PI Planning and Agile at Scale in Jira with the Help of VisualScript

From the Whiteboard to the Jira Dashboard
Evan Golden

By Evan Golden

What is PI Planning?

Program Increment (PI) Planning is a face-to-face event during which all the teams on an Agile Release Train (ART) come together to plan out their work for the next five iterations. It is a critical part of the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe®). A PI planning event is facilitated by the Agile Release Train's Release Train Engineer (RTE). The event typically spans two days and it brings together teams, stakeholders, and product owners - all in a single room - using a lot of sticky notes and string. The sticky notes represent requirements and the strings between cards represent dependencies. The end result of a successful PI Planning event is twofold: clear objectives all team members agree to and a program board that highlights dependencies and milestones. Today, organizations can choose from many applications to implement SAFe® and conduct PI Planning. These applications allow teams to continue to be effective and collaborate remotely while also saving the business the cost of flying all team members into one location. One of the most commonly used applications for implementing SAFe® is Jira.

PI Planning in Jira

Jira is a software application for teams to manage their work using Scrum, Kanban, or any hybrid framework. Out of the box, Jira can easily be configured to help multiple teams work together in a SAFe® implementation. No matter the level of SAFe® an organization has adopted, Jira can be used to oversee multiple projects with custom issue types, issue links, and custom agile boards to help different teams or different trains work together.

An example of how Jira can be organized for a SAFe® build-out is detailed in the table below.

  • Portfolio project that contains portfolio Epics
  • Portfolio Epics (custom)
Large Solution
  • Solution Train project that houses capabilities.
  • Capabilities (custom)
  • Agile Release Train project that contains Features.
  • Features (custom)
  • Epics
  • Stories
  • No project. Each team has their own Scrum or Kanban board that houses their assigned Epics and Stories linked to Features.

One of the challenges of using Jira out of the box is that it does not include the required reporting and planning tools needed for teams working in an Agile at Scale framework.

One of these critical tools missing is the PI Planning board, also known as the Program Board.

PI Planning Board

On the most basic level, a PI Planning Board shows what team is working on what feature and when it is expected to be done. It also visualizes dependencies for the features planned by the Agile Release Train (ART) to be worked on in the next PI. A PI board also makes for a great reporting tool as well because it can answer questions for different levels of the organization. It answers questions like: what has been completed, what is in progress, and what is expected to be worked on throughout the PI, among many other things.

Visually, the PI Planning board is laid out on a grid. The columns include the different iterations in the PI. In SAFe®, there will be 5 iterations, which include 4 for development and 1 for innovation and planning. The swim lanes or horizontal rows represent each team. The cards are used to show each feature that is being worked on. Finally, the lines from card to card represent dependencies between features.

Because Jira does not provide a PI Planning Board out of the box, an Atlassian Marketplace application is required to meet this requirement. VisualScript is such an app. VisualScript can use data from Jira and generate a visual like a PI Board to be added to in a Jira dashboard or Confluence page.

VisualScript's PI Board Report

VisualScript has a built-in report for creating a PI Board using Jira data on a Jira dashboard or Confluence page. The PI Board in VisualScript follows all of the criteria that make up a proper PI Planning Board.

The report requires the user to input a few parameters. These are:

  1. Project key(s)
  2. Sprint Name(s)
  3. What field you are using for teams. This can be project, component/s, or even custom fields.
PI Board fields

Once you run the report, you will see a PI Board displayed on your dashboard or page. Some of the features it includes are:

  1. A grid that shows each sprint in the PI, and each team that is in the ART.
  2. Status of each requirement based on the color of the card.
  3. Red lines that show the dependencies between each card.
PI Board

Each card on the board includes:

  • The issue key to the issue in Jira.
  • The summary with a note icon that expands to show the complete summary.
  • Hyperlink to the issue.
  • PI Board card details

    A Comprehensive Approach to Reporting on Agile

    As part of a more comprehensive Agile reporting solution, VisualScript can also help teams see a more micro view of the dependencies within the features they are working on in a PI. Let's say, for example, that executives want to keep an eye on a really attractive feature that based on customer feedback will increase customer success. If it's critical for customer success, it's vital that it make it into the product release. VisualScript can generate a report that can show dependencies blocking this feature from being completed. Without a detailed view of the feature and dependencies, it is difficult for product owners and stakeholders to have the right visibility and make sure any potential bottlenecks are communicated and acted on properly.

    VisualScript's Issue Dependency report can easily be added to any dashboard next to a PI planning board and other reports to help visualize an individual requirement from the PI Board with its dependencies in detail.

    To generate the report, one just needs to specify the issue key in question. Let's look at an example. In the report below you can see the central issue (LTMA-109) has a couple of issues blocking it from being completed, and it is also blocked three other issues. On the left, you can see the Epic to which it is linked. Each card includes:

    1. The issue key to the issue in Jira.
    2. The summary with a note icon that expands to show the complete summary.
    3. Hyperlink to the issue.
    PI Board linked epic

    The PI Planning Board and Issue Dependency Report work very well together. During PI Planning, the ART can use the PI Board on a large screen for planning. As teams work together discussing individual features, the issue dependency matrix can be used to discuss the dependencies in more detail.

    In summary, PI Planning is a critical event for all ARTs. In order to properly complete PI Planning, artifacts like the PI Planning Board are a necessity. While Jira is wonderful for organizing work for teams and trains, using an application like VisualScript provides a PI Planning Board, as well as more detailed visibility into the dependencies between features. Together, teams can use Jira and VisualScript to plan, execute, and report on all work within a PI.