Program Increment (PI) Planning is designed to complement SAFe® For Teams Training

Table top with scale model for planning

PI Planning Overview

SAFe® For Teams (S4T) training is a critical component to launching an Agile Release Train (ART) successfully.  The training event will provide a level set on SAFe® ScrumXP, provide insight into how to plan and execute a Program Increment (PI) and allow the teams to start or solidify their formation as a successful Agile Team.  However, the impact of the 2 day education can be enhanced by providing a hands on simulation for teams to practice their new learning and skills prior to the upcoming PI Planning event.  The Scaled City PI Simulation (download PowerPoint deck here) is an adaptation of the tried and true Scrum Simulation using LEGOS® that has helped so many teams learn the basics of Scrum in a fun and engaging environment.

The PI Sim PowerPoint provides a step by step guide for SPC’s to use to deliver this exercise.  The Sim is intended to be incorporated into the S4T training, preferably in the morning of the second day, but can be utilized outside of the training event.  This allows team members to lock in the learnings from the previous day and an opportunity to exercise their new Lean-Agile muscles.  The PPT is self-explanatory for the delivery steps, however there are many nuances to apply to this exercise to enhance the learning.


You will need around 200 various sized LEGO® pieces per team.  Try to get a variety of types and usages, including several wheels and special shapes.  LEGO’s ® are not cheap but hitting a few garage sales or eBay items will help reduce the cost.  You will also need large 2’ x 3’ poster sheets (2 for the city layout and 1-2 per team for planning), markers or sharpies, and a printed copy of the Features from the PowerPoint.  Each team should have a table and space large enough for 4-6 people to move around easily, as well as one large poster sheet to do their planning.

Prior to the start of the exercise you will need to setup a ‘deployment’ table in the middle of the room, and tape two large flip chart sheets long edge to long edge on the table for the city layout.  I usually draw a river along one edge and leave the rest as a blank canvas for the teams to innovate on.  If you have a co-trainer, ask them to play the role of Mayor of Scaled City.

Scrum Simulation

This exercise is about learning, but it’s also about generating energy and confidence in the PI Planning and Execution process.  Hopefully, you are presenting the S4T training right before the PI Planning event (think M-T for S4T and W-T for PI Planning) in which case any energy you can generate in this simulation will spill over into the planning event.  Start this sim off with as much energy and enthusiasm as you can and keep it fun! 

I usually jump right into the deck and explain the sim using the information in the slides. 

Team/Feature Selection

To speed things up, each team will have pre-assigned features based on their team name.  Make sure you explain that this is not normal, but only done for the simulation, as most PI Planning events will utilize what I call team agnostic features.  I like to have the teams select their team name (and their features) after the Product Vision and Roadmap to create a sense of self-organizing around the problems to be solved.  For experienced Product Owners and Scrum Masters I like to have them take a different role to see how the ‘other’ side lives, but inexperienced or new PO’s and SM’s should probably take that role in the Sim.

PI Planning

Poster sheets with scrum planning diagram

Don’t worry that the team members are following every ‘rule’ of PI Planning, but focus on the important aspects, such as Team Objectives (gleaned from their features and the vision of the city), dependencies to other teams (e.g. DOT needs to work with Works to make sure the bridge meets the needs), and risks to their plans (a common one is that they will not have enough Legos and will need to borrow).  During planning ask each team questions that will lead them to discover the objectives, dependencies and risks critical to the commitment.  Help them with the time box by repeating “Breadth versus Depth” and focusing on a broad plan with gaps that they can go back to fill in as time permits.

PI Plan Review

This is a great time to cement in the need for discovering and planning around dependencies on other teams.  As each team reviews their plan ask questions that will lead to discovery of missed dependencies.  Have each team focus on their objectives during the review, rather than reading off each story.  Call out risks they may have missed in their plans, stressing that risks are opportunities for the plan to fail.  Once each team has committed you can do a confidence vote, but for the sim you don’t need to spend much time on getting every team member to a 4 or 5.

PI Execution

Iteration 1

In the first iteration you want to generate a quick win for the teams to generate confidence, so I usually coach them a fair amount towards success.  However, I do leave things out, such as early integration and deployment.  A very typical scenario is that the teams will build for the first 14 minutes and then scramble at the last minute to integrate into the city, resulting in things like a 1 inch high fire department and a 4 inch high fire truck.  As Product Manager, I stress the importance of integration by looking for issues (real or made up) to show the impact of lack of early deployment and integration, resulting in delayed learning.  The system demo is always full of teaching opportunities!

Iteration 2

During Iteration Planning I stress the inclusion of learning from the first iteration, encouraging them to alter their iteration plan from the PI Planning as needed to adapt.  Depending on the progress of the teams I will add a wrinkle by disappearing for most of the iteration time box, thereby making the Product Manager not available.  When I reappear (usually with just a minute or two left in the iteration) there are usually tons of questions and adjustments needed.  This is done to illustrate the need for the involvement of the Product Manager throughout the iteration, and the usefulness of live feedback.

Iteration 3

By the middle of iteration 3 the teams are usually winding down on the committed features and have time to innovate.  At this point I start to introduce new ideas based on the knowledge they provided during the other two iterations, such as adding a ‘homeless problem’ from all the people moving in to our great city faster than expected, or a water treatment problem (one team solved the lack of fresh water by grabbing the water pitcher off the snack cart and placing it in the town as a water tower, that’s innovation!)


After the PI system demo (end of iteration 3) I gather the teams around the city and pick out other learning opportunities.  Look for things like the amount of collaboration, the ability to work cross team, the way the teams solved problems that they didn’t believe they had the skill set to tackle, etc.  I wrap it up by illustrating how similar this is to execution in a PI, and encourage the teams to use the sim to help them think differently during the upcoming PI Planning event.  Heading back in to the rest of the S4T training I can now use a lot of examples from the sim in the subsequent content with something they can connect with.

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