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Nov 30

How to do PI planning in Jira with SAFe in mind?

PI planning, Program Increment SAFe

Could 20 000 person-hours1 be wasted in one day? Yes, if you do the PI planning poorly. SAFe is serious about gathering all your Agile Release Train members in one place for the Program Increment planning, and we’ve seen clients chartering jets for the occasion. With time, however, enthusiasm usually wanes and distributed teams tend to stick to a piece of software that lets them do the PI planning remotely. Jira + BigPicture is one such set of tools, but before we go through the process and screenshots let’s discuss one controversial recommendation from SAFe, namely ‘use no tools for PI planning’.

1 40 hours/week * 60 team members * 8 weeks = 19.200 person-hours per sample Program Increment.


Why ‘no tools’?

If you’re new to SAFe this might come as a surprise, but yes, Scaled Agile Inc. officially recommends: use no software for PI planning. Give up your Jira, assemble all your team members in a conference room, and stick those sticky notes into the swimlanes drawn on the wall. The rationale behind this are ‘team spirit’, ‘commitment’, and ‘easiness of using a red marker’, etc. Unfortunately, there are two issues with the ‘no tools’ approach:

  • with distributed teams, the once-per-eight-weeks PI planning sessions may be costly or dire impracticable
  • when a PI eventually gets to its execution stage the glue on those sticky notes may have faded already ;)

So what a typical organization does? As soon as the PI planning session is over, they would simply enter all the ‘sticky notes’ into Jira. Now, another problem turns up:

Jira alone says ‘No’ to cross-team PI planning

Financial, healthcare, new technology industries – they all extensively use SAFe. 99 per cent of our clients need the cross-team PI planning capacity – says Tom Kucharski, a SAFe certified professional and SoftwarePlant CEO – while Jira itself supports agile planning for a single team only. The situation gets even worse when teams are distributed across a country or throughout the world. This is where the story of BigPicture – a SAFe-compliant project management app – began.

How to do the PI planning in Jira + BigPicture?

First, let’s do a simple exercise: given this pretty well-known Portfolio SAFe poster, find all the terms that fall into ‘tools’ category. Ready?

PI planning tools, Portfolio SAFe poster

We, too, have done the quiz. Roadmap, Backlog, Program board, and Objectives – they all sound like ‘tools’, so we noted them down as blue bars on the sides of the poster. So far so good.

Now, have a look at SAFe’s excellent ‘PI planning’ article, and you can’t help but add the ‘Risk matrix’ to the PI planning collection of tools. Dig further into the Scaled Agile Framework documentation and you may arrive at the conclusion that the ‘Bird’s-eye view’ is one of the most significant terms within the Scaled Agile Framework.

Now that we have the PI planning toolset ready, how to have all this stuff in Jira? You might get a collection of apps from Atlassian Marketplace, but why not get BigPicture 7 – an all-in-one SAFe-compliant project management app that will one day in the future unite Jira, Trello, Google Calendar, Git Hub, and more? We’re proud of being the first Marketplace vendor that took that niche!

Let’s take a quick tour of the PI planning process in Jira + BigPicture.

Step 1

Set objectives at the Program Increment level on the SAFe compliant roadmap of BigPicture 7.

There are two types of goals at the PI level: (1) per ART objectives (Agile Release Train, SAFe Program level), represented by the top row on the illustration below, and (2) per team ones.

SAFe PI planning, Jira roadmap

More: Objectives’ lifecycle

Related note 1: how does BigPicture deliver on the SAFe’s top ‘Portfolio’ level? Currently, BigPicture gathers programs, in the proven Program Manager to show at a glance that, say, Program 1 is 60% finished, while Program 2 is only 20% complete, and so on. However, a new, more flexible portfolio-level module will replace the Program Manager in the near future.

Related note 2: how to manage high-level epics in Jira + BigPicture + SAFe? High-level epics tend to span several PIs, so should you set the same epic as a goal for PI 1, PI 2, PI 3 and so on? There is an alternative: create a separate project in Jira, then assign those high-level epics to it. Now set up a ‘To do – In Progress – Done’ Jira board and manage those epics there, and not on the roadmap.


Step 2

Not sure what to plan for the upcoming Program Increment? One thing you can do is consulting the Scope module of BigPicture 7, i.e. the Work Breakdown Structure of the entire program. The WBS should have been born earlier in the project’s life. Employ epics or stories as PI goals, rather than granular sub-tasks.

Keep in mind, however, that ‘regular tasks’ – such as Stories, Features, Capabilities, and Epics – available from the Scope module, are better suited for the dependency board (see Steps 3 & 4) and less so for the roadmap. This is because the ‘roadmap’ is a business-layer tool, so objectives that you put on the roadmap should rather use business language, such as ‘Deliver functionality A’ and they should not sound like a ‘task’.

Scope module, work breakdown structure

More: How to look at Scope


Step 3

On a related note – be aware of the new Program Board 2.0, a.k.a. dependency board, that will debut in BigPicture early in 2019. At the PI level, pictured below, the Program Board 2.0 can supplement the roadmap shown in Step 1.

Program board, PI level, dependencies


Step 4

Now that the PI planning is over, and the Program Increment has commenced, you face the more granular iterations planning, typically every 2 weeks. You will use a dependency board for planning iterations.

The fully SAFe-compliant dependency board with both ‘PI’ and ‘Iteration’ levels – pictured below – will arrive in Spring 2019. For now, however, use the proven simplified version of the BigPicture dependency board that covers the ‘Iteration’ level only. Check its documentation.

