I recently facilitated a PI Planning workshop where we had, well, let’s just say—erm—less than optimal facilities. To be fair, the Release Train Engineer (RTE) did the best they could given other constraints. Our train was conducting it’s planning somewhere in Europe (I know, I know, I sound like a secret agent).
If you’ve been following my other recent posts related to topics on agile you’ll remember this team. It consists of two trains, one in India and another in Europe. One owning the software (IoT platform) and another owning the hardware/firmware, respectively.
So back to the team in Europe. We had multiple team rooms. This was more or less a function of the limited size of said team rooms. Spoiler alert: they were small. This pretty much meant that we would all cram into the ‘main’ team room (i.e. the closest one to the coffee machine 😊) to take care of the program-level stuff (vision, business context, architecture, etc.) but during team break outs the teams would disperse into their respective team rooms.
The team breakout sessions were conducted as you would expect. Teams would review their top 10 features and break them down into user stories, estimate, discuss dependencies and load their iterations up to 100% (more on that later). All goodness right? Well, no, not exactly. Here’s what I didn’t see happening. Team members sitting in their respective ‘team rooms’ tended to stay there. They didn’t roam or, maybe a more acute description, volley over to other team’s workspaces to discuss their plans and resolve dependencies. They stayed in one place. The. Whole. Time. And when I say that I mean….For. The. Entire. Team. Breakout. Session. So bad.
To top if off, the program-level resources didn’t really roam from team room to team room either. They stayed in the ‘main’ team room. In fact, I found myself falling prey to this behavior. I was hanging out in the program-level ‘main’ team room just like one of the cool kids sitting at the cool kids table with all the other ‘manager’ types. Whoops! It was hard to resist. I mean you had the senior leadership in that ‘main’ team room. The power it exude was intoxicating, I must say. People with cool titles like ‘Release Train Engineer’, ‘Product Management’, ‘Architect’ and ‘QA Lead’ were all hanging out in there…and I was part of it!
It was only after an epiphany did I realize the error of my ways and started mobilizing even myself (and others) to traverse the dangerous waters of organizational class boundaries (there, I said it). I did manage to get the program-level guys to meander around a bit but the teams remained locked into place. In reality, it was probably too little, too late and, given the physical space situation, an uphill battle to say the least. The teams were already nestled into their little cloisters.
Teams’ iteration plans were on the walls of their respective break out rooms and boy were they radiating information brilliantly…but only to themselves. Big, Visible, Information Radiators only work when they are visible to the entire team. If they’re only visible to their own authors then they aren’t accomplishing their intended purpose of facilitating transparency and alignment across teams.
Seeing this happen really drove home how super, super important it is to have everybody in the same room. Granted, a room big enough where people can still work comfortably and have reasonably focused conversations at the team-level but one big room for PI Planning is definitely the way to go.