6 PI Planning Tips for RTEs

Five years ago, I had the opportunity to participate in the 5 Things I Wish I’d Known before My First PI Planning video series for piplanning.io. Now, I’m reflecting on those tips and sharing them in this blog.

5 Things I Wish I'd Known before My First PI Planning video thumbnail

My journey with SAFe® started with SAFe 2.5. Since then, I’ve enjoyed coaching and mentoring other coaches and leaders. 

As an RTE, I’ve had the chance to facilitate PI planning and coach others to take over that role. While facilitating and coaching, I identified six key tips that created the smoothest PI planning experience for everyone. 

Here they are:

  • Communicate the core message
  • Plan social activities  
  • Be mindful of the start time
  • Prepare, don’t over-prepare
  • Cleary visualize features
  • Take care of basic needs

PI Planning Tip 1: Communicate the Core Message

In the standard agenda, the first half-day of PI planning focuses on the vision, desired deliverables for the PI, features, and architecture.

A screenshot of a standard PI Planning agenda

As the RTE, it’s important to check that the messages from management, including executives, are inspiring and motivational. These speeches should reflect on achievements from the previous PI, address the current state, and provide insight into the organization’s future, specifically how the organization will contribute to building that future in the next PI. 

It’s helpful to review and rehearse the message while supporting effective storytelling. Think of a traditional story arc. Assign you and your customers to a specific role and place in the story. Are you the hero or is the customer the hero while you’re the fairy godmother? What obstacles have you helped your customers overcome? What happy endings have you or your customers created? Sequencing your presentations in this way (if only loosely) will make it easier for your audience to connect with your organization’s purpose.     

One important ingredient of effective storytelling is an executive who knows the customer and the business. They can create a truly captivating story based on real experience in the field. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes and share the story or problem you’re trying to solve from their perspective. This will capture the audience and show your people exactly what they helped create for your customer or will create in the upcoming PI. 

In summary, follow these pointers to create a core message that resonates with teams. 

  • Do a rehearsal beforehand to ensure smooth transitions between segments
  • Support storytelling from one presentation to the next
  • Share customer success stories or examples from the field
  • Invite executives who know the customer and business to present and tell the story

PI Planning Tip 2: Plan Social Activities

Between days one and two, organize an activity like a fox trail or a bowling night. This unstructured time allows people to connect, converse, and build relationships. 

However, it’s important to remember that there is still a second day of PI planning. Do not party too long!

Social activity ideas:  

  • Bowling night
  • Fox trail
  • Escape room 
  • Team dinners featuring local and international foods

If you don’t want to use outside work hours for social time, you can add icebreaker activities to the PI planning agenda. These are short, no more than 10-minute activities that allow people to learn about each other in a different context than work. However, it’s important to note that icebreaker activities don’t work in all cultural contexts, so use discretion when deciding whether or not to include them. 

Here are some quick icebreaker activities:

  • Chat surveys or questions: Use the survey tool that comes with online meeting applications like Google or Zoom to poll the group on things like their favorite candy 
  • Breakout groups/partners to answer a question or share favorites
  • Rapidfire, round robbin question and answer (better in smaller groups): Ask the group a series of “This or that” questions (for example, horror or mystery?)
  • Get to know you Bingo: Give everyone a card with different traits listed on it, like “Owns a dog” or “Has lived abroad;” during breaks, fill out your card with people who have those traits until someone shouts “Bingo” when they get five boxes checked in a row on their board

You can even get creative and pick an activity that matches your PI planning theme

Because virtual PI planning is here to stay, we need to get creative with social activities you can do from afar. Plan time for structured exchanges and organize remote socials.

During Covid, we had “blind dates” during lunch for those who did not want to eat alone. Participants were assigned to another teammate to dine with. This meant they socialized via video call during their lunch from the comfort of their own kitchens.  

Human interaction is important, and PI planning is a great opportunity to get everyone together, even virtually, to create relationships that make collaboration a seamless and enjoyable experience.

PI Planning Tip 3: Be Mindful of Start Time

During the first half day of PI planning, a lot of conversations take place. My SAFe experience is primarily in Europe, particularly Switzerland and Austria, where many people take public transportation to work. Therefore, it’s important to be mindful of the start time. Beginning at 8:00 in the morning might not be suitable as people often travel by train or bus. Starting around 9:00 A.M. allows for a more feasible and effective schedule.

Additionally, it’s common for fatigue to set in during the first half day, potentially due to cultural factors. Different cultures practice different presentation methods. This means some cultures are more tolerant of longer presentations than others. 

To maintain high energy levels, it’s beneficial to keep some talks shorter and initiate breakouts earlier than the proposed agenda

My remote agenda is different than for on-site PI planning. In remote settings, you’ll need more breaks than you have for on-site PI planning. Plan these breaks. Ask your Scrum Masters/Team Coaches to insist on these breaks. I have 15-minute breaks on my agenda every 60 – 75 minutes. During these breaks, I ask people to stand up and leave their desks to walk around, drink water, and do something physical. Remind your Scrum Masters/Team Coaches to do the same in the breakouts.

PI Planning Tip 4: Prepare, Don’t Over-Prepare

When preparing for PI planning, there are two approaches: A) Going in without stories and focusing on known features, or B) Going in with all the stories. 

From my European experience, starting with fewer prepared stories yields better results.

Over-preparing with excessive detail can lead to wasted time. Imagine if each team spends three days preparing stories for their “assigned” features. They might then complain that two days of PI planning is wasted because they now have nothing to do. 

The real waste lies in excessive pre-planning. What happens if the dependencies aren’t properly identified? Or if the business owner asks to reduce scope during PI planning due to a competitor’s actions? Valuable time would be wasted if the work that took time to plan is then descoped or deprioritized. 

The magic of PI planning lies in the opportunity to learn together and collaborate closely.

PI Planning Tip 5: Visualize Features

It’s important to share planning progress while teams are working. Therefore, it’s good practice to visualize features so they’re accessible to the entire organization. 

There are different ways to visualize features based on whether you plan in-person or virtual. 


To track progress and provide visibility, pin the features on a board using multiple instances and colors. For example, use two blue slips and one gray slip—all pinned over each other. When a team selects a feature, they remove the blue slips and write their names on the gray slip on the board. 

This allows the RTE, Product Manager, or Business Owner to see the progress visually. The more gray slips, the greater the progress. It also helps the team members understand who is working on what and provides an overview. The blue slips can be kept in the team area, pinned to the iteration where the feature is finished, while the other blue slip goes to the ART planning board.


You can accomplish this same goal without physical stickies if you’re working in a virtual environment.  

piplanning.io has a color-coding system for the feature stickies. Once a feature has been assigned to a team, it will change color. It will also list the name of the team assigned to the work.  

This is a simple and easy way to see which features have been planned and which haven’t.

A screenshot from piplanning.io's feature stickies
Feature stickies in piplanning.io

PI Planning Tip 6: Take Care of Basic Needs

Maintaining wellbeing is crucial for a productive session. 

As the saying goes, “A hungry bear makes no tricks,” or as participants in a German implementation training described it, “Ohne Mampf kein Kampf,” which translates to “No food, no fight.” 

It’s impossible to concentrate when you’re basic needs aren’t being met. Food, hydration, and bathroom breaks are essential for productive PI planning. 

Designate someone to organize snacks, coffee machines, water, brain food, and other refreshments to ensure everyone stays energized and focused during the sessions.

If you’re virtual, ensure there’s a lunch built into the schedule and breaks during long meetings, especially during the first day. Encourage people to take breaks as needed throughout.


Now that I have dozens of PI plannings under my belt, I can safely say these six tips will provide you with a strong event that provides the right amount of certainty to an uncertain and challenging, but rewarding, experience.

In addition to these tips, here are some SAFe PI planning resources.

piplanning.io is the enterprise application SAFe teams use to facilitate PI Planning
Learn More

About Nikolaos Kaintantzis

Nikolaos has always been driven by improving people’s working lives. As a developer, he wrote UIs that made work easier. As an organizational developer, systemic coach, and SPCT, he has added skills to that ambitious endeavor. In partnership with organizations, he develops them so both the organization and all employees benefit.

Connect with Nikolaos on LinkedIn.

Your Guide to Writing Great Iteration and PI Objectives

Write PI objectives that get results using this guide

Agile is disciplined; not reckless.

Writing useful Iteration Goals and Planning Interval (PI) Objectives requires focus and discipline to achieve proper agility transformation. Bad objectives are one of the most common reasons organizations stop using them. This guide will help you write objectives that get results.

For simplicity, I will use “objectives” interchangeably when talking about iteration goals and PI objectives. Iteration goals are a scaled-down version of PI objectives, which means you can apply my guidance to both metric types.  

Why We Write Iteration and PI Objectives

Before you can write effective iteration and PI objectives, you must understand why we write them. It’s common for organizations to treat objectives as summaries of the features or stories teams commit to in the PI or iteration. But that is a misunderstanding of the objectives’ purpose.

Objectives represent the Agile Team’s commitment to delivery in the PI or iteration. They create a feedback loop from the business to the team. This loop ensures both parties understand the organizational vision:

  • Teams can confirm their understanding of the business’s desired outcomes
  • The business can clarify or further refine its value priorities

During an iteration or PI Planning, teams neither commit to all the features brought to PI Planning nor to whole features. So it’s important to understand what outcomes the features create. This gives everyone a chance to weigh in on those outcomes.

Agility Planning

How PI Objectives Support PI Planning

At PI Planning, the business gives its prioritized feature list to the Agile Release Train (ART). Then, teams on the ART sequence their stories and features based on their priorities and capacities.

During this process, teams will only commit to a subset of the business requests. PI objectives ensure teams commit to the proper subset of the business’s requests. Business value scores and conversations with business owners and key stakeholders also support team commitments.

Teams can then sequence stories and features into a delivery plan that leads to business outcomes. They communicate this plan through the objectives and summarize the business and technical goals in language the business understands. It’s much more than a summary of the planned work.

Another benefit of well-written objectives is they create an opportunity for alignment. Teams should be able to connect their features and stories to the highest value objectives. This makes it easier for the team(s) to see if they’re doing the most valuable work first. If not, they need to address priorities or technical dependencies.

How PI Objectives Are Evaluated by Business Owners

Besides understanding what objectives are for, we must also consider who objectives are for.

Teams write iteration and PI objectives for the Business Owners and key stakeholders. Teams do not write objectives for the Product Managers and Product Owners (POs) who manage the backlogs. The Product Managers and POs know what work they asked for.

Objectives communicate which business outcomes the team contributes to and why they matter. Teams then understand the deeper purpose behind their work, thus helping employee engagement. 

Business Owners evaluate PI objectives at the end of the PI to help the ART measure its performance and business value achieved. This helps determine ART predictability

One caveat to note: uncommitted objectives do not count towards a team’s predictability measure. Therefore, it’s important to write uncommitted objectives during PI planning to demonstrate that the team plans to complete the work but understands there are factors out of their control that may prevent them from delivering the value named in the objective. 

Near the end of PI planning, the Business Owners assign a business value to each PI objective. The business value is a number between 1 (lowest) and 10 (highest). Business Owners quantify the value of PI objectives through a conversation with the team. To determine the business value, they consider questions like

  • Is the work customer-facing?
  • Will the work improve future velocity and value delivery?
  • When will the value be delivered? 
  • How much of the organization will contribute to the objective?
  • How large will the impact be if the objective is not completed in the PI?

