScrumMasters interpreted the meaning incorrectly when they were recording the notes.
Benefits of Digital PI Planning Session
The paperless PI Planning session leveraging VersionOne and touch-screen monitors solved the issues above and provided additional benefits too:
How team engagement would be affected by digital planning was an outstanding question going into MasterControl’s first digital PI Planning event. They were delighted to see that teams actually seemed more engaged.
“In the past, when we did planning, the teams would scatter a lot and it was hard to keep them together, Now that they are using the digital boards, they’ve been touching them, and they know how to use the tool. They felt really comfortable with it. I noticed they stayed put, had less of a desire to leave, and more of the team was engaged.” – Evan Smith, Release Train Engineer & Scrum Master Manager at MasterControl
Management, stakeholders, and team members had real-time visibility into how planning was impacting the PI. Teams were instantly able to see their total story points and compare those to previous velocity trends. Management could see how the numbers were rolling up across the teams.
“During our planning, having the digital tool around, I could see the numbers come in and that was very useful to see that, as an RTE, I’m seeing things come in and seeing where teams were.” – Evan Smith, Release Train Engineer & Scrum Master Manager at MasterControl
Better Context & Less Rework
Team members and stakeholders were able to capture more context using VersionOne as opposed to sticky notes. The story cards in VersionOne offer more space than on a physical sticky note allowing for the capture of more details discussed during PI Planning. There was also no need for someone to spend the evening doing manual data entry of the sticky notes into VersionOne.
“As a Scrum Master what I’ve experienced from previous PIs is that I have to re-enter and interpret the sticky notes from PI Planning, or I have to go back to the team to be able to interpret what was meant by that specific note.” – Jim Wood, Scrum Master Manager at MasterControl
Easily Identify Dependencies
Teams found it much easier to identify dependencies with VersionOne’s Program Board.
“To be able to outline dependencies was amazing. It is something that’s been really hard in the past. We’ve done it on boards with yarn, tying sticky notes together, which we would then take pictures of and try to translate it to a digital board later. Now it was just right there. As we identified those dependencies, we could go to the view and we could see what was dependent on what throughout the entire process.” – Dan Smith, Scrum Master Manager at MasterControl
More Prepared from the Start
Team members and stakeholders were able to prepare for the PI Planning event ahead of time with less effort. MasterControl has TeamRooms in VersionOne set up for the next three PIs. As they get a better idea of upcoming PIs, they add stories to those TeamRooms. By the time PI Planning comes around, most of the backlog is pretty well groomed.
“What I found using VersionOne is we were able to pre-plan and get our features set up. We were able to do some work in fleshing out stories, and even doing some story pointing ahead of time, so when we walked into the planning session, we had a lot more data available to us right up front.” – Steve Bassett, Scrum Master Manager at MasterControl
This is just an example of how our customers leverage VersionOne to Simplify SAFe PI Planning.
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