Published by Sourish Bose on April 8, 2020

Virtual SAFe PI Planning – Netcore’s Commitment to Quality & Process Even During Crisis

Our Engineering Team’s Unimaginable Feat!

It is an unprecedented time for everyone in the world. I am not sure, if ever in the history of human civilizations, the whole of mankind was gripped by such a pandemic. There is uncertainty in the air, and each one of us is coping with myriad challenges. After all, the show must go on.

What has changed in Netcore?

Like many organizations across the globe, Netcore is also new to the work-from-home culture. With large teams working in close collaboration, the WFH concept of was almost inconceivable. But, for the safety of the Netcore family, we were prompt to learn the ways of working remotely and in a short period of time, all our teams got into the mode of working from the safety of their homes. This is a huge cultural shift for Netcore, and we are very proud of ourselves.

What did not change in Netcore?

Our commitment to customer service, quality and processes.

In our endeavor to deliver better and faster solutions to our clients, we keep adopting state-of-the art methods of software development & project management, & the latest of technologies. And we strive to ingrain those processes in every thread of our functioning. The global lockdown is posing many challenges in front of organizations, and us, and we are glad to share that we have not buckled, rather we achieved something unimaginable! Please read on.

SAFe – Netcore’s New Way of Working

To fuel our vision of scaling Netcore Smartech to meet the growing demands of our clients across the world, we adopted the SAFe or the Scaled Agile Framework™ in the beginning of 2020.

SAFe is a series of guidelines and practices designed to help bring agility into larger organizations across all teams and levels of the business. The framework is geared at improving visibility, alignment, and collaboration and should lead to greater productivity, better results, and faster delivery.

PI Planning is one of the most crucial steps of SAFe. It is a cadence-based, face-to-face event that serves as the heartbeat of the Agile Release Train (ART), aligning all the teams on the ART to a shared mission and Vision.

Here are the general essential steps of PI Planning:

  • 2 full day events run every 8-12 weeks (depending on the length of your increments)
  • Product Managers work to prioritize the planned features for the increment beforehand
  • Development teams own user story planning and estimation
  • Engineers and UX teams work to validate the planning
  • The goal is to align the teams to the mission and each other
  • Everyone attends in person (if possible)
  • Technology is used to allow distributed teams to participate (if needed)

We were driven by the following thought by Daniel Pink: “Clarity on how to think, without clarity on how to act leaves people unmoved.” PI planning was the exact way to put all the ‘thinking’ to work.

Our First Successful PI Planning

We began our SAFe journey with our first PI planning on 2nd & 3rd January, 2020.

It was indeed a challenge to bring together large teams for two full  days, and conduct the collaboration meetings. However, we stuck to one of the most important success tips of PI planning, which is face to face collaboration. Our first PI planning was a great success. We formed the value driven Agile Release Train (ART) and at the end we have achieved 80% of total Business Value targeted.

Check out teams in action: Netcore Smartech’s first SAFe PI Planning

The Corona-&-Lockdown Induced Challenge

Our 2nd PI Planning was scheduled to happen during 28th March to 31st March. And we needed to complete the crucial Pre PI Planning steps in the two weeks before the PI planning day, i.e., 16th March onwards.

But as fate would have it, the coronavirus pandemic outbreak had caught up, and lockdown was declared. Putting employee safety first, Netcorians began to work from home.

Our ART (Agile release Train) comprises 8 different value streams – 9 product Managers, 11 Engineering leads, 4 Architects, and more than 80 software developers and QA professionals. A huge team of 104 persons!

With most teams having no considerable work-from-home experience, it was indeed a challenge for us to carry out the planning and collaboration virtually with so many resources.

Given the situation, three options lay before us:

  • Completely drop PI Planning
  • Plan a couple of sprints instead of doing PI Planning for the whole quarter (Q1 2020)
  • Rise to the challenge and conduct a full-fledged PI Planning on video conferencing tools/virtually

The first two were easier options, but they would have cost us all the hard work done in the earlier months. We were trying to inculcate the culture of Scaled Agile & PI planning in our work processes, and dropping the planning would have derailed us bigtime. Moreover, the ongoing Business and Product roadmap deliveries could go haywire without a proper plan.

So, I decided to take up the challenge, head on. And I had my whole team game for it! After all, who doesn’t like the high of winning a challenge!

I was reminded of my “War Room” experience from a couple of years ago, wherein I and my team had overcome the toughest professional challenge of our careers, and had emerged victorious.  I still cherish being called the WAR Room Specialist!

You can read that story here: The Warriors’ Story – How Agile WAR Room helped us Achieve the Unimaginable!

The Virtual PI Planning – Project Planning Extraordinaire!

We decided to carry on the PI planning with more than 100 people, virtually, in virtual meeting rooms.
So began the week long journey of PI Planning-2.

For seven days, we conducted six parallel virtual meetings over zoom, across six value stream members.

We began with sharing the pre – PI virtual PI strategy, setting expectations of PI Planning day with all relevant stakeholders across teams.

  • We discussed Smartech’s product roadmap with multiple business stakeholders
  • The product head and product managers brainstormed on the roadmap and derived priorities
  • The product managers did feature grooming discussions with the engineering team leads and respective teams
  • The leads identified the complexity points and cross teams dependencies
  • Project managers mapped the cross teams dependencies
  • We defined the technology platform scale roadmap and prioritized it with CTO & Architects
  • We then conducted Pre-PI Business Objective and Business value allocation sessions with Product teams, Business teams, the CTO & the CEO
  • The final PI plan visualization was done in Miro – an excellent visualization tool.

Next, the PI Planning was done on 28th & 31st March, where in each product value streams presented their respective plans. We presented the final PI board on 31st March, right on time!

The Virtual PI Planning – Project Planning Extraordinaire!

All of this was done virtually, through video conferencing, with a 100 odd people sitting in their homes!

While the management is extremely pleased with the how we pulled off the meetings successfully, we are ourselves very proud. Despite the effect of the crisis on our regular lives, technical glitches, and team members just getting used to the new way of working, we did a great job. In fact, as good as we would have done if we were in real, physical meeting rooms.

The Virtual PI Planning – Project Planning Extraordinaire!

This feat only shows our strong conviction to uphold processes & quality, and our own agility to adapt to challenging situations. I am very proud of my teams who displayed extreme enthusiasm in the whole process.

While the unfortunate crisis situation remains grim, all of us at Netcore wish for your and your family’s well-being. We are hopeful that the trying times will pass soon, and all of us will be back to our offices, working together. Stay safe.

Sourish Bose

Sourish is Agile Evangelist and Practitioner. He heads the Product Delivery at Netcore.

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