How to get your backlog ready for PI Planning
Backlog refinement at scale
Avoid these problems by exposing Scrum Teams to features and stories before PI Planning. Everyone on an Agile Release Train (ART) deserves well thought out requirements so that they can efficiently estimate and commit to stories in the big room. The process I’ll detail below helps. It’s essentially an extension of Backlog Refinement – the idea that you spend a percentage of your current iteration looking at the next iteration. Or, if you prefer, Backlog Refinement at scale. Its benefits include:
What does the process look like?
To prepare for PI Planning, the Product Management team should review, refine, and prioritize the program backlog in short, regular meetings. The meeting should involve at least one person representing the business – usually the Product Manager – along with a developer or tech lead, a tester, and an architect. Once this team confident that the feature will be included in the upcoming PI, they start a conversation with the teams. Scrum Teams then refine features and stories during their own meeting.
I recommend using a Kanban board to visualize your progress. If people aren’t collocated, I recommend using an asynchronous tool like CA Flowdock to capture and answer questions outside of the scope of the meetings.
How much time will we need?
My guidance is that it usually takes 8 weeks to prepare for a typical PI. The numbers look like this:
That’s a lot of time! Product Managers in particular are usually highly reluctant to add more meetings to their packed schedule. My advice for them is that it’s better to work out issues earlier rather than later (an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure). In addition, the first sessions are usually not very efficient, meaning that they’ll improve – and take less time – as you get better at it. Another issue is that many organizations have a low tolerance for this amount of grooming. But if you remain focused on the value of this refinement, many organizations come around.
The goal of any refinement is to gain clarity about the work to be done in the next iteration during the current iteration. And since performing short actions more frequently is much more efficient than doing long actions less frequently, explore this opportunity with your ARTs. If you can move most of the discussion about WHAT you want to work on outside of the planning meeting, you can focus the meeting on HOW you want to accomplish it: sanity checking the requirements with the larger cross-functional group, identifying risks and dependencies, and gaining that elusive alignment that makes everything so much easier.