Once the PI is over, Business Owners assign Actual Business Value to the PI objectives. Actual Business Value is the amount of value that was delivered toward the objective in the PI.

For example, if one of your objectives was assigned a business value of 7, Business Owners will decide based on the team’s completed work how many of the 7 points were delivered. Like in PI planning, the scores are determined through conversations between the team and Business Owners. 

The structure of your PI objectives impacts how smoothly the Actual Business Value assignments go. Well-structured and clear objectives help Business Owners and teams easily measure what was delivered in the PI. The tips in the following sections outline how to write objectives Business Owners and teams will understand.

How to Write Meaningful Iteration and PI Objectives

Now that we’ve identified what objectives are and who they’re for, let’s inspect some PI objective examples from the field.

  • Implement Jenkins
  • Build 2 APIs
  • Build a database
  • Design a template

These examples do not effectively communicate the business outcomes the work produces. Additionally, these example objectives are written solely from the perspective of development or engineering teams and have no connection to why the work matters. If the objectives just restate the names of the features, they are a waste of time and energy.

Let’s review how to write objectives that create a meaningful connection between the technical work and the business.

First, all objectives should be S.M.A.R.T.

Specific: Be clear and specific so your goals are easier to understand.  Measurable: Measurable goals can be tracked and help you now when you're done. 
Achievable: Are there concrete steps within your control to getting it done?
Relevant: Does the work align to your values and long-term goals? 
Timely: An end date creates a clear time box in which to achieve the outcome or pivot.

Second, a good objective has five components that effectively communicate a business outcome and why it matters:

  • Activity: What will we be doing?
  • Scope: What are the boundaries of the work we will touch?
  • Beneficiary: Who is the intended recipient of the new work?
  • User Value: Why does this work matter to the new user?
  • Business Value: Why does this work matter to the business?

Examples of each component include:

  • Activity: Create, Implement, Define, Design, Enable, Modify, Etc.
  • Scope: App, API, Mobile, Web, Database, Dashboards, Etc.
  • Beneficiary: Customer, End-user, System Team, Mobile Users, Etc.
  • User Value: Faster, Better, Cheaper, Enhanced, New Features, Etc.
  • Business Value: Reduced Call Times, Increased Sales, Increased Data Efficacy, Reduced Loss to Fraud, Etc.

You can put these two steps together using the following formula.

PI Objective Formula
[Activity] + [Scope] so that [Beneficiary] have [User Value] to [Business Value]

Iteration and PI Objectives Examples from the Field

Here are a few examples of good iteration and PI objectives from three different contexts.

Financial services company example

  • Activity: Add
  • Scope: three new methods of e-payment
  • Beneficiary: so that mobile users with digital wallets
  • User Value: have an improved checkout experience
  • Business Value: to drive a three-percent revenue increase

“Add three new methods of e-payment so that mobile users with digital wallets have an improved checkout experience to drive a 3 percent revenue increase.”

Digital transformation team example

  • Activity: Create
  • Scope: an Agile Ways of Working guide
  • Beneficiary: so that {Company} employees
  • User Value: have clear guidance on implementing Agile behaviors
  • Business Value: to enable a faster flow of value with higher quality delivery

Create an Agile Ways of Working guide so that {Company} employees have clear guidance on implementing Agile behaviors to enable faster flow of value with higher quality delivery.”

An example from a team building a new customer data platform

  • Activity: Create
  • Scope: a single source of truth customer database
  • Beneficiary: so that customers who call us
  • User Value: have an improved customer experience
  • Business Value: with a 25 percent shorter time to resolution

“Create a single-source of truth customer database so that customers who call us have an improved customer experience with a 25 percent shorter time to resolution.”

Using the above approaches creates a powerful statement of business value. And it creates greater alignment between the teams’ work and business strategy. Tip: teams can write their objectives using the bulleted format to make them even clearer.

Find More Objectives Resources in SAFe® Studio

Iteration and PI objectives create feedback loops between the teams and the business. They also assess how well the team’s work aligns with organizational goals. When you understand this connection, you can improve your implementation of these objectives.

If you have objective-writing stories, good or bad, in your organization, share them with me. Together, we can improve this process for everyone.

Objective-writing resources in SAFe® Studio:


About Saahil Panikar

Saahil is a SAFe® Program Consultant Trainer (SPCT)

Saahil is a SAFe® Practice Consultant Trainer (SPCT) and certified Enterprise Business Agility Strategist. He is determined to help organizations extend their Agility beyond IT. He started his career as a Data Scientist, and Saahil is still passionate about the metrics behind successful transformations. As a former collegiate rugby player for the University of Florida, Saahil bleeds Orange and Blue and is a die-hard fan of Gator Football.

Connect with Saahil on LinkedIn

How to Prepare Your Lean-Agile Center of Excellence for Success

Wouldn’t it be great if transformations could go on autopilot? 

Unfortunately, despite what we wish for, they can’t. They need strong and resilient teams driving transformations to success. 

In this blog, you’ll learn how to set up your Lean-Agile Center of Excellence (LACE) for success. Everything in this blog is from our experiences in the field. 

Our story begins at the very first LACE Summit, where we met for the first time. Heads of LACE teams from across the globe were brought together, where we were able to collaborate, exchange ideas, and benefit from each other’s experiences. This took place on October 6, 2022, when Amadeus welcomed Orange, Renault, Vodafone, and Scaled Agile, Inc. to the Amadeus headquarters in Sophia-Antipolis, France. 

We left the LACE summit with practical examples of

  • LACE team setups
  • Challenges
  • Pitfalls
  • Best practices
  • Recommendations 

The event was not only fun but a real eye-opener.

What to Consider When Setting up Your Lean-Agile Center of Excellence

We identified four focus areas when creating a Lean-Agile Center of Excellence:

  • Setup
  • Reporting line 
  • Diversity of capabilities
  • Prioritization process

LACE setup

You have many options for LACE setup.

It’s important to consider your progress in the transformation journey and transformation ambition.

Most LACE teams have a Hub-and-Spoke setup. This includes relays in the organizations they support (SAFe® champions). Most LACE teams include HR and Finance in their decision process and roadmap. 

Based on input from other LACE teams, it’s not easy to map a LACE organization. The organization has plenty of connections and direct or dotted links with other groups. 

You usually start with a small team of change agents representing different areas. They’re willing to drive the change, experiment, and learn fast. These team members may only dedicate a limited part of their capacity to the transformation at the beginning. But they’re willing to go the extra mile. 

Skills in the LACE are global and include R&D, HR, Finance, Product Management, Design Thinking, and Communication. Use external consultants as you develop the skills of your internal change agents at the start of the journey. The goal of these external partners should be to enable your LACE team to drive transformation on their own. 

As the scale of your transformation increases, you will also need to scale your team. You may need to create new transformation teams to support simultaneous transformations in different areas (portfolios). 

At Amadeus and Vodafone, we use the Hub and Spoke model. This enables decentralized decision-making and concurrent transformation initiatives in different areas. It also brings alignment on important transformation topics with a strong Hub. 

At Amadeus, we also have SAFe champions. We nominate these champions and train them on SAFe SPC curriculum. Once trained, they become strong change agents in the organization. They sustain the change in alignment with the LACE support. 

The most critical success factor when you start is nominating a strong authentic leader. This leader understands the business and the challenges the company is facing. It should be someone eager to drive the change and with energy and resilience to resolve impediments and roadblocks along the way. Pairing two leaders—one from Business and one from IT—will increase alignment of the transformation from the get-go.

Reporting lines

Since most transformations start in IT, organizations create a Head of LACE position in IT. The role usually reports to the Chief Information Officer (CIO) or Chief Technology Officer (CTO). This underpins the importance of the transformation. It also creates a direct line of communication with executives within the organization. 

But, in this case, the Business Executive Sponsor is crucial to the transformation. They enable acceptance of the transformation team in the Business organization. Otherwise, there is a risk that business engagement will lack. People will perceive the transformation as IT only. 

At Amadeus, there is a double reporting line of Head of LACE both to the CTO and a dotted line reporting into HR. This double reporting enables the LACE to dig into engineering perspectives. It also gives them a transversal mandate to guide the people and culture evolution. 

Agile Coaches usually report to one line organization led by the Head of LACE. This ensures

  • Alignment
  • Consistency of implementation approach
  • Fast upskilling
  • Knowledge-sharing 

It’s important to note that a successful LACE is a collaboration, not a line organization. The LACE needs more cross-functional and cross-departmental capabilities. These capabilities anchor the change in the organization.

Diversity of capabilities

Depending on your transformation goals and environment, you’ll need different skills and capabilities. Your transformation will evolve. This means your required skills and capabilities will also evolve. New challenges and impediments will come up. 

A typical LACE team can include the following skills and capabilities:

  • Agile Coaching and Training
  • Agile Methods and Tooling
  • Change Management and Communication
  • Design Thinking
  • DevOps
  • Representation of Finance, HR, line managers, and change agents 

In a regulatory and compliance environment, include the following experts in your LACE team:

  • Tooling
  • Compliance
  • Process

Prioritization process

Transformation requires focus. Change agents and change champions have jobs that keep them busy. Other priorities get in the way. Transformations can feel like you’re changing tires on a highway at full speed. 

To counterbalance conflicting priorities, try the following:

  • Upfront investment in alignment
  • Involving line managers of your change agents
  • Negotiating transformation goals as part of yearly performance goals

A small team of dedicated SPCs can speed up your transformation. When you start to scale on an enterprise level, the impediments will get bigger and harder to address. 

At Amadeus, the LACE runs the transformation. They use SAFe Lean Portfolio Management (LPM) for prioritization. They use an Agile Release Train for the execution. 

A Strategic Portfolio Review (SPR) drives the transformation LPM. The SPR includes executives from all business units. These executives share:

  • Priorities
  • Roadmap
  • Major achievements
  • Impediments where the LACE needs top management support 

Amadeus holds the SPR quarterly. 

They also organize bi-weekly Portfolio Sync meetings. These meetings include executive representatives. They address Epics and operational progress of the transformation train. 

Some of the SPR members are also Business Owners of the transformation train. This generates better alignment and valuable discussions with the team members.

Prioritization at Amadeus
Prioritization at Amadeus

Lean-Agile Center of Excellence Challenges and Tips

The Lean-Agile Center of Excellence will face challenges throughout the transformation journey. The following two challenges are particularly critical to overcome.

  • Executive engagement
  • Transformation ownership

Challenge 1: Executive engagement

Transformation is not a sprint but a marathon. It’s not enough for executives to give their buy-in at the beginning of the transformation. They shouldn’t expect business results with minimal effort. 

Many transformation teams struggle to get continuous executive engagement needed for sustainable change. 

To keep executives engaged, always start with the WHY. Define the clear business outcomes you want to achieve. You don’t need to get engagement from all executives at once from the very beginning. Start with one. Build trust. Show quick incremental improvements, and let them become your biggest advocate.

Challenge 2: Transformation ownership

As the LACE team, avoid becoming a ‘Doctor’s office’. People should not come to you for quick pain relief and fast results with the least effort. With this method, if something is not working, it immediately becomes your fault. 

Ownership of the transformation and business results should stay in the delivery organization. The LACE team is an enablement team. They partner with different business areas to

  • Become a catalyst of change
  • Drive continuous improvement culture
  • Help address roadblocks on the way to success

Tips for solving these challenges

Here are some tips for solving the two challenges mentioned in the previous section. 