When both the PI and the Iteration planning is over, how will teams, left on their battlefields, know what tasks they are expected to complete? They can use two paths:

  • BigPicture dependency board will ‘send’ tasks to each team’s native Jira Software board, the one available from Jira’s ‘Boards’ menu item. This is a ‘get things done’ approach, as the team will only see their own tasks on the Jira board and not other team’s tasks. And obviously, as the Iteration is coming to the end, the BigPicture’s dependency board will keep in sync with each teams’ Jira Software board.
  • a team can also stick to the BigPicture’s “main” dependency board. This approach, on the other hand, promotes keeping aligned with other teams, due to the inter-team task dependencies, i.e. those red and green arrows, that will be evident to everyone in the course of the Iteration (see step 5).

Note the Backlog pane to the right of the below screenshot – agile teams are free to add more work anytime during an iteration, capacity permitting.

Jira SAFe program board


Management trends in 2022-2026

Jan 2022
Firstly, why does BigPicture have modular and not monolithic architecture? Freely choose a set of 3, 5, 7, or whatever number of the 10 BigPicture modules, and arrange them into a workflow. Mix hybrid, agile, and classic project management approaches. Read more.

Jan 2022
Secondly, there is logic to the three layers of BigPicture’s administration/configuration. The app’s initial “one-time” configuration is separated from everyday business administration. A project manager can “overwrite” central settings to customize and personalize the project. How to do the configuration and administration in BigPicture?

Dec 2021
Thirdly, some managers do keep track of resources, while others don’t. It tends to be problematic to “calculate” whether the whole resource management thing will eventually pay off. Let’s check when resource management usually does make sense. And eventually, why do some project managers deliberately skip resource management? What could you lose doing resource management poorly?


Step 5

With the Program Increment progressing, more often than not teams will realize that they can’t complete all the goals set for the PI. Make their life easier with dependencies available in the BigPicture Program Board. What does the red arrow on the below picture say to a team leader or project manager? The task that the dependency originates from is likely badly delayed already. The green arrows, on the other hand, mark dependencies that, for the moment, make no threat to the plan.

Program board, iterations level, dependencies


Step 6

Remember the risks of a project? An epic, story or regular task could pose a risk. Pictured is the Risk matrix of BigPicture.

Risks should have been identified and put on the matrix early in a project’s life, shortly after the work breakdown structure or the scope of the project had emerged. Keep an eye on the risk matrix and amend it anytime during the lifespan of the project.

Obviously, a SAFe Product Manager or Release Train Engineer will notice that the below matrix is consistent with SAFe’s ROAM technique (Resolve, Own, Accept, Mitigate). Keep in mind, however, that both the axes’ titles (‘SAFe ROAM’, ‘Probability’) and the dictionary (‘Resolved’, ‘Owned’, ‘Accepted’, ‘Mitigated’, ‘Almost none’, ‘Low’, ‘Medium’, ‘High’, ‘Very high’), are fully configurable in BigPicture.

This step is optional for simple projects.

SAFe ROAM risk matrix.

ROAM risk matrix in BigPicture. Resolved – Owned – Accepted – Mitigated

How to weave in the ROAM approach into BigPicture?
  • Jira administration (cog icon) > Add-ons > Risk configuration
  • Jira administration (cog icon) > Issues > Custom fields > Risk consequence/Risk probability > Configure

More: Risk management in BigPicture


Step 7

As the PI comes to an end, mark the business objectives on the BigPicture roadmap as ‘delivered’ or ‘failed’.

Note how the ‘PIV-2 Testing’ task must have been added as a goal in the course of Program Increment 3. This is because the PI-level objectives are rarely made of tasks from the backlog. Rather they are cast during the PI planning sessions and use business language. A good objective could read ‘Release product X to clients’ instead of ‘Author code for functionality X’.

Mark delivered failed goals, PI roadmap


How to set up BigPicture for SAFe®?

Now, how to set up BigPicture for the SAFe® workflow?

Two whitepapers are a detailed manual. Note that one of them touches PI Planning with BigPicture, and the other one — BigPicture & Jira Pre-Configuration for SAFe®:

SAFe plugin for Jira white paper



Keep an eye on resources. Illustrated is the resource module of BigPicture. Note how both individuals and skills are overallocated starting 17th of September – the red color stands for this.

More: How to interpret Teams view of Resource module

BigPicture resource module

Although the Gantt chart, in theory, doesn’t belong to agile project management, many project managers do use it. The bar chart allows for two things:

  • confirm whether objectives set for any given PI correspond to high-level goals, milestones, or deadlines that had been embedded on the timeline of the Gantt chart for the given period,
  • visualize tasks more precisely. For instance, plan to ‘Call a client’ for Monday through Tuesday rather than for ‘anytime during a 2-week iteration’.

As a bonus, you’ve got this compact resource pane at the bottom of the Gantt chart.

BigPicture Gantt chart with resource pane

More: How to look at Gantt chart


Ready for SAFe ‘Program’ and ‘Portfolio’ levels with no ‘ubersoftware’?


SAFe Summit presentation: All you need is Jira + BigPicture


And do, please, keep in mind that the big picture delivering apps bet on performance and high availability. BigPicture has six people in the helpdesk alone.


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Check Spanish version of this tutorial on DEISER blog.

About The Author

With his automotive background Marcin goes beyond the 'Jira + software development' standard. He likes simple, up-to-five-sentence answers to complex questions.