Lessons Learnt with Big Room Planning / Program Increment Planning – What is it?

Lessons Learnt with Big Room Planning

“Big Room Planning” – What’s the hype? Is it the latest “buzzword”? Is Big Room Planning for me and my organization?

As a team of Agile coaches who have facilitated or observed 5 of these events in the past 12 months, we wanted to share our experiences and lessons learnt through 1 client example so you can decide for yourself!

If you’re new to BRP, read on. If you’re simply here for tips and lessons learnt, scroll halfway down to the “Lessons Learnt” section.

What is Big Room Planning

Big Room Planning, commonly known as “BRP”, is a series of events over a day or multiple days, where multiple teams plan their work for the next quarter. As the name suggests, it is a “BIG” multi-team event with upwards of more than 100 people. Our largest BRP in 2019 comprised 400 people.

Here’s what a typical BRP might look like.

Sometimes referred to as PI Planning (Program Increment Planning) in the SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework), the concepts are not framework specific. We have seen how bringing people together always results in magic!

Big Room Planning Outcomes

If there is one outcome from Big Room Planning, it is to have planted the seed for conversations that need to happen over the quarter.

More specifically, BRP seeks to create alignment between teams on delivery plans for the quarter. It’s a great way to meet people you might only ever have a faint email connection or no connection with that are involved in a wider scheme of work.

Every BRP is unique. And especially if you’re running it for the first time, one of the biggest rewards from doing it, is learning about what works for you and your company, in order to make the next event better!

Big Room Planning Outputs

Portfolio Board

The final output from BRP is one or more portfolio (multi-team) boards which sequence the value our teams are planning to deliver at a high level. String can be used to call our dependencies between teams although we have found string to be messy (and adds a layer of complexity).

Team Boards

To arrive at this portfolio (multi-team) view, a means to get there is through creation of team boards. Team boards lay out the sequence of work. The sequence is usually a function of complexity and dependencies between pieces of work.

Dependencies and Risks

Depending on how you might like to call out dependencies and risks, you could consider creating template cards for dependencies and risks. We won’t go into the details as the format of these cards (as with the format of the whole BRP) should be adapted to what works for you!

Why Big Room Planning

Apart from being a highly engaging morale booster, through planning and visualising work for the quarter, we uncover risks early by planting the seed for conversations that needed to be had over the next quarter anyway.

Business people and teams get the opportunity to meet each other and work hand-in-hand.

What Big Room Planning is Not

A well implemented BRP works off the premise that the quarterly commitment is not an immovable plan, nor are we looking to box ourselves into solutions from the get go.

The Proof is in the Prep

The foundation of a successful BRP actually sits with the preparation work leading up to it.

We’ve Gamestorming’s 7 P’s framework particularly useful.

Lessons Learnt

Now, onto the crux of this article.

1. It Will Never Be Perfect

Especially if you’re running your first BRP, you need to acknowledge that it will never be perfect. The biggest outcome of your first BRP is the learnings you get from it to make the next event better.

2. Collect Feedback

Collect feedback throughout the day by pointing participants to a suggestion box or feedback flipchart.

Never leave without doing a retrospective. Post-event surveys just aren’t as effective!

3. Advertise in Advance

Pre-event posters are a great way to raise awareness. Why is this important? These posters serve as a timely reminder for people to reserve time for the event. Often, we’re so stuck heads-down doing the work, making BRP an event to look forward to.

Run pre-BRP drop-in sessions

At least 3 weeks out from the main event, run 1-hour drop-in sessions to explain the process and answer any questions about BRP.

Prepare the Business for it

One of the contributing factors to the success of BRP is a strong business context. This typically consists of a review of market trends, customer feedback, short-and long term strategic drivers. Entering Big Room Planning without understanding the “What” of the work we’re planning, means we cannot effectively plan the “How”.

Large Pre-Printed Boards

Pre-printed portfolio and team boards save time. You have colour and graphics at your disposal to pretty them up with your company look. Having your boards pre-printed adds a touch of class, consistency, and your teams will thank you for it.

We use 800×1200 foamboard for team boards, and 1200 x 2400 for portfolio boards.

In a subsequent post, we will share our experiences running a virtual PI Planning session.

Bring a bag of energising icebreakers

Work the crowd and get those creative juices flowing. Always come prepared with energising icebreakers.

Clearly sign post each team area

It can get chaotic! Help people find their way by clearly sign posting each team area. You can do this by placing A3 team posters on walls or hanging foamboard from the ceiling (if the venue permits). If non of these options are feasible, table placecards also work, although they are less visible.

Book a suitable venue with lots of floor and wall space, and breakout rooms

A suitable venue really does matter! It’s a high impact day of hard-work. It’s easy to do justice to people’s time and effort by simply booking out the best space you can find. Breakout rooms are a bonus as there will be teams or individuals who choose to break away from the group to do their own planning or quiet work.

A Set of Ground Rules

Ground rules will vary depending on your company culture. Here are some for inspiration.

Make it fun, valuable, and memorable

People take time out of busy schedules to make the event, so why not make it fun, valuable and memorable?

Get Started with BRP

The best way to get started is to simply do it.

Get in touch with Teamworx for a non-obligatory consultation and a little nudge of guidance to get you on your way.

Check out our other articles about Big Room Planning, in particular a possible format for running BRP for distributed teams.