Engage your executives in your roadmap 

Train executives. Coach them. Involve them in the planning through retrospectives, system demos, and other formats. 

Why is this important? 

You’ll need their support to get everyone on board. Then you’ll need their approval (and even more so, their sponsorship) to implement changes in the organization. 

Don’t get out of breath

You are of no use if you run out of energy. Take time with your work. Make sure your teams have the right workload to avoid feeling like they’re gasping for air. Don’t be too wrapped up in meeting your own goals and forget to engage your team.

Changing for the sake of change won’t be enough for your teams

People need a compelling reason to change. Engage colleagues by building a vision and defining a burning platform. We’ve seen this work in many transformation journeys.

Change agents should work as a team and support each other

Organizational transformation is tedious work, and it is not a one-person job. Use PI (Planning Interval) planning to align priorities. Ensure the team works toward the same objectives. 

Celebrate success together as a team and boost motivation 

Short-term wins encourage team members to be more engaged and positive about the work. 

Some people believe SAFe and agility are for technical people, like engineers. But this is not always true. Practicing Agile ways of working means planning work and delivering value based on the customer’s wishes. By this, all aspects of a company should be Agile. 

So, your transformation team needs representation from everywhere. This includes business, HR, Finance, Procurement, and more. They will be your change agents in different areas of the business.

A Checklist to Keep Your LACE on Track

Setting up a LACE team can be overwhelming. Oftentimes, as an internal team, you may only have one chance to get it right. 

Here’s a checklist based on experience from the trenches to help your LACE team get it right on the first try. 

1. Design a purpose-driven transformation that ensures continuous executive engagement.

  • Secure a transformation sponsor at the executive level
  • Define common objectives (OKRs) with your sponsor
  • Connect to strategy and define transformation narrative
  • Involve executive leaders in prioritizing the LACE backlog of  transformation initiatives

2. Define and evolve your LACE vision/mission, transformation scope, capabilities needed, and your operating model.

  • Host a LACE Kickoff to define your vision, mission, ways of working, initial scope, and metrics
  • Ensure nomination of HR and Finance representatives and establish a good mix of Business and Technology representatives in your LACE team
  • Co-create transparent rules of engagement between your LACE team and transformation the initiatives you’re supporting
  • Join forces and connect with the strategy team in your organization, Cultural Center of Excellence, or Digital Transformation office (when applicable) to support broader enterprise transformation and cultural change
  • Drive alignment on vision, mission, and why story when you scale across the organization and make your transformation inclusive to all transformation teams
Amadeus Lean-Agile Center of Excellence Canvas

3. Invest time in communication, focusing on different and sometimes unique needs of stakeholders. Remember, there is no successful transformation without successful communication.

  • Create an engaging communication strategy and communication plan for different target groups
  • Experiment; be bold and creative 
  • Promote transformation stories, testimonials, and learnings in different formats (e.g. regular demos, newsletters, videos, podcasts, etc.)
  • Organize regular Agile events or internal Agile conferences to bring your transformation stories to life and connect change agents and enthusiasts in the organization
  • Don’t forget that executives represent a crucial communication target group; invest time in understanding their communication needs

4. Adapt to change, scale with alignment, and measure success.

  • Evolve your transformation scope over time and adjust your LACE capabilities depending on the current focus area of transformation
  • Scale transformation with SPC Champions in different areas and connect them via Community of Practice to drive excellence, community spirit, and pride in driving transformation together
  • Measure NPS of your LACE team for different transformation initiatives you are supporting

Additional LACE Resources

If you’re interested in setting up and driving a successful LACE, we would love to invite you to the next edition of the LACE Summit. It will be planned at Amadeus Sophia-Antipolis, France in October 2023. Join us to hear and share about your favorite topic. Stay tuned! 

Here are some additional LACE resources:

About Sandra Bellong

Sandra Bellong, Head of Lean-Agile Center of Excellence at Amadeus, is a senior people manager, project manager, and Agile/SAFe specialist with a strong background in business analysis and development design. She is a dynamic, engaged, and motivated actor in Agile transformations, process and methodology improvements, and always in the scope of high customer satisfaction. 

Connect with Sandra on LinkedIn.

About Alena Keck

Alena Keck, Head of Lean-Agile Center of Excellence at Vodafone, is passionate about helping large global companies reach the full potential of business agility and overcome challenges of Agile transformation at scale. Her mission is to be a strong change agent who creates strong transformation teams and growing Lean-Agile leaders. Her motto is “Transformation is a Team Sport.” 

Connect with Alena on LinkedIn.

The Complete Guide to Measuring Team and Technical Agility


Before writing this article, we were curious to know more about how often teams are measuring their agility (if ever). We ran an informal poll on LinkedIn, and the results were fascinating.

Assessing your team’s agility is a crucial step toward continuous improvement. After all, you can’t get where you want to go if you don’t know where you are.

But you probably have questions: How do you measure a team’s agility? Who should do it and when? What happens with the data you collect, and what should you do afterwards?

We’re here to answer these questions. Use the following sections to guide you:

  • What is Team and Technical Agility?
  • What is the team and technical agility assessment?
  • Assessment tips, including before, during, and after you assess
  • Team and technical agility assessment resources

These sections include a video showing where to find the team and technical agility assessment in SAFe® Studio and what the assessment looks like.

What Is Team and Technical Agility?

Agile Teams, Built-In Quality, and Teams of Agile Teams graphic from Framework article
The three dimensions of team and technical agility

Before jumping into the assessment, it’s important to understand team and technical agility. This will help determine if you want to run the assessment and which areas may be most beneficial for your team. 

Team and technical agility is a team’s ability to deliver solutions that meet customers’ needs. It’s one of the seven business agility core competencies. 

Team and technical agility contains three parts:

  • Agile teams
  • Teams of Agile teams
  • Built-in Quality

Agile teams

As the basic building block of an Agile Release Train (ART), the Agile team is responsible for 

  • Connecting with the customer
  • Planning the work
  • Delivering value
  • Getting feedback
  • Improving relentlessly

They’re the ones on the ground bringing the product roadmap to life. They must also plan, commit, and improve together to execute in unison. 

Teams of Agile teams

An ART is where Agile teams work together to deliver solutions. The ART has the same responsibilities as the Agile team but on a larger scale. The ART also plans, commits, executes, and improves together. 

Built-in quality

Since Agile teams and ARTs are responsible for building products and delivering value, they must follow built-in quality practices. These practices apply during development and the review process. 

As we state in the Framework article: “Built-in quality is even more critical for large solutions, as the cumulative effect of even minor defects and wrong assumptions may create unacceptable consequences.”

It’s important to consider all three areas when assessing your team’s agility.

What Is the Team and Technical Agility Assessment?

Team and Technical Agility Assessment results screenshot

The team and technical agility assessment is a review tool that measures your team’s agility through a comprehensive survey and set of recommendations. 

However, there’s more to it than that. We’ll review the information you need to fully understand what you learn from this assessment and how to access it.

Each question in the assessment asks team members to rate statements about their teams on the following scale:

  1. True
  2. More True than False
  3. Neither False nor True
  4. More False than True
  5. False
  6. Not Applicable
The assessment answer options

What information can I get from the team and technical agility assessment?

Team and technical agility assessment helps teams identify areas for improvement, highlight strengths worth celebrating, and benchmark performance against future progress. It asks questions like the following about how your team operates:

  • Do team members have cross-functional skills? 
  • Do you have a dedicated Product Owner (PO)
  • How are teams of teams organized in your ARTs? 
  • Do you use technical practices like test-driven development and peer review? 
  • How does your team tackle technical debt?

For facilitators, including Scrum Masters/Team Coaches (SM/TC), the team and technical agility assessment is a great way to create space for team reflection beyond a typical retrospective. It can also increase engagement and buy-in for the team to take on actionable improvement items.

Once the assessment is complete, the team receives the results broken down by each category of team and technical agility.

Team and Technical Agility Assessment results (aggregate view)

When you click on a category, the results break into three sub-categories to drill down even further into the responses.

Team and Technical Agility results (drilled down view of Agile Teams category)

In addition to the responses, you receive key strengths. The answers with the highest average scores and the lowest deviations between team members are key strengths.

Assessment results showing statements with the highest scores and highest amount of agreement

Inversely, you also get key opportunities. The answers with the lowest average scores and highest deviations between team members highlight areas where more focus is needed.

Screenshot of areas of improvement in assessment results

The assessment will include growth recommendations based on your team’s results. These are suggested next steps for your team to improve the statements and areas where it scored lowest.

Screenshot of a growth recommendation example from the TTA assessment

How do I access the team and technical agility assessment?

You can access the team and technical agility assessment in SAFe® Studio. Use the following steps:

  1. Log into SAFe® Studio.
  2. Navigate to the My SAFe Assessments page under “Practice” in the main navigation bar on the left side of the homepage. 
  3. Click the Learn More button under Comparative Agility, our Measure and Grow Partner. The team and technical agility assessment runs through their platform. 
  4. Click on the Click Here to Get Started button.
  5. From there, you’ll land on the Comparative Agility website. If you want to create an account to save your progress and assessment data, you may do so. If you’d like to skip to the assessment, click on Start Survey in the bottom right of the screen. 
  6. Select Team and Technical Agility Assessment.
  7. Click Continue in the pop-up that appears. 
  8. The assessment will then start in a new tab. 

See each of these steps in action in this video.

Team and Technical Agility Assessment Best Practices

To ensure you get the best results from the team and technical agility assessment, we’ve compiled recommended actions before, during, and after the assessment.

Before facilitating the team and technical agility assessment

Being intentional about how you set up the assessment with your team will give you results you can work with after the assessment.

Who should run the assessment

Running assessments can be tricky for a few reasons. 

  • Teams might feel defensive about being “measured” 
  • Self-reported data isn’t always objective or accurate 
  • Emotions and framing can impact the results 

That’s why SAFe recommends a SM/TC or other trained facilitator run the assessment. A SM/TC, SPC, or Agile coach can help ensure teams understand their performance and know where to focus their improvement efforts.

When to run the assessment

It’s never too early or too late to know where you stand. Running the assessment for your team when starting with an Agile transformation will help you target the areas where you most need to improve, but you can assess team performance anytime. 

As for how frequently you should run it, it’s probably more valuable to do it on a cadence—either once a PI or once a year, depending on the team’s goals and interests. There’s a lot of motivation in seeing how you grow and progress as a team, and it’s easier to celebrate wins demonstrated through documented change over time.

How to prepare to run the assessment

Before you start the team and technical agility assessment, define your team’s shared purpose. This will help you generate buy-in and excitement. If the team feels like they’re just completing the assessment because the SM/TC said so, it won’t be successful. They must see value in it for them as individuals and as a team. 

Some questions we like to ask to set this purpose include: 

  • What do we want it to feel like to be part of this team two PIs from now?
  • How will our work lives be improved when we check in one year from now?

We like to kick off the assessment with a meeting invitation with a draft agenda if you’re completing the assessment as a team. Sending this ahead of time gives everyone a chance to prepare. You can keep the agenda loose, so you have the flexibility to spend more or less time discussing particular areas, depending on how your team chooses to engage with each question.

If you’re completing the assessment asynchronously, send out a deadline of when team members must complete the assessment by. Then send a meeting invitation for reviewing the results as a team.

