Saturday, March 21, 2020

How I Facilitated SAFe PI Planning in Fully Virtual? #covid-19

Due to covid-19 outbreak, on early March there's an official communication sent to us for travel ban to restrict the staffs to go in/out from Malaysia, and also not to have any meeting/event outside of office. So, my PI Planning that scheduled on 18th - 19th March that supposed to be in one of hotel ballroom in KL Sentral need to be re-planned. I need to cancel the room booking and inform non-KL team members to cancel their trips to Malaysia.

In less than 2 weeks, I need to think on plan B on how to make sure this 2 days big planning meeting will be still happen and people from different countries can attend it. Trust me it's quite stressful for me, but at the same time I feel thrilled with the challenges on how to manage it. I did some online research on how to facilitate online meeting effectively, discuss with others to get some input and some guidance, and most importantly I start to execute the plan without wasting too much time.
[9th March] At first I tried to find meeting room replacement in office, but there's no single meeting room that big enough for us with target 50 persons available on that date. And last I got the approval to use open space in the Innovation Area. So I go with plan to enable combination of physical PI with people in KL and enable the virtual meeting for non-KL people. At least the place is secured even though it's open space.

[16th March] One week after that, Malaysia government announce the Movement Restriction Order (MRO) effectively from 18th to 31st March, exactly on the first day of our PI Planning. We must working from home and not allowed to come to office. Luckily, last week I've prepared lot of things for the virtual meetings, and somehow my gut feeling is right: We will have 100% virtual meeting. Woohoo!!!

Here's the story on how I prepare and execute our fully virtual PI Planning that consider as success and effective.

  • Consolidate the attendance list. I compile all attendance list for each team consist of team name, attendance name, geographic location. So I know how many people that will attend and where's their location. And we have total more than 50 persons accept the invite.
  • Define the agenda clearly. I created table in excel with meeting agenda, start & end time, method to join, and what virtual board that we will use.

  • Map agenda with time-zones. There's 9 different time-zones, no joke. So, I need to plan properly on how to accommodate all of them. And I enable video recording for some agenda that people in some time-zones can't attend.

  • Send the calendar invite per agenda with the right audience. And during team breakout, I created different Teams conference window that they can utilize to discuss and others can jump in as well.
  • Schedule dry-run meetings. I sent two slots for exercise meeting for people to rehears the conference call. I want to check the quality of audio and video, make sure they understand the agenda, and know how to use the tools and virtual boards.
  • Conduct Pre-PI Planning with product managers and product owners. This is really helpful and I received lot of good feedback on it. Product managers share their vision of the years, then product owners list out prioritized works to support the vision. We didn't go to detail on identify dependencies and risks, but we managed to get all the prioritized features as input for PI Planning.
  • Create the Mural boards for virtual board. I choose Mural because it's user friendly, work really well and smoothly when many people update the boards, and it's easy to configured. I create two different type of boards: program boards and team boards, refer to the appendix of this post to see list of it.
  • Everyone dial-in using Microsoft Teams follow the agenda and timing. I enable video recording for some agenda for people that can't attend due to time-zone. While facilitating I need to make sure that everyone is still engaged and follow the agenda. Surprisingly, we had really good engagement and energy from everyone. 
  • During team breakouts, team members are grouped by their team and join their conference window to focus on discuss on their team board. Product managers, architects, facilitators, and other team members can dial-in so they can follow the discussion.
  • Challenge: Timebox on the first day is still manageable, but on the second day some discussion become bit lengthy and too deep. Even though I know the discussion is quite good and necessary, but need to stop for couple times to make sure we're still on-track. Due to this, we finished bit late. 
  • We concluded the second day with good outcome: we've prioritized backlogs in each team boards, identify dependencies between team, manage the risks, identify PI objectives, and come out with action items improvement from retrospective.

I'm glad that finally we got chance to have fully virtual planning meeting with digital boards. Actually I've also prepared some Mural boards in 20.Q1 PI planning but team decided to have physical boards on the wall. It's fine, at the end, the goals of the PI planning is still achieved.

Overall, I love this fully digital and virtual meeting, I don't need to prepare manual logistics (e.g. white boards, sticky notes, paper tag, or stationery). It's quite challenging experience for me to plan, prepare and facilitate the meeting with people from multiple time-zones. But I really love the outcome of it.

As per feedback from team, we will use this virtual boards again regardless we will have virtual or physical meeting. Can't wait to have another facilitation experience and learn something new from each different challenges.


Mural Boards:

I need to put BIG shout out to Mural, it's really help us and work really awesomely. If you haven't try it, use it now for your team! Especially in the time where everyone is working from home due to covid-19 outbreak.

Here's the list of boards I created for PI Planning (I purposely blur the sticky notes to mask any sensitive info):

Program boards:
  • Pre PI Planning board: this board is for product owners to map all prioritized features based on product managers' vision. I purposely conduct half day workshop a week before PI Planning to make sure each team is prepared. We use color coding for each team for easier visibility.

  • Program Dependency board: to show dependency between team and in which iteration they target to complete the dependency. 
  • ROAM-ed Risks board: to show all identified program risks and after discuss with team we map it into (R)esolved, (O)wned, (A)accepted, and (M)itigated.

  • Scrum of Scrum board: to show team readiness during team breakout when gather all scrum masters in SoS. There's series of questions and we use three different answers as Yes, In Progress, and No.
  • PI Objectives board: to summarize each team PI objectives and to give Business Value (BV).

  • Confidence Vote: this is another feature in Mural that I love, everyone can vote in the sticky notes and can limit how many limit that member can vote. I use this at the end of second day to get feedback from team on how much their confidence level from 1 to 5 to execute the planning outcome.

  • PI Retrospective: to capture feedback from team about "what went well", "what we can do better" and the action items to get better on next PI Planning. Actually, I'm bit flattered from the feedback given by team :)

Team boards:

I create 11 team boards for each team in our program, I just need to create one template and duplicate it for others, it's another cool feature from Mural. Below is one of the sample of team board on how team use it for team breakout to identify prioritized Features, map User Stories to iteration, and put story point & capacity.

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