Continuous feedback during the SAFe PI Planning

PI Planning is a high-priced event. You need to book a room, prepare the materials, order food, plan a social event, flight people over, pay for hotel and transportation and some meals, + even more costs.

The total price can go up to tens of thousands of euros and, in some cases, maybe more.

If you add on top of that the time people spend focusing on the PI Planning process – ~100 people for a few days, you get the whole idea.

That’s why it is very crucial to get feedback on:

  • How to improve the experience on the attendees
  • How to cut some costs
  • How not to repeat mistakes we did already
  • How to make the event more efficient

What SAFe recommends on collecting feedback

SAFe recommends having a retrospective-like event at the end of the Pi Planning, where all the attendees can put some stickies on the wall, and the facilitator will help to combine them in affinity notes, and then the RTE will create follow-up items in the backlog.

I see a bit of a problem in that since we tried it first:

  • The people were super tired and didn’t have the motivation to do yet another exercise.
  • They had feedback on their minds, but they didn’t like the attention to stand in front of everyone and put their stickies on the wall and explain why.
  • Some of the attendees shared verbal feedback with me during the day, but forgot to add it on the boards, thinking that the RTE will do something anyway.
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What difference did I make?

I was reading a great case-study from Eik Thyrsted Brandsgård and Henrik Knibergand and based on something that they did, I decided to go even further and create a Feedback Meter: A scale from +2 (meaning this is super great, and I want this to continue) to -2 (meaning consider changing that in the future).

The board was there for the duration of the whole PI planning event, and the attendees could put their stickies on that scale. Also, I needed to communicate from time to time that the feedback board is there, and it can be used at any time.

Continuous feedback meter.

What I have accomplished with this continuous feedback approach?

  • A mood meter: A quick view on the mood in the room at all time – you can see from that picture that we need some improvements :)
  • Act on time: A see something – do something attitude – if something needs improvement, don’t wait till the end of the Planning, but act now and add a sticky
  • Participation: An excellent way to read the feedback from others and to add your own to theirs.
Agile Monsterd: Continuous feedback

Continuing after the PI Planning

There are 2 groups of attendees that you would miss if you stick to what SAFe recommends as a retrospective practice – those that are attending remotely and those people that love to share anonymous feedback for some reason.

I know you would tell me that this is behavior that I should not encourage, but in my case, I received surpassing feedback from that particular crowd.

To solve that problem, I have created a Podio survey and engaged anyone who could go and add even more feedback online.

What is your opinion on continuous feedback?


I am eager to learn more about how you deal with problems like that in the comments. Remember to start with +2 :)

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Storytelling in SAFe

Let me start with a bit of theory: There is an Agile framework called SAFe ® that allows enterprises to scale and deliver value faster by optimizing how it flows through different systems and sub-systems, using the principles of Lean-Agile.

One of the primary artifacts of that framework is something called a Big Room planning where all of the teams working on one program get together for a while and discuss open items, groom stories, and plan the objectives for the next 5 sprints.

PI planning

I will not get into the details explaining what a sprint is or what grooming is, I assume, if you clicked on my boring title, you should know that already. If not, well, feel free to DuckDuckGo it and find out.

Let me get back to the topic. During that planning event, I, as a Release Train Engineer or say as a facilitator, am responsible for explaining some of the metrics so anyone can understand it. One of those metrics is the PPM.

Define: PPM

I have a piece of good news for you, I don’t expect you to know what that is, because is SAFe specific and I’ll try to explain you in by copy and pasting something from the SAFe website (yes I want to make a point here)

“Each team’s planned vs. actual business value is rolled up to create the program predictability measure”. 

SAFe Website
Author: Collab

To decode that. I’ll share with you that each team defines their own objectives during the PI planning, and the Business Owners are assigning the value to each one of them, based on the assumption of the amount of value that the team will deliver in the next few sprints.

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What does it mean to be predictable in this case? (as in Program Predictability Measure)

I will not talk about how to change the ways you define and measure your PPM now, but I would definitely write another article about that. 

  • Reduced time-to-market that can be elevated to faster value delivery.
  • Increased flexibility for changes in scope with minimal cost.
  • Value delivered in the way the customer expects it.

If we drill down to the specifics, this could go all the way to how much time yous pend on a defect and how efficient is your CI/CD pipeline or how well defined are your Acceptance Criteria.

Per “Blogagility”. The effectiveness of the business outcome of our collaboration and alignment either builds Trust, or it destroys it. 

Blogagility website

I totally agree with that statement. That’s why I focused my story on how trustable we are in the eyes of our Business Owners.

Why Trust matters.

I used a storytelling approach to explain why it matters and tried to connect it to our own software development world.

Here comes the story:

It was one Friday night, and after a hard day at the office, I went home and met some Balkan friends. We did some things that Balkan people do, drinking some liquids that Balkans people drink and when we started seeing Balkan dictators at some point there was this voice behind me:

My son: Dad, where is the pizza.

