One of the interesting things about SAFe is how it has evolved over the years. The story there is very interesting. More so than any other framework that I’ve witnessed, SAFe has very definitely changed since its beginnings through what it has become today. For example, early on, it didn’t have the levels of work that it does today, and certainly the terminology has evolved. Furthermore, many of the roles have been added and changed. To a very real degree, things like DevOps and Continuous Integration and deployment have been added as well. These new additions were nowhere to be found in the early years of SAFe.
So, all of this is to say that SAFe has evolved in terms of its framework and structure quite dramatically from its early beginnings. And in fact, it continues to do so, which is what I find so beneficial about it. Furthermore, the way that we perform certain ceremonies in SAFe has changed. For instance, a good example of this change is how we prepare for and run a PI planning event. Originally, PI planning was a very quick event. You oriented the teams in a SAFe for Teams workshop and then right after that, you started PI Planning with no other preparation than that. You could go from zero to SAFe PI Planning in a week. As a result, the planning event was very intense, open and collaborative. There was none of the long, drawn out planning cycles that you typically see in PI planning today.
Over time that has turned into a much more deliberate sort of event. So now PI planning typically involves months of preparation as you prepare initiatives, and features, and stories for use in the upcoming PI planning. There’s lots of review and refinement that goes along with that. But originally, PI planning wasn’t like that. Originally PI Planning was much simpler and was more similar to what you and I might think of as an Open Space event.
You can find out more about Open Space here:
An open space event is where we go into the event with what we hope is some sort of compelling theme that’s going to drive the conversation. That’s all we have to start with. We have a stakeholder who delivers that theme and tries to provide as much color and context as they can to make the theme as vivid as possible. Then everyone in the room is responsible for coming up with how they are going to address that theme. From there, we leave it up to them. In the case of a business, you might put a key deliverable or initiative forward as your driving theme. It could be a key set of features – whatever compelling idea that you believe the market needs. You put it in front of the group and then you leave it to the teams for those two days to figure out how to proceed and let them organize the work as they see fit. The teams are responsible for taking that initiative, breaking the features down, identifying the stories, working out the dependencies and planning the work. They keep track of their work by putting it up on a big wall which looks a lot like an open space marketplace. After two days, you review your plan and you are done and ready to get started.
Running PI Planning as an Open Space would have some interesting implications:
Open Space makes it clear that anyone can contribute ideas, not just particular people in a given role. PI Planning depends on initiatives and features provided mainly by key stakeholders and product management. I think Open Space would promote a more democratic input process where teams, who often know a great deal about the business domain, would be more able to contribute their own ideas for features, etc.
Open Space has no formal collaboration structure beyond the marketplace. Wherever you meet is the “right place” whatever time is the “right time” and whoever shows up are the “right people.” That’s terrifying level of informality for most organizations, but it also opens up a great deal of freedom for those who can own their work. There are synchronization points in Open Space, like the morning and evening “news” where everyone gets to see what others have done and see changes in direction. My intuition is that I would want to spend time getting folks used to Open Space first (on other topics), before trying to substitute it for PI Planning.
Open Space has the concepts of the “Butterfly” and the “Bumble Bee” – those people who flit from group to group, perhaps pollenating an idea or two. Even if we don’t use Open Space, I think these ideas by themselves would be useful to introduce to PI Planning.
Open Space does not dictate the kind of work that can be done. Teams can write code, call customers, leave the room – anything that enables them to best pursue their ideas. This form of hybrid working/planning could be much more powerful than focusing exclusively on estimation and planning.
If you find that your PI Planning has become very rigid and stale, you could try using Open Space to free things up. You have the option of incorporating just a few of the elements of Open Space, or you can go “All in” and completely replace PI Planning with Open Space. Or, you could keep PI Planning, but introduce Open Space in a separate forum. There are a lot of great options here for us to explore.
PI Planning feels stale and rigid
You’re looking for way to foster innovation
Replace the PI Planning with Open Space (same time commitment as PI planning, but less structure)
Less pre-PI Planning effort
More ownership of team direction and work
Potentially better plans because work can be actively investigated alongside planning (due to loose Open Space structure)
Interested in more Mix-ins? Join Ron Quartel and I for a 3 day workshop on SAFe+FAST Agile. Combine the 2 to get max value from your agile transformation. It’s an opportunity to explore the latest scaled agile processes and practices with other agile innovators on May 15, 16, 17. https://bit.ly/2HXCcKD