Facilitating the team and technical agility assessment

Now it’s time to complete the assessment. These are a couple of tips to consider when facilitating the assessment for your team.

Running the assessment

Ways to run the assessment graphic

There are two ways you can approach running this assessment. Each has a different value. Choose the option based on your team’s culture. 

Option one is to have team members take the assessment individually and then discuss the results as a group. You can do this one of two ways: team members complete the assessment asynchronously by a certain date so you can review results as a team later or set a time for teammates to take the assessment at the same time and discuss results immediately afterwards.   

Option two is to discuss the assessment questions as a team and agree on the group’s answers.

When we ran this assessment, we had team members do it individually so we could focus our time together on reviews and actions. If you run it asynchronously, be available to team members if they have questions before you review your answers.

Keeping the assessment anonymous

Keeping the answers anonymous is helpful if you want more accurate results. We like to be clear upfront that the assessment will be anonymous so that team members can feel confident about being honest in their answers. 

For example, with our teams, we not only explained the confidentiality of individuals’ answers but also demonstrated in real time how the tool works so that the process would feel open and transparent. We also clarified that we would not be using the data to compare teams to each other or for any purpose other than to gain a shared understanding of where we are selecting improvement items based on the team’s stated goals.

However, if you choose to complete the assessment as a team and decide on each answer together, answering anonymously isn’t possible. Choose the option you think works best for your team’s culture.

After facilitating the team and technical agility assessment

The main point of running the team and technical agility assessment is to get the information it provides. What you do with this information determines its impact on your team.

What to do with the assessment results

Once you’ve completed the assessment using one of the two approaches,

  • Review sections individually
  • Show aggregate results
  • Allow team to notice top strengths and areas for improvement
  • Don’t tell the team what you think as facilitator

We learned in the assessment how much we disagreed on some items. For example, even with a statement as simple as “Teams execute standard iteration events,” some team members scored us a five (out of five) while others scored us a one. 

We treated every score as valid and sought to understand why some team members scored high and others low, just like we do when estimating the size of a user story. 

This discussion lead to:

  • Knowing where to improve
  • Uncovering different perspectives
  • Showing how we were doing as a team
  • Prompting rich conversations
  • Encouraging meaningful progress

We know it can be challenging to give and receive feedback, especially when the feedback focuses on improving. Here are a few ways to make conversations about the assessment results productive with your team.

How to review assessment results graphic

Using the assessment to improve

With your assessment results in hand, it’s time to take actions that help you improve. 

For each dimension of the team and technical agility assessment, SAFe provides growth recommendations to help teams focus on the areas that matter most and prioritize their next steps. 

Growth recommendations are helpful because they’re bite-sized actions to break down the overall area of improvement. They’re easy to fit into the PI without overloading capacity. 

Examples of growth recommendations:

Example 1:

  • As a SM/TC, watch the How to Run an Effective Backlog Refinement Workshop video with the team.
  • Discuss the importance of refining the backlog to ensure upcoming work is well-defined and there is no work outside the backlog. 
  • Schedule backlog refinement on a cadence.

Example 2: 

  • As a team, use the Identifying Key Stakeholders Collaborate template and answer the following questions:
    • Who is the customer of our work? (This could be internal or external customers.)
    • Who is affected by our work?
    • Who provides key inputs or influences the goals of our work?
    • Whose feedback do we need to progress the work?
  • Maintain a list of key stakeholders.

Example 3:

  • As a team, collect metrics to understand the current situation. Include the total number of tests, the frequency each test is run, test coverage, the time required to build the Solution and execute the tests, the percentage of automated tests, and the number of defects. Additionally, quantify the manual testing effort each Iteration and during a significant new release.
  • Present and discuss these metrics with the key stakeholders, highlighting how the lack of automation impacts quality and time to market.
  • Create a plan for increasing the amount of test automation.

Here are some actions you should take once you’ve completed the assessment: 

  • Review the team growth recommendations together to generate ideas
  • Select your preferred actions (you can use dot voting or WSJF calculations for this; SAFe® Studio has ready-made templates you can use)
  • Capture your team’s next steps in writing: “Our team decided to do X, Y, and Z.” 
  • Follow through on your actions so that you’re connecting them to the desired outcome
  • Review your progress at the beginning of iteration retrospectives

Finally, you’ll want to use these actions to set a focus for the team throughout the PI. Then check in with Business Owners at PI planning on how these improvements have helped the organization progress toward its goals.

Tip: Simultaneously addressing all focus areas may be tempting, but you want to limit your WIP. 

To do this, pick one focus area based on the results. You can add the remaining focus areas to the backlog to begin working on once you’ve addressed the first one.

Ways to prioritize action items: WSJF, Team vote, Timeliness, Ease, Team capacity

Feeling overwhelmed by the action items for your team? Try breaking them down into bite-size tasks to make it easier on capacity while still making progress.

These are some examples.

Bite-size action item examples

Team and Technical Agility Assessment Resources

Here are some additional resources to consider when assessing your team’s agility. 

About the authors

Lieschen is a product owner and former scrum master at Scaled Agile.

Lieschen Gargano is a Release Train Engineer and conflict guru, thanks in part to her master’s degree in conflict resolution. As the RTE for the development value stream at Scaled Agile, Inc., Lieschen loves cultivating new ideas and approaches to Agile to keep things fresh and engaging. She also has a passion for developing practices for happy teams of teams across the full business value stream.

Sam is a certified SAFe® 6 Practice Consultant (SPC) and serves as the SM/TC for several teams at Scaled Agile. His recent career highlights include entertaining the crowd as the co-host of the 2019, 2020, and 2021 Global SAFe® Summits. A native of Columbia, South Carolina, Sam lives in Kailua, Hawaii, where he enjoys CrossFit and Olympic weightlifting.

Five Tips from a SAFe Product Owner

I’ve been a SAFe® Product Owner (PO) for two years and I’ve learned that showing up well in this role is more than just a skill set you build. It becomes an art that deserves practice, consideration, professional development, and your authentic personality.

As a PO of a very busy team that is charged with understanding and delivering on customer journeys with SAFe learning content, my daily work life can include:

A Day in the Life of a SAFe PO

See formal guidance on the PO role in the PO Framework article

In short, my day can hold many twists and turns. Over the last two years, I’ve developed some habits and practices that help me bring my best self to this role as often as possible:

  • Treat the work as an important teammate
  • Treat yourself as an important teammate
  • Know whose opinions matter most to you
  • Practice setting boundaries
  • Form a great bond with your team’s Scrum Master/Team Coach

In the following sections, I’ll explain these practices in more context and share resources to help you accomplish them on your team.

SAFe® Product Owner Tip One: Treat the Work as an Important Teammate

POs often face competing priorities, needs, and opinions. 

This means I may hear from someone in one part of the organization why we need X and then hear from someone on my team why X is a terrible idea. I can learn why someone desires to work on something new and learn why we won’t be pursuing that idea in the same hour. I often do. 

One way I resolve this is to treat the work as a teammate that deserves respect, care, and consideration.

Here’s an example of how this works.

A high-performing team member shared she was interested in enabler work towards researching and selecting upgraded tools. However, her work in the upcoming PI was heavy in iterations one, two, and three. This planned work was for committed deliverables in iteration four. 

Architecture also approached me to help get alignment on having that team member work with them on this tool selection. They proposed several longer-than-average meetings with this team member in iterations one, two, and three as well as asking for exploration work from this team member in iterations three, four, and five. 

I knew my team member was invested in choosing the right future tool for our work. I also knew we would miss our PI objectives and delivery of products without the crucial work she was planning in the early part of the PI. 

I thought of my teammate and the work as equals, having needs and deserving a thoughtful decision. I worked with Architecture and the teammate to craft expectations for this PI and an extended timeline for the enabler work so the team’s work, the teammate, and Architecture all had a path forward.

SAFe Product Owner Tip Two: Treat Yourself as an Important Teammate

SAFe Product Owners and Scrum Masters/Team Coaches have specialty roles AND are a part of the team. This can be confusing sometimes. Should you add items to the team retro or vote in estimating poker? What happens when you have a family emergency or take vacation? Can you plan stories?

Having a different title or being a decision-maker can serve to distance you from teammates. In my first two PIs as a PO, I felt this keenly and decided to think about it differently. 
My skills help the team deliver value and understand who will consume it and what they need. Once I started thinking about myself as a contributor rather than a “distanced person with a different role,” it made it much easier to decide: Yes, and.

  • YES, I should add items to our Team’s iteration retrospective! AND maybe I should mind my airtime and let others go first when the team is discussing which actions or changes they’d like to pursue in the next iteration. 
  • YES, when we take team assessments such as the Team and Technical Agility assessment, my voice matters, AND if I have areas of disagreement, I’ll wait for my Scrum Master/Team Coach to facilitate conversations.
Yesss, and...GIF
  • YES, I can vote in estimating poker when we’re sizing stories, AND if the person doing the work has a strong feeling or the rest of the team disagrees with my estimate, I’ll cede my opinion. 
  • YES, I can take a long vacation AND find ways for my team to move stories through our Kanban while I’m unplugged.
  • YES, I can write stories! If there are areas of expertise I can leverage to help us develop our products, I can and should write stories! AND, when I have the opportunity to learn more about how others on the team are completing work, this builds my T-shaped skills and helps me plan work on our team with more knowledge and empathy.

Since making this shift, I’ve become more equipped to 

  • Know what work we’re doing
  • Understand the how and why
  • Help our team reach out cross-functionally in the ART or to work with customers 

Our team has been on a high-performing trajectory since this shift. While correlation isn’t causation, I intend to continue this mindset.

SAFe Product Owner Tip Three: Know Whose Opinions Matter Most to You

I like to joke about what I do for a living because (let’s be honest) parts of my family struggle to understand what I do at work. Sometimes I tell people I solve problems just-in-time for a living. Sometimes I tell people I negotiate and set boundaries for a living. Often I tell people I make someone unhappy nearly every day for a living.

Making people unhappy is one of the hardest parts of being a SAFe Product Owner. Because I’m involved in a team executing product development, maintenance, and delivery while acting as an interface with other teams we need work from or need work from us as they execute, misaligned needs and timing will arise. 

Every decision I make, negotiate, share, or support, can potentially frustrate a teammate, someone on another team, someone on the extended product team, our business owners, or any combination of these folks.

People’s work is personal. This is their career, their time away from their family, their commitments, and the products they love and use. Their feelings about work are valid.

I’ve learned to accept and sit closely with someone having uncomfortable feelings about a decision. I put intense work into validating feelings, no matter how strong they may be and regardless of my agreement about that person’s wishes or ideas.

It can be challenging to stay calm with someone in an emotional situation. This is even harder to do without talking them out of their experience. I can’t do it unless I hold deep and important knowledge—I’m ok even if people disagree with me today. Not everyone’s opinions of me need to shape me in every moment.

I extend unconditional positive regard for people while building a working relationship with them. I assume good intent. And after that, the people who really stick with me respond to my brand of being me and getting work done.

This means I can live with some people who are unhappy with the news, decision, or strategy I’ve just shared. I can stay calm, professional, and empathetic without agonizing over the interaction. 

It may sound like I care less about some people. However, what results from this approach is room for me to care deeply about the people I work with most frequently and maintain room for my own work, their needs, and new work relationships to grow.