Me: grabbed my phone, opened the app I used for home delivery and clicked on my order. 

The app: Time for delivery: 18:45; Status: Preparing

Me: looks at my Ikea clock on the wall: It was 20:00.

Me: clicks on the contact us icon and enters my order id.

The app: Order not Found

Me: uses my so-amazing Czech language and checks the status on the phone

The app support: Oh, we apologize, the supplier forgot about your order, here’s your money back.

The time: You lost 40 min of your life.

The app: Your order has arrived.

Me: ?!?

So we ended up with pizza (not so warm) and money in my pocket. You could way that this is a win-win situation, but I mostly care about the experience, not about the money.

Let’s go back to the Trust.

This happened twice, so my Trust with the process of that company went down. 

I really don’t care about who’s fault it is.

  • is it the cooks (developers) that were too slow?
  • or it’s the delivery guy (the CICD pipeline)?
  • or it’s the misalignment (program manager) between different departments?
  • or something completely different?

At the end of the day, the Trust in your product matters, and your product is a complex system that should work well together.

I can imagine that this problem doesn’t happen just to me, and it happens to other people, and they complain differently. Then the company receives that feedback, and they can say what their trust score as we can say as a team of teams (a Program) what our PPM is.

I saw some people nodding their heads in agreement with me this time, so I believe that it was one small step forward to explaining some of the terms in a way that makes sense.

I consider that a success.

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Marketing Kanban Style for Tech Startups

Oh no, there is no mistake. It’s not Gangdam Style!

I am always trying to mix software development methodologies into community and marketing management.

Last year I gave a talk at Fosdem about using Agile methods, and especially Trello, to engage your community. Currently I implementing a similar approach into a project I am involved in.

Warning: The following paragraphs may contain a mixture of different software methodologies, usually not compatible with each other.

What is a modern marketing world?

Marketing now, especially online marketing, is a mixture of Community Management, Brave Content Management, Strong Business Analysis, Good and Awesome Metrics, knowing the hacker attitude, fast problem solving and many, many tasks every second.

I am talking about using new technologies, methodologies and fun in the marketing world. I know there are marketing departments with 100 or more employees, busy with a little tiny boring segment, but with an exciting title. But also, there are startups and small, but very successful companies, having teams with up to 4 members that can do better marketing than those 100 using Marketing Kanban Style.

 

That’s why we need Marketing Kanban Style.

I am an internet enthusiast – maybe one of the few left in the world. I really want to test and hack amazing web tools. Sometimes I find a great tool like Trello and I start using it and talk about it without having been paid a single cent, sometimes it turns out to be a negative experience, like my Facebook story. But I love being an enthusiast.

Yeah, so let’s focus on the step by step go-through:

trello.com 2013-1-31 13:14:42

0. Plan Your Sprint

  •   Sit on a table with your team and define the 3 main tasks you want to see implemented this week. Yes, I am not talking about months or years here. Of course this should be in line with the marketing plan, budget and other documents, tables and graphics …
  •  Define what resources you will need – guys from IT dept, Customer care service, Sales dept, etc.

1. Visualize

  • Tasks may look good in your brain or in a paper or event in your notebook, but they must be placed on a board and here comes Trello.
  •  Start: All tasks start from “To Do” or you can call it “Repository” or “The Dungeon” or even “Death Start” but this is your starting point
  • Define your flow process. It can be simple “Doing” – “Done” or you can add additional steps like “To be approved” or “Testing needed”. Please do not work with more than 5 steps. It’s a waste of time a energy.

2. Make Policies Explicit

  • Define who will do what. If you want you can let people choose what they want to do. This works perfectly for community based marketing and it depends on how cool is your team.
  • Resolve conflicts before they appear. Define the collaboration flow – for example – for this HTML newsletter you must talk with Mike and Petra from Dev department. Add this as a note to the task.
  •  Do not add other department members to the board.

3. Marketing Stand-ups

  • I know the developer stand-ups are real – the people actually are standing up, but the marketing people are allowed to sit down :)
  •  Do a stand-up every day for 15 minutes and be sure you have feedback loops. Every member of the team should report what he/she is working on now and what troubles he/she is having.
  • – This is not a problem-solving meeting. Afterwards you can sit down and try to find a way to resolve the problems.

4. Be а Brave Marketeer

  • Your team must not be afraid to test new techniques in order to achieve the weekly goal.
  • Try to find the boundaries of your team and push a bit outside of them. The marketing world travels with light-speed and you must be very fast as well.
  • Explore the Trello functions and use them for your work. It’s a really useful piece of code.

This is just the beginning of a journey for you if you are taking this path. This is the easiest part but believe me you will be more flexible and successful than the good ol’ huge marketing slow moving company.

This will allow you:

  1.  to achieve results every week.
  2.  to plan your work better
  3.  to easily define metrics and goals
  4.   to do more work for less money
  5.  to build your team and let them evolve together with the company
  6.  to have fun.

Let’s do some Marketing Kanban Style. Shall we?

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