A read of the SAFe PI Planning documentation starts strong with clarifying that PI Planning produces milestones, features and dependencies and places these on the program board. In contrast, “Iteration Plans” or user stories are not listed as an output of PI Planning.
However, towards the end of that same link it makes a passing comment of when PI Planning completes the teams “take PI objectives, iteration plans, and risks back to their regular work area.” Furthermore, the SAFe documentation for Iteration Planning makes the following comment:
In SAFe, iteration planning is a refinement of the level of detail and an adjustment of the initial iteration plans created during Agile Release Train (ART) PI planning.
This SAFe commentary is much too thin to draw conclusions about what was the activity and what was the goal of creating iteration plans during PI Planning.
My interpretation is that any team might create loose iteration plans during PI Planning, but only with the goal of estimating when they will complete a given feature(s). In other words, such loose iteration planning (if it happened at all) is a team-internal scratch-pad that would not be evaluated or published. Accordingly the program board would not be decorated with user stories that result from such loose iteration planning (and in general the program board simply does not have user stories on it).
In my interpretation, no agile coach would tell my team “your scratch-pad iteration plans are insufficient, you must create more.”
In contrast, I recently encountered an organization whose interpretation of SAFe is as follows:
- SAFe PI Planning requires or expects the activity of Iteration Planning that intentionally covers each and every sprint of the upcoming Program Increment (which is 3 months in their case).
- The user stories that are created from this comprehensive whole-PI “Iteration Planning,” are placed onto the program board (as a backbone of creating dependencies with features, etcetera).
- At the end of PI Planning, if the entire Program Increment does not have end-to-end Iteration Plans established for a given team, then that misaligned team must ASAP finish a full suite of Iteration Plans for the entire PI.
In this latter view, subsequent sprint planning for each iteration involves merely making adjustments to the sprints if needed – because otherwise all sprints of the PI have already been planned.
Please note that the above bulleted premises are not seen as customizations of SAFe, but rather they believe it represents the authentic interpretation of SAFe.
I’d like to know if SAFe provides any additional guidance that would clarify which interpretation is “correct.” To me, which interpretation is chosen is a choice between genuinely following an Agile methodology versus following a practice that is half-way waterfall. However, my question is not “what do you prefer,” as what I’m really after is a more official or authentic interpretation of SAFe on this matter.