Early in my life as a PO, carrying everyone’s thoughts and feelings kept me up at night and sometimes prevented me from saying things that needed to be said. 

Rejecting this mindset has made me a better, more decisive, and more reliable PO.

SAFe Product Owner Tip Four: Practice Setting Boundaries

SAFe Product Owners often need to tell their team, Product Manager, an engineer or architect, other teams, ART, or Business Owners “no.” No feels like such a scary word. No can sit on the tip of my tongue and raise questions like, “Will this cause anger? Disappointment? Personal dislike?”

In the end, saying no to some things allows teams to say yes to others, and to take meaningful action on those commitments. It’s what allows us to create quality products. Conversely, saying yes to everything leads to poor quality, missed commitments and objectives, and personal and professional disappointments.

I decided to take a deep dive into setting boundaries. I started by considering how I could say “no” or “maybe” with clarity.

Ways to Say No as a PO

These are a few of the ways I trained myself to respond so I could communicate boundaries without shutting down necessary conversations.

For some time, I had these on a sticky note on the wall behind my desk. I rehearsed them and queued myself to remember to use these phrases.

After several PIs, my team started asking how I got so measured and productive at setting boundaries. We now brainstorm as a team ways to set boundaries before we go into PI planning. Here are some of the boundary-setting phrases our team has come up with:

Ways for Your Team to Say No

The truth is these phrases are useful outside of PI planning throughout iterations. The bigger truth is they’re helpful in day-to-day life outside of work.

SAFe Product Owner Tip Five: Form a Great Bond with Your Team’s Scrum Master/Team Coach

I am lucky to have the kind of relationship with my team’s Team Coach where we happily grab taco dinners together. I don’t think all POs must be buddies with their teams’ Scrum Masters/Team Coaches. But it does help the work and team for POs to have good working relationships with the person in this role on the team.

As a SAFe Product Owner, you have your eyes on the needs of the customer (i.e., anyone who consumes your team’s work) and the work. I like to say, “I’m not the boss of anyone. I represent the work.” 

The Scrum Master or Team Coach has their eyes on team performance, work progress, and delivery. I’ve found that having a great working relationship with the Team Coach on my team means we can coordinate to support the team and work and fine-tune our team and technical agility.

Ways I’ve coordinated with my Team Coach to support the team include:

  • Proposing breaking our Agile team events up differently
  • Devising ways to handle things asynchronously when we have scheduling traffic jams 
  • Asking me powerful questions when I’m facing hard decisions on priorities and moving the work forward 

I can also go to our Team Coach and propose agenda items for our team events, ask for help getting data and metrics, and collaborate on thinking through team challenges and needs.

It’s so rewarding to have a relationship with our Team Coach where I can talk candidly about where we’ve been as a team, where we’re headed, and the ways we can both leverage our skills and perspectives to help the team succeed. 

This makes it enjoyable to collaborate on planning team celebrations. We’ve worked together to coordinate

  • A “game show”-themed gathering
  • Gift bags
  • Creative ways for the team to learn about one another and appreciate each other more
  • A remote cookies and hot cocoa gathering
  • Team meals

By far, the best part of working so well with my Team Coach is that we can support and challenge each other. When my Team Coach had a professional development goal to become an SPC and SAFe Trainer, I covered team events and cheered him on. 

Likewise, he got creative with ideas for story acceptance and team events I usually handle so I could take a long vacation. 
We also push each other to look at our team’s metrics, consider new ways to engage the team in Agile team events, share successes and improvements with the ART, and share our talents beyond the team level.

In this relationship, each of us has grown into our roles and pushed ourselves and each other. The team has also been recognized as high-performing in qualitative and quantitative ways.

Enhance These Tips with Some PO Resources

I hope including these tips, practices, and mindsets helps you consider your own development as a PO and how your work positively impacts your team’s work. Lean into the art of being a PO in your own way as you try some of these ideas out:




PO resources in SAFe Studio

Get them now

About Christie Veitch

As a writer and education nerd who loves processes, Christie seeks to move the needle on what learners can do and what educators and trainers will try with learners. She designs and delivers compelling content and training and builds communities of avid fans using these resources as a Scaled Agile, Inc. Product Owner. Connect with Christie on LinkedIn.

How To Run a Hybrid PI Planning Event

As we approach 2023, you’re probably mulling over your next PI Planning event. Will it be in person? Will it be remote? Will it be something in between? How will that look?

Before 2020, most organizations held PI Planning events in person, but COVID-19 forced an abrupt shift to remote/virtual events. However, in recent months it has become clear that many organizations have fundamentally changed, and a new hybrid format is necessary. This hybrid format brings many challenges around facilitation, tools, and collaboration.

We just held our first hybrid PI Planning event at Fred IT Group. I wrote this blog post based on that experience. In this post, I discuss the following:

  • The four types or formats of PI Planning
  • The main challenges of hybrid PI Planning
  • How we prepared for our first hybrid PI Planning event
  • My key learnings as the Release Train Engineer for our first hybrid event

PI Planning Four Different Ways

Before we go any further, it is essential to define the four types of PI Planning that are now commonly occurring: 

  • In-person PI Planning — Everyone on the Agile Release Train (ART) is in one location (collocated). The planning is done face-to-face, in “a big room”, using physical tools. This format was the recommended and most common format before COVID-19.
  • Distributed PI Planning (Scenario 1) — Teams are collocated but distributed from other teams on the ART. This scenario occurs when teams are based in different countries or states, and it is impractical for them to travel. 
  • Distributed PI Planning (Scenario 2) — Individuals are distributed, and there are no common or shared locations. Everyone joins remotely (typically from their homes), so facilitation is carried out using digital tools exclusively. This scenario is sometimes called remote, online, or virtual PI Planning. This format became prevalent in 2020 due to COVID-19.
  • Hybrid PI Planning — A subset of the attendees are located in the same place (a large meeting room). Other participants join remotely from individual locations (their homes). Teams may have a mix of in-person and remote attendees. Facilitation and tools are therefore needed to accommodate both types of participants throughout the event. Due to increased flexible working arrangements and remote-first hiring, hybrid PI Planning is likely to become increasingly common. 

Although they might seem similar, there are key differences between distributed (scenario 1) and hybrid PI Planning. In the distributed scenario, the ART is spread across a few locations only, with a facilitator at each. Teams with strong dependencies will ideally be collocated, so most key interactions are still in-person. In hybrid PI Planning, there is one group in a central location and individuals joining from dozens of remote locations. This context is much more complex as all interactions are potentially a mix of in-person and remote. Additionally, hybrid events carry a unique challenge around ensuring that the in-person subset (effectively the largest group) does not disproportionally dominate the event.

The Challenges of Hybrid PI Planning

We suspected that hybrid PI Planning would likely need to differ from the in-person and distributed events we had previously held. Some of the initial questions that we knew we would have to address were:  

  • How do we facilitate the event so as not to privilege people in the office over people at home? or vice versa? 
  • How do we create equal opportunities to participate? 
  • How do we help people returning to the office feel safe at their first large-scale work event in several years?
  • What are the challenges for people who have only attended fully remote, distributed PI Planning events?
  • What are the logistics of a hybrid event? 
  • What tools and equipment are needed? 
  • Do we use any physical tools? Or do we exclusively use digital tools?
  • How do we ensure that everyone can hear and be heard? And see and be seen?
  • Do teams do their breakout planning in the “big room”? Or do we need to provide physical breakout rooms? How do we help foster cross-team collaboration if the latter? 
  • How do we communicate expectations?
  • How do we support our team facilitators (Scrum Masters)?  

These questions are mainly looking to answer a broader one: How do we create an event that values and includes both in-person and online participants equally in a shared experience?

How We Prepared for Our First Hybrid PI Planning Event

Having established that hybrid PI Planning would involve unique challenges, we made some critical decisions and took the following steps to prepare.

Communication and alignment with the teams

Several weeks before the hybrid event, we held a meeting with the ART to share our plans and offer the team members a chance to ask questions or provide feedback. This pre-work helped us set expectations and create alignment. We also made and distributed an information pack, which contained information such as: 

  • Agenda
  • Floor plans and locations of the team breakout rooms
  • Instructions on how to use video conferencing equipment 
  • Facilitation tips 
Screenshots of agenda and floor plans from Fred IT's hybrid PI Planning information pack
Excerpt from the information pack (floor plans blurred for this blog post)

Collaboration tools

We decided to primarily use digital tools over physical ones. We knew our remote team members would not be able to see or contribute to physical boards. We used Miro for whiteboards, Mentimeter for polls (including confidence votes) and feedback, and MS Teams for calls.

A side-by-side comparison of a physical program board and digital program board
(Left) physical Program Board (Right) digital Program Board


In our Scrum Master Community of Practice, we ran a Futurespective workshop (AKA Pre-mortem Workshop) where we discussed what the worst and best hybrid PI Planning event would look and feel like. This helped our Scrum Masters anticipate issues, find solutions, and discuss the best outcomes.

Screenshot of Futurespective workshop: What would the worst hybrid PI Planning event look and feel like? What would the best hybrid PI Planning event look and feel like? Stick notes with answers below each question.
Futurespective workshop

Moving team breakouts out of the big room

During in-person PI Planning, the entire event usually takes place in a single big room. Given the hybrid setup, we realized this would not work well for the team breakout sessions. So we booked individual breakout rooms for each team instead. We then used the main room for sessions with the entire ART, such as the Business Context and Plan Reviews. 

A comparison of the big room setup and team breakout room setup
(Left) Big room setup (Right) Team breakout room

Testing equipment

We spent significant time testing the equipment in both the main and team breakout rooms before the event. We also had backup plans in case of equipment failure.

My Key Hybrid PI Planning Learnings as Release Train Engineer

The two days were pretty intense, and we learned a lot. We collected feedback throughout the event so that we could continually make adjustments. We collected in-person feedback on physical boards and remote feedback on a digital board. This ensured we understood the context of the feedback we received. Keep reading for some of our key learnings.

screenshots of both physical (with charts and stickies) and digital PI Planning retro feedback; what went well? what didn't go well? what could we do differently?
PI Planning event feedback

Quality of internet connection and audio/video

Two of the most important success factors for a hybrid event are a stable internet connection and clear sound and video. We had a great audio and video setup, but unfortunately, the internet connection was poor in our main room on day one. After receiving feedback from our online participants, we moved to a location with a better internet connection for day two.

Consider what you share on the screen

We discovered during the main group sessions that it was really important that both the in-person and remote participants could see:

  • The screen share
  • The chat window
  • The videos of the other participants 

If the chat window was not visible for in-person participants, they were not able to follow some of the conversations that were happening online.

We also realised it was important the online participants could see all the people in the room, not just the people presenting. Likewise, it was important for in-person participants to see the videos of the people online.

Microphone use and etiquette 

Most of us were not accustomed to using microphones and struggled to hold them consistently at an appropriate distance (myself included). In-person attendees needed occasional reminders to wait for a microphone to reach them before speaking so that online participants could hear them.


It had been several years since most of us had attended a large-scale work event in person, and many people understandably felt quite nervous. We chose to acknowledge this in the opening address, which I think helped calm nerves and establish an appropriately supportive environment. 

