Your Guide to Writing Great Iteration and PI Objectives – Agility Planning

Write PI objectives that get results using this guide

Agile is disciplined; not reckless.

Writing useful Iteration Goals and Program Increment (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.  

Understanding 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.

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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.

Well-written objectives also 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.

Who Are Iteration and PI Objectives For?

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

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

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. 

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 example PI objectives 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.

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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.

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Review Examples of Iteration and PI Objectives 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.

Conclusion

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.

To see the role of PI objectives in PI Planning, watch this video. And if you’re ready to take your S.M.A.R.T. objectives to the next level, check out this video.

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

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About Saahil Panikar

Saahil is a SAFe® Program Consultant Trainer (SPCT)

Saahil is a SAFe® Program 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