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Nov 02

How to pick the right PI Planning plugin for Jira?

We, SAFe guided project managers, all know that. When doing PI Planning we are expected to utilize sticky notes and a paper board. And we all know how impractical these ‘tools’ are with teams distributed throughout the world. Since SAFe is religiously tool agnostic, let’s examine two prominent PI planning Jira plugins. We’ll also investigate whether a piece of software is as bad for PI planning as Scaled Agile Inc. seems to believe.

Piplanning app by Rentouch and BigPicture by SoftwarePlant are two major plugins for PI planning in Jira environment, both available from Atlassian Marketplace. The two are so different in their approach that one might wonder ‘Do they really serve the same purpose?’. The user interface of Rentouch app is by far closer to SAFe’s dream tools, i.e. sticky notes, paper board and strings. It’s good to watch their plugin’s tutorial video to understand what the PI planning is all about.

On a related note we must admit we have a Rentouch touch screen in our office…

What are the pros of their ‘to the letter’ approach? With piplanning app you can drag & drop a ‘sticky note’ with the tip of a finger on the ‘wall’, i.e. the touch screen. What’s more, you can observe in real time how your colleague from across the pond does the same to their tasks. Doesn’t their solution look like the Judgement of Solomon? I’m sure it does, because they’ve managed to bring the SAFe’s ‘sticky note and wall’ system and the distributed teams together.

Why have Scaled Agile Inc. recommended this ‘sticky note’ system? They thought when people manipulate the sticky notes on the wall in public they somehow commit to ‘getting the things done’ and that the PI planning sessions result in more team spirit…

Now, while Rentouch app does miracles in terms of PI planning the full-size SAFe has its ‘Portfolio’, ‘Large solution’ and ‘Program’ levels above the basic ‘Team’ level. How to combine the PI planning with those higher levels of management? Try BigPicture – a complex, extensively SAFe compliant, project management app.

PI planning in Jira + BigPicture

Take the practical approach and plan your Program Increments using laptop screens of your distributed team members. BigPicture can simulate the sticky notes and the paper board on a 15,6″ laptop screen, but obviously the bigger the better – full HD 1920 x 1080px screens are even more suitable for the PI Planning. Skip the cumbersome touch screen approach. A plain mouse, touchpad or trackball will do dragging & dropping operations in BigPicture. And obviously, BigPicture synchronizes on-the-fly with Jira.

Fig. 1 Program board in BigPicture

A.k.a. PI planner. Available until Spring 2019

Roadmap in BigPicture

The BigPicture program board with curved arrows representing task dependencies.


Fig. 2 New PI Program board in BigPicture

A.k.a. PI planner. To debut in Spring 2019

SAFe program board for Jira

The new, SAFe compliant Program Board module is to debut in BigPicture in early 2019.


Here is one voice on ‘sticky notes vs. practicality’ dilemma:

Jira BigPicture as electronic PI planning board. Review


How BigPicture lives up to SAFe recommendations

You’ve certainly googled ‘PI planning’ and you’ve read the excellent SAFe article on that, right?

Now that you’re familiar with SAFe terminology, you should realize that PI Planning is not just ‘Program board’. Let’s review how BigPicture answers what SAFe asks for:

PI Planning stage according to ‘tool agnostic’ SAFe SAFe says… ‘How to’ in BigPicture
Use Program Board, fig. 1, 2 Use Roadmap, fig. 3
Inputs Business context (high-level goals) yes
Vision yes
Top 10 features of the Program Backlog yes
Outputs Committed PI objectives yes
Program Board (with dependencies between tasks) yes


Fig. 3 SAFe compliant roadmap

BigPicture 7 roadmap

The new roadmap, designed with SAFe in mind, is available in BigPicture 7.


What else should you expect from PI Planning Jira plugin?

Other than the Inputs and Outputs listed in the table above SAFe’s PI Planning pays attention to:

There is, however, one more thing you should keep in mind when choosing the right PI Planning Jira plugin. Scaled Agile Framework is nearly blind when it comes to embedding high-level goals in time. All they would like you to plan is that ‘goal A is going to be completed in PI 3’. We all know how such thinking fails in real life, external constraints & dates given, etc. You simply need to think ‘goal A is planned for October 15-20’ from time to time. This is where the proven Gantt chart lends a helping hand… Like it or not but the majority of project managers still use the bar charts / Gantt charts to get a bird’s eye view of their projects. Say, doing the PI planning you wish to learn whether goal B is going to take three weeks or three months before it’s completion :)  The tools administered by SAFe – the roadmap and the program board – won’t tell you that. The Gantt chart will.

BigPicture contains that one last thing – the Gantt chart module.


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



Quite a number of plugins are available from Atlassian Marketplace when you search ‘PI planning’. It’s good to examine how many users have them installed and whether the app you prefer supports ‘your’ SAFe levels – be it team, program, large solution and/or portfolio.



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.