The social benefit

One thing that was universally agreed on was that it was great to get a chance to meet or reconnect with all of our colleagues. We provided coffee, snacks, and lunch so people could spend their breaks socializing and not searching for food.

snacks from Fred IT's PI Planning
Time for a break

It takes a team

I learned that it takes a team to pull off a good large-scale hybrid event. If you are the RTE facilitating hybrid PI Planning, find people who can assist you with AV setup, office logistics, tech support, etc. It’s far too much for one person to attempt on their own.

Tips and Resources for Release Train Engineers Facilitating Hybrid PI Planning

Facilitating PI Planning as a hybrid event is a lot of work, particularly the first time around, but it is definitely worth trying. Although we are still learning, my key takeaways so far are:

  • Be intentional in how you design and facilitate the event, and do not underestimate the work required.
  • Expect to learn a lot and to make adjustments and improvements as you go.
  • Make sure you focus on both perspectives, in-person and online. Be extra mindful of the experience you are not having!
  • While we still value flexible working arrangements, the communal and social benefits of coming together for PI Planning are real, tangible, and significant. 

Additional Resources

Resources for SAFe® Community members

About Tom Boswell

Tom Boswell is an Enterprise Agile Coach

Tom Boswell is an Enterprise Agile Coach and certified SPC and RTE. He has worked at multiple organizations using SAFe, coaching at the team, program, and enterprise levels. He is passionate about lifelong learning, helping others grow, empowering teams, and co-creating more meaningful workplaces. Connect with Tom on LinkedIn or at www.tomboswell.com.

How Does a Scrum Master Coach a Team with More Experience Than Them?

I’ve found myself in many different contexts throughout my career as a SAFe scrum master:

  • Multimedia 
  • Instructional design 
  • Marketing 
  • Globalization 
  • Data analytics

Make no mistake. I am neither an animation artist nor an instructional designer, nor a digital marketer, nor fluent in a second language, nor can I write SQL (or any code for that matter).

So how do I effectively work as a scrum master when I don’t share technical experience with my teammates? I’ll help you answer that common question by focusing on three areas: 

  • What does a scrum master do?
  • What if I’m a scrum master without experience?
  • Setting scrum master improvement areas

What does a scrum master do?

This sounds simplistic, but there’s a reason! Reviewing the basics, in this case the role of scrum master, can help reaffirm your role on the team you serve and help you clearly state it to others. 

Your goals are simple (not easy), and they often include:

SAFe® scrum master

  1. Helping the team navigate ART practices and processes. In doing so, the team can participate fully and have their interests, concerns, questions, ideas, and voices heard. This is especially true for new team members. Everyone will need time and support to adjust to a new way of working, no matter their experience level. Scrum masters are a little bit like the glue that holds cross-functional teams and ARTs together.
  2. Allowing teammates to focus on execution. As experts in their domain, your team members are usually deep in the trenches of value delivery. Most other team responsibilities are shared between you, the product owner, and the product manager. This means scrum masters need to be experts at supporting the PO, PM, and other team members at defining the why, gathering requirements, prioritizing work, and knocking on doors to unblock progress.
  3. Being a champion of relentless improvement. You should help define success metrics, measure the team’s value delivery, and create a forum for the group to view and discuss the results. Teams might think they’ve defined value delivery well, but scrum masters are uniquely positioned to provide essential perspectives from the ART, customers, business owners, and other teams. Aside from objective metrics, you can also discuss qualitative experiences like team dynamics. In partnership with the product owner, you can create a system to start incrementally improving. The organizational value realized from increasing and sustaining employee participation is always significant.

The full SAFe® scrum master article has more extensive guidance to help you define role expectations and responsibilities. As a quick reference, the image below will help you visualize three core areas where any scrum master can immediately start to add value.

Does this work require you to know what the team is making and how? Yes, to an extent. But it often doesn’t require the depth of specialized knowledge needed to build end solutions. In fact, another voice with the same experience and biases might only add to a myopic perspective and goals.

What if I’m a scrum master without experience?

Starting as a scrum master without experience is a little overwhelming.

When it feels like too much, there are some foundational concepts you can use to stay grounded and help your team succeed.

Below are three key reminders for scrum masters that are new to their role or serving an experienced team in an unfamiliar domain.

SAFe® scrum master

1 | The team is expert in their way, you are expert in your way

To coach a team effectively, you need to understand and maintain focus on:

  • The team’s value flow
  • Typical bottlenecks
  • Impediments to high quality

The rest is simply nice to have. Understanding flow, bottlenecks, and quality will allow you to quickly grasp what holds the team back and how they achieve success. This will also help you relate to your team’s emotional dynamics, including what makes them personally frustrated or fulfilled. Empathy will break through differences in experience levels and foster lasting relationships.

If you’re still skeptical, think of it this way; the product owner is backlog and content authority for the team. They still do backlog refinement with the team. Why? Because team members are the experts! That’s their thing. That’s why they were hired.

A scrum master isn’t an expert in the same areas. That’s not their job. Their job is coaching and enhancing the PDCA cycle, customer centricity, flow, dependency visualization, bottleneck identification and removal, conflict management, and listening.

2 | Build initial trust levels with authenticity

The not-so-secret ingredient in serving any team is trust. If you share technical expertise with your teammates, building initial trust may be easier. Teammates will know that you understand their impediments and have insight into root causes because you may have experienced them before. Your coaching may be well received because “you know what you’re talking about,” and teammates can immediately talk shop with you.

There may be some initial distrust if you don’t share technical knowledge with your teammates and they don’t understand how you contribute. If this situation sounds familiar, it’s best to start with openness about your background and willingness to learn. Emphasize that you’re not a technical expert but you do fill many other roles that help them work better, including:

  • Servant leader
  • Live-in consultant
  • Advisor
  • Team protector

Your expertise starts with process, method, and people.

Trust is particularly key when your work environment prioritizes honesty, candid feedback, and personal responsibility. Technical competency is a must for most roles, but emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills are vital for helping teams and individuals thrive. Organizations using SAFe should create ample space for digging into messy issues, feedback, processes, and team performance. Scrum masters can build trust in these complex emotional environments in several critical ways: 

  • Help everyone approach discussions in good faith
  • Create a safe environment for all feedback
  • Find and equip team members with the right tools and methods to provide feedback
  • Encourage participation by all; not only the loudest or most persistent voices
  • Communicate feedback clearly to others, demonstrating advocacy for the team

3 | Promote self-organizing teams

A scrum master’s best tools are powerful questions and intentional listening. If you share deep technical expertise with your teammates, you may have a bias when determining problems and solutions.

You might make more assumptions and be more suggestive because you have so much familiarity with the team’s work. Scrum masters without technical experience have the benefit of an outsider’s perspective and have no choice but to truly listen, clarify, and guide the team to their own solutions.

Setting scrum master improvement areas

It’s helpful to build trust and develop personal relationships. But you’ll need concrete growth goals to gain competency and confidence.

The list of scrum master improvement areas below will give you a big head start in owning your role:

Identify the team’s value stream(s). The team might already have a value stream visualization. Maybe the product owner knows it well. Or maybe there’s a great opportunity for the team to work on identification. This will help both you and your team understand how work flows and the most essential tools and processes the team uses. You’ll likely find areas for immediate improvement!

Ask obvious questions. Though it might feel like you’re slowing the team down, asking foundational questions is actually beneficial for everyone. Here are just a few obvious benefits:

  • You need to learn more about team content
  • The teammate receiving the question needs to think about the purpose and processes behind their work
  • Other team members who aren’t involved in that work may have the same question 

Schedule one-on-one meetings. Learn team member’s professional goals and interests. Ask about their pain points, what keeps them up at night, dynamics within the team, dynamics with other teams, etc. Build empathy to help smooth over inevitable future difficulties. Also, if your teammate is comfortable with it, you can ask to shadow their work while they narrate and complete day-to-day tasks. 

Always have a Google tab open. Answers to technical questions are often difficult to grasp. You can’t expect to know everything your team does. Instead of scheduling an hour lecture with a teammate every time curiosity strikes, try checking internal directories, knowledge wikis, and even Google to find a quick answer. Continuous learning is imperative.

Use an assessment to measure your progress. The AgilityHealth Scrum Master Radar Assessment (or a similar tool) can help you understand your current performance and identify areas for improvement. 

Learn more about the team’s work. This shouldn’t necessarily be your first priority, but it’s definitely worth your time. Common examples include joining a lunch book club, attending a conference, creating content that requires you to learn new material, and reading technical articles. You’ll deepen your knowledge and show that you truly care about the team’s work.

Hone your craft. Consistently prioritizing professional development will demonstrate your growing expertise to the team. Whether you’re trying new approaches to retrospectives or diligently protecting and coaching team members, your efforts will earn trust.

If you’re still unsure about exactly where to spend your time, the graphic below breaks down how real scrum masters (in our company) spend a typical week. You can use this tool as a gut check for balancing priorities, assessing your time management skills, and planning for a productive iteration.

SAFe® scrum master

More Resources for You, Scrum Masters!

Even with prior scrum master work experience, serving a team with technical expertise that you don’t have can feel daunting. But a skilled scrum master can quickly bring significant value. By clarifying how you serve the team, building trust, and continuously learning, you and your teammates can work together to build a self-organizing, high-performing team.

Here are some additional resources to help you learn more about how scrum masters of all experience levels can continue improving and serving well:

About Emma Ropski

Emma is a Certified SPC and scrum master at Scaled Agile

Emma is a Certified SPC and scrum master at Scaled Agile, Inc. As a lifelong learner and teacher, she loves to illustrate, clarify, and simplify to keep all teammates and SAFe learners engaged. Connect with Emma on LinkedIn.

View all posts by Emma Ropski

Facilitation Tips to Excel at the RTE Role – Agility Planning

Release Train Engineer

I spend most of my time in the Release Train Engineer (RTE) role facilitating groups from all levels of the organization.

When I facilitate poorly, people notice, and the Agile Release Train (ART) struggles to align on objectives and mitigate risks.

When I facilitate well, meetings blend into daily work, and the ART runs smoothly.

In this blog post, I focus on facilitation tips and tools that have worked for me in agility planning with three ceremonies that RTEs facilitate:

  • PI Planning
  • Scrum of Scrums (SoS)
  • System Demo

Let’s take a look at how I prepare for and facilitate each.

Release Train Engineer

Prepare for the RTE Role in PI Planning

PI Planning is the most important event the RTE role facilitates. A well-run PI Planning aligns the ART to:

  • strategy
  • business context
  • priorities

It creates the space for tough conversations about dependencies and tradeoffs. Teams have the autonomy to plan to achieve the desired value delivery within their capacity.

How to prepare for a successful PI Planning

It’s helpful for me to think about PI Planning preparation in the following sections.


This includes the tools and tips I use to stay organized before and during PI Planning.

Book calendars in advance

If you want 125 people available at the same time in the same location, you need to get dates on the calendar a year ahead of PI Planning. When I have not met this criterion, key stakeholders miss the event due to scheduling conflicts.

ART Readiness Workbook

We use an updated version of the readiness checklist in the ART Readiness Workbook. The SAFe® PI Planning Toolkit on the SAFe Community Platform includes this checklist.

It includes everything we need to prepare our teams and ARTs for PI Planning, from the program backlog to video call links. We’ve started calling it “the dream” because it keeps us so organized that the event runs like a dream.


This is how I think about the information I want to convey during PI Planning.

Business context

Work with leaders to prepare a strong business context presentation. As a facilitator, it’s my job to ensure the connection from strategy to execution is clear. That connection starts with the business context.

As an RTE, I work with our leaders to paint the picture of:

  • Our progress so far
  • Our priorities moving forward
  • What we want to do with those priorities
  • Why it matters

A motivating message will resonate with people and set the tone for the event.

Note: Leaders can be your GM for the business unit or CEO for smaller organizations.

Product strategy

The product strategy connects the business context to the prioritized backlog. It shows the research, customer feedback, and PI roadmap that will achieve our strategic themes.

This means RTEs work with the head of product to create a presentation that encourages engagement with the content. It should also include plenty of time for Q&A.

I know I’m successful when, in the Q&A, team members make clear connections between the product strategy and top features in the program backlog.

Prioritized program backlog

Our product team prepares early for the upcoming PI by:

  • Understanding customer needs and desired outcomes
  • Defining, sizing, and prioritizing features

This process gives teams plenty of time to understand priorities. It also helps them understand how to do the work and which features to pull first. If I have done a good job of facilitating through the business context and product strategy, the teams will have confidence in the backlog. They’ll also understand how to engage with it to achieve the most value in the PI.


How you set up impacts how your teams engage and where they focus during planning.


Release Train Engineer

We use the Virtual PI Planning Collaborate template for virtual PI planning. This template allows us to set up all the things we would have on the walls if we were in person in one easy-to-use online location. It cuts down on logistical questions during PI Planning and allows people to focus on their tasks.


We spend a lot of time thinking about tables, breakout rooms, and supplies:

  • Does all the in-room tech work?
  • Are there clear instructions for how to use it in the room?
  • Are there snacks and fidget toys on the table for idle hands?
  • Plenty of sticky notes in different colors with pens and markers?

The less time people spend looking for supplies or troubleshooting tech, the more engaged and focused they will be.

Snacks and fun

Whether in person or virtual, planning for snacks and fun is crucial. We send out a theme for planning in advance. We also provide engagement ideas like:

  • costumes
  • virtual backgrounds
  • table decorations

In-person, we plan for snacks and catering; virtually, we send meal kits or snack boxes to people’s homes. Themes bring fun and create camaraderie and empathy that make difficult conversations easier. Snacks keep people focused and stave off the hangry moments.

How to facilitate a successful PI Planning

No matter how well you prepare and set up, facilitation will be tricky, and there will be many twists and turns. Here are my top tips for facilitating successful PI Planning.

Use a detailed facilitator’s agenda

We write a script and annotate every transition, timebox, and tool used. As a facilitator, I plan out:

  • How long to give each team for read-out, Q&A, and transition to the next team
  • Who will present on which screen and from where, and so on

Scripting this prevents worry in the moment and allows us to focus on active facilitation.

Know your end goal so you can pivot

These down-to-the-minute agendas will go off the rails at some point. It may be because a meaningful conversation runs past the timebox. Or we need to discuss a risk or de-scoping in real-time. With a detailed facilitator’s plan, we can adjust in the moment and still achieve our goal.

Embrace crucial conversations

PI Planning includes difficult trade-offs, scoping conversations, and cross-team dependencies and risks. Emotions are high, and the content is high stakes. We must model and facilitate embracing these conversations in productive ways. As a facilitator, I ensure these conversations are happening by coaching people through them.

When people come to me with problems and risks they want me to solve, it is often something they can solve themselves with a crucial conversation. I coach them to use:

  • “I” statements
  • Clear, transparent communication

The pain caused by avoidance or indirect communication is always worth this time and effort. For more detailed PI Planning facilitation guides and templates, check out the SAFe PI Planning toolkit. Find it on the PI Planning SAFe Community Platform page.

Release Train Engineer

Prepare for the RTE Role in Scrum of Scrums

After PI Planning, it’s essential to manage dependencies in a clear and consistent way. The RTE role helps create clear visibility on impediments to and progress toward our objectives.

For the ART, Scrum of Scrums (SoS) acts like a train-level stand-up. As an RTE, preparing well for SoS ensures we get the right outcomes. Facilitating well ensures it does not become a status meeting.

How to prepare for a successful SoS

Here are my tips and tricks for preparing a successful SoS in the RTE role.

Agenda and purpose

It’s important to provide a clear and visible agenda and purpose for SoS. This enables all the teams in the ART to prepare and show up with the right information to work dependencies and remove impediments.

Visuals to help review dependencies and progress toward objectives

We use the program board we built in SAFe Collaborate at PI Planning during SoS. We also use an iteration-by-iteration cross-team dependency board in our ALM tool.

Knowing we will use these in advance gives a clear place for everyone to prepare for the event. It also creates a visible place for dependencies and risks.

Representation from every team

Schedules can make it hard for every Scrum Master or team representative to attend SoS, but it must be a priority.

When Scrum Masters don’t represent their teams at SoS, questions go unanswered, and dependencies are harder to manage or make visible.

How to facilitate a successful SoS

Once I’ve prepared for SoS, here’s how I facilitate smoothly in the RTE role.

Pre-fill items in shared notes so you can spend time discussing risks, dependencies, and releases

A single, visible place for all SoS notes allows teams to add updates before the meeting. It allows others to review and show up to SoS ready to ask questions or share related information.

Ask questions that go beyond status updates to uncover dependencies

Ask clarifying questions about the work and related data in the ALM tool. Asking for visuals or links to related documents ensures everyone understands.

Mix up your questions each time. This prevents automatic responses and encourages thinking about the work from new angles.

Invite guests and people new to the company

This orients new people to your organization to your process for managing dependencies and risks. It also shows them where to find the information they may need about other teams’ work.

Check out the SoS Facilitator’s guide on the ART Events page of the SAFe Community Platform to improve your SoS facilitation.

Release Train Engineer

Prepare for the RTE Role in System Demo

The System Demo is the flashiest of ceremonies the RTE role facilitates. It’s when the teams get to show off the work they’ve completed during the iteration (or PI if it’s the PI system demo).

How to prepare for a successful system demo

Because System Demo is about showing off the work of the ARTs, it’s important that I prepare them for a smooth experience.

Prepare presenters in advance

I provide a timebox and share my agenda deck two days before the demo. Participants to leave a “live demo” slide if they plan to share their screens during the event.

Then I meet with speakers half an hour before the demo. We test the timing of presentations, handoffs, and technology. This ensures a smooth delivery.

Create a reusable template

Using a template that follows the same pattern makes it easy to prepare topics. The topics I select show the progress toward our objectives and strategic themes.

A familiar template and standard format will make preparations easy and calm the nerves of those not used to presenting.

Build in time for Q&A and space for the conversation to continue past the timebox

While the demo of the end-to-end solution is critical, it is as important that stakeholders have the opportunity to ask questions and provide feedback.

We often only have time for a few questions, so we create a thread in our company messaging app for more questions and discussions.

How to facilitate a successful system demo

Once I prepare everyone, facilitating a successful system demo is pretty straightforward. Here are a few essential tips.

Open the meeting with purpose and expectations

I always take the first few minutes of the system demo to remind everyone why we are there. I also remind them of their role in ensuring we meet the purpose:

  • Paying close attention
  • Asking questions
  • Giving feedback
  • Looking for ways what they saw affects or improves their work

Connect demo topics to objectives and strategic themes

I structure the agenda by grouping demos by strategic theme. As part of the agenda overview, I discuss each theme and how each demo will connect to the theme and the team’s objective.

Embrace silence

The group often hesitates to speak up when there are over 100 people on a call or in a room, including key stakeholders and customers.

As a facilitator, I open the floor to questions and feedback. Or I ask questions and then count to 10 in my head. This can feel like an eternity of silence that you want to fill. But nine times out of ten, right toward the end of the silence, someone will come forward with a question. If you don’t allow for silence, you will lose much of that engagement.

Looking for more tips and tricks? Check out:

Conclusion and Additional Resources

The RTE role of preparing for and facilitating ART-level events impacts the ART’s ability to:

  • Connect strategy to execution
  • Manage risks and dependencies
  • Understand the end-to-end value delivered during the PI

Preparing ourselves and others in advance removes in-the-moment confusion. It also increases understanding and transparency.

We create space to pivot and shift in the moment while achieving desired outcomes.

Coaching and modeling crucial conversations means more productive team engagement and outcomes.

I hope this blog post has inspired you to explore new ways to approach facilitating your events. To help you on your journey:

About Lieschen Gargano Quilling

Lieschen Gargano is a Release Train Engineer

Lieschen Gargano is a Release Train Engineer and conflict guru – thanks in part to her master’s degree in conflict resolution. As the RTE for the development value stream at Scaled Agile, Lieschen loves cultivating new ideas and approaches to Agile to keep things fresh and engaging. She also has a passion for developing practices for happy teams of teams across the full business value stream.

View all posts by Lieschen Gargano Quilling

Connecting OKRs, KPIs, OVSs, and DVSs – For Successful SAFe® Implementation

The title of my post may read like acronym soup but all of these concepts play a critical role in SAFe, and understanding how they’re connected is important for successful SAFe implementation. After exploring some connections, I will suggest some actions you can take while designing, evaluating, or accelerating your implementation.

KPIs and OKRs

The SAFe Value Stream KPIs article describes Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) as “the quantifiable measures used to evaluate how a value stream is performing against its forecasted business outcomes.

That includes:

  • Health of day-to-day performance
  • Work to create sustainable change in performance

Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) are meant to be about driving and evaluating change rather than maintaining the status quo. Therefore, they are a special kind of KPI. Objectives point towards the desired state. Key results measure progress towards that desired state. 

But how do these different concepts map to SAFe’s Operational Value Streams (OVSs) and Development Value Streams (DVSs)? And why should you care?

Changing and Improving the Operation

Like Strategic Themes, most OKRs point to the desired change in business performance. These OKRs would be the ones that company leadership cares about. And they would be advanced through the efforts of a DVS (or multiple ones). 

For example, if the business wants to move to a subscription/SaaS model, that’s a change in the operating model—a change in how the OVS looks and operates. That change is supported by the development of new systems and capabilities, which is work that will be accomplished by a DVS (or multiple ones). 

This view enables us to recognize the wider application of the DVS concept that we talk about in SAFe 5. Business agility means using Agile and SAFe constructs to develop any sort of changing the business needs, regardless of whether that change includes IT or technology.

Whenever we are trying to change our operation, there’s a question about how much variability we’re expecting around this change. Is there more known than the unknown? Or vice versa? Are we making this change in an environment of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity? If yes, then using a DVS construct that employs empiricism to seek the right answers to how to achieve the OKR is essential, regardless of how much IT or technology is involved. We might have an OKR that requires business change involving mainly legal, marketing, procurement, HR, and so on, that would still benefit from an Agile and SAFe DVS approach.

These OKRs would then find themselves elaborated and advanced through the backlogs and backlog items in the various ARTs and teams involved in this OKR. 

In some cases, an OKR would drive the creation of a focused DVS. This is the culmination of the Organize around Value Lean-Agile SAFe Principle. This is why Strategic Themes and OKRs should be an important consideration when trying to identify value streams and ARTs (in the Value Stream and ART identification workshop). And a significant new theme/OKR should trigger some rethinking of whether the current DVS network is optimally organized to support the new value creation goals set by the organization.

Maintaining the Health of the Operation

As mentioned earlier, maintaining the health of the operation is also tracked through KPIs. Here we expect stability and predictability in performance. It’s crucial work but it’s not what OKRs or Strategic Themes are about. 

This work can be simple, complex, or even chaotic depending on the domain. The desire of any organization is to bring its operation under as much control as possible and minimize variability as it makes sense in the business domain. What this means is that in many cases, we don’t need Agile and empiricism in order to actually run the operation. Lean and flow techniques can still be useful to create sustainable, healthy flow (see more in the Organizational Agility competency). 

Whenever people working in the OVS switch to improving the OVS (or in other words working on versus in the operation), they are, in essence, moving over implicitly to a DVS. 

Some organizations make this duality explicit by creating a DVS that involves a combination of people who spend some of their time in the OVS and some of their time working on it together with people who are focused on working on the OVS. For example, an orthopedic clinic network in New England created a DVS comprising clinicians, doctors, PAs, and billing managers (that work the majority of their time in the OVS) together with IT professionals. Major improvements to the OVS happen in this DVS.

Improving the Development Value Stream

The DVS needs to relentlessly improve and learn as well. Examples of OKRs in this space could be: improving time-to-market, as measured by improved flow time or by improving the predictability of business value delivered, as measured by improved flow predictability. It could also be: organize around value, measured by the number of dependencies and the reduction in the number of Solution Trains required. 

This is also where the SAFe transformation or Agile journey lives. There are ways to improve DVSs or the overall network of DVSs, creating a much-improved business capability to enhance its operation and advance business OKRs. 

Implementing OKRs in this space relates more to enablers in the SAFe backlogs than to features or capabilities. Again, these OKRs change the way the DVS works.

Running the Development Value Stream

Similar metrics can be used as KPIs that help maintain the health of the DVS on an ongoing basis. For example, if technical debt is currently under control, a KPI monitoring it might suffice and hopefully will help avoid a major technical debt crisis. If we weren’t diligent enough to avoid the crisis, an objective could be put in place to significantly reduce the amount of technical debt. Achieving a certain threshold for a tech debt KPI could serve as a key result (KR) for this objective. Once it’s achieved, we might leave the tech debt KPI in place to maintain health. 

It’s like continuing to monitor your weight after you’ve gone on a serious diet. During the diet, you have an objective of achieving a healthy weight with a KR tracking BMI and aiming to get below 25. After achieving your objective, you continue to track your BMI as a KPI.

Taking Action to Advance Your Implementation Using OKRs

In this blog post, we explored the relationship between operational and development value streams and the Strategic Themes and OKRs. We’ve seen OVS KPIs and OKRs as well as DVS OKRs and KPIs. 

A key step in accelerating business agility is to continually assess whether you’re optimally organized around value. OKRs can provide a very useful lens to use for this assessment. 

Start by reviewing your OKRs and KPIs and categorize them according to OVS/DVS/Change/Run.

You can use the matrix below.

Run-focused OKRs

If you find some OKRs on the left side of the matrix, it’s time to rethink. 

Run-focused OKRs should actually be described as KPIs. Discuss the difference and whether you’re actually looking for meaningful change to these KPIs (in which case it really can be an OKR—but make sure it is well described as one) or are happy to just maintain a healthy status quo. 

You can then consider your DVS network/ART/team topology. Is it sufficiently aligned with your OKRs/KPIs? Are there interesting opportunities to reorganize around value?

This process can also be used in a Value Stream Identification workshop for the initial design of the implementation or whenever you want to inspect and adapt it.

Find me on LinkedIn to learn more about making these connections in your SAFe context via an OKR workshop.

About Yuval Yeret

Yuval is a SAFe Fellow and the head of AgileSparks

Yuval is a SAFe Fellow and the head of AgileSparks (a Scaled Agile Partner) in the United States where he leads enterprise-level Agile implementations. He’s also the steward of The AgileSparks Way and the firm’s SAFe, Flow/Kanban, and Agile Marketing. Find Yuval on LinkedIn.


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How to Measure Team Performance: A Scrum Master Q+A

Assessing your team’s agility is an important step on the path to continuous improvement. After all, you can’t get where you want to go if you don’t know where you are. But you probably have questions: How do you measure a team’s agility, anyway? Who should do it, and when? What happens with the data you collect, and what should you do afterwards?

To bring you the answers, we interviewed two of our experienced scrum masters, Lieschen Gargano and Sam Ervin. Keep reading to learn their recommendations for running a Team successfully and Technical Agility Assessment.

Q: How does SAFe help teams measure their agility, and why should I care? 

Measure and Grow is the Scaled Agile Framework’s approach to evaluating agility and determining what actions to take next. Measure and Grow assessment tools and recommendation actions help organizations and teams reflect on where they are and know how to improve. 

The SAFe® Business Agility Assessment measures an organization’s overall agility across seven core competencies: team and technical agility, agile product delivery, enterprise solution delivery, Lean portfolio management, Lean-agile leadership, organizational agility, and continuous learning culture. 

business agility assessment

The SAFe Core Competency Assessments measure each of these core competencies on a deeper level. For example, the Team and Technical Agility (TTA) Core Competency Assessment helps teams identify areas for improvement, highlight strengths worth celebrating, and baseline performance against future growth. It asks questions about how your team operates. Do team members have cross-functional skills? Do you have a dedicated PO? How are teams of teams organized in your agile release trains (ARTs)? Do you use technical practices like test-driven development and peer review? How does your team tackle technical debt?

For facilitators, including scrum masters, the Team and Technical Agility Assessment is a great way to create space for team reflection beyond a typical retrospective. It can also increase engagement and buy-in for the team to take on actionable improvement items.

Q: Who should run a Team and Technical Agility Assessment? 

Running assessments can be tricky. Teams might feel defensive about being “measured.” Self-reported data isn’t always objective or accurate. Emotions and framing can impact the results. That’s why SAFe recommends that a scrum master or other trained facilitator run the assessment. A scrum master, SPC, or agile coach can help ensure that teams understand their performance and know where to focus their improvement efforts. 

Q: When should I do this assessment?

It’s never too early or too late to know where you stand. Running the assessment for your team when you’re first getting started with an agile transformation will help you target the areas where you most need to improve, but you can assess team performance at any time. 

As for how frequently you should run it … it’s probably more valuable to do it on a cadence—either once a PI or once a year, depending on the team’s goals and appetite for it. There’s a lot of energy in seeing how you grow and progress as a team, and it’s easier to celebrate wins that are demonstrated through documented change over time than through general sentiment.

Q: Okay, how do I prepare for and run it?

The agility assessment tools are available free to SAFe members and customers at the Measure and Grow page on the SAFe Community Platform. There you can choose from tools created for us by our partners, AgilityHealth and Comparative Agility.

Before you start the Team and Technical Agility Assessment, define your team’s shared purpose. This will help you generate buy-in and excitement. If the team feels like they’re just doing the assessment because the scrum master said so, it won’t be successful. They have to see value in it for them, both as individuals and as a team. 

Some questions we like to ask to set this purpose include, “What do we want it to feel like to be part of this team, two PIs from now?” And, “How will our work lives be improved when we check in one year from now?”

There are two ways you can approach running this assessment. Option #1 is to have team members take the assessment individually, and then get together to discuss their results as a group. Option #2 is to discuss the assessment questions together and come to a consensus on the group’s answers.

When we’ve run this assessment we’ve had team members do it individually, so we could focus our time together on review and actions. If you do decide to run it asynchronously it’s important as a facilitator to be available to team members, in case they have questions before you review your answers as a team.

Q: What else should I keep in mind?

We like to kick off the assessment with a meeting invitation that includes a draft agenda. Sending this ahead of time gives everyone a chance to prepare. You can keep the agenda loose so you have flexibility to spend more or less time discussing particular areas, depending on how your team chooses to engage with each question.

Q: Is the assessment anonymous? 

Keeping the answers anonymous is really helpful if you want to get more accurate results. We like to be very clear upfront that the assessment will be anonymous, so that team members can feel confident about being honest in their answers. 

For example, with our teams, we not only explained the confidentiality of individuals’ answers but demonstrated in real-time how the tool itself works so that the process would feel open and transparent. We also made it clear that we would not be using the data to compare teams to each other, or for any purpose other than to gain a shared understanding of where we are selecting improvement items based on the team’s stated goals.

Q: Then what? What do I do with the results?

Once you’ve completed the assessment using one of the two approaches, you’ll want to review the sections one by one, showing the aggregate results and allowing the team to notice their top strengths and top areas for improvement. Your job as facilitator is NOT to tell them what you think based on the results; it’s to help guide the team’s own discussion as they explore the answers. This yields much more effective outcomes!

One thing one of us learned in doing the assessment was how much we disagreed on some things. For example, even with a statement as simple as, “Teams execute standard iteration events,” some team members scored us a five (out of five) while others scored us a one. We treated every score as valid and sought to understand why some team members scored high and others low, just like we do when estimating the size of a user story. During this conversation, we learned an important fact. The product owner thought the iteration was executed in a standard way because she was the one executing it. But team members gave that statement a low score because they weren’t included in much of the decision-making. There was no consensus understanding for what “standard iteration events” meant to the team. 

This prompted a conversation about why the team isn’t always included in how the iteration was executed. We talked about the challenge of aligning schedules to share responsibility for decision-making in meetings. And we talked about the impact of team members not having the opportunity to contribute. 

As a result, the assessment did more than help us see where we needed to improve; it showed us where we had completely different perspectives about how we were doing. It prompted rich conversations that led to meaningful progress.

Q: Okay, I ran the assessment; now what? What are the next steps?

With your assessment results in hand, it’s now time to take actions that help you improve. For each dimension of the Team and Technical Agility Assessment, SAFe provides growth recommendations to help teams focus on the areas that matter most and prioritize their next steps. You should: 

  • Review the team growth recommendations together to generate ideas
  • Select your preferred actions (you can use dot voting or WSJF calculations for this; SAFe® Collaborate has ready-made templates you can use)
  • Capture your team’s next steps in writing: “Our team decided to do X, Y, and Z.” 
  • Follow through on your actions, so that you’re connecting them to the desired outcome
  • Check in on your progress at the beginning of iteration retrospectives

Finally, you’ll want to use these actions to set a focus for the team throughout the PI, and check in with business owners at PI planning on how these improvements have helped the organization make progress toward its goals.

Q: I’m ready! How do I get started? 

Fantastic. Just visit the Measure and Grow page at the SAFe Community Platform to choose your assessment tool. While you’re there, you can watch the video for tips or download the Measure and Grow Toolkit for play-by-play guidance. As you’re running the assessment, use the SAFe Collaborate templates to guide the discussion and identify actions and next steps. 

Have fun!

About the authors

Lieschen is a product owner and former scrum master at Scaled Agile.

Lieschen is a product owner and former scrum master at Scaled Agile. She’s also an agile coach and conflict guru—thanks in part to her master’s degree in conflict resolution. Lieschen loves cultivating new ideas and approaches to agile to keep things fresh and exciting. And she’s passionate about developing best practices for happy teams to deliver value in both development and non-technical environments. Fun fact? “I’m the only person I know of who’s been a scrum master and a scrum-half on a rugby team.”

Sam is a certified SAFe® 5.0 Program Consultant (SPC) and serves as the scrum master for several teams at Scaled Agile. His recent career highlights include entertaining the crowd as the co-host of the 2019 and 2020 Global SAFe® Summits. A native of Columbia, South Carolina, Sam lives in Denver, CO, where he enjoys CrossFit and Olympic weightlifting.


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