Large-scale Agile Practice Guide (4): Special Iteration in SAFe-Innovation and Planning (IP) Iteration

Posted May 27, 20206 min read

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In SAFe, each PI needs to deliver a certain value. During the execution of PI, each agile team is committed to achieving the PI goals promised in the PI plan. Every agile iteration in the PI process is very important. Each iteration bears the workload that is consistent with the team. The agile team spends most of their time "working down" and focusing their energy on the value to be delivered recently. Every iteration, every PI has a time urgency. Due to this urgency, there may be a risk that ART(Agile Release Train) has no reserved time for adjustment, innovative learning, and planning. Those tasks that are time-critical will have a higher priority than any activity. To solve this problem, SAFe provides a special Innovation and Planning(IP) iteration. The following will introduce you to IP iteration in detail.

What is IP iteration

IP iteration is a special iteration that is fixed at the end of PI and lasts for a week. It provides a regular and rhythmic time period for the team, allowing the team to have the opportunity to carry out some of the difficulties in the environment of continuous incremental value release. work. These tasks can include the following:

  • Innovation and exploration;
  • Preparation of release documents and product manuals;
  • Hackathon;(explained below)
  • Review and adjust the workshop, including the final PI system demonstration;
  • Sort out the to-do list of the project group and team;
  • Handle technical infrastructure, tools and other system obstacles;
  • Promote continuous learning;
  • PI plan.

At the same time, IP iteration also has other important functions, such as providing the buffer time needed to meet the goal of Pl and enhancing the predictability of the release. From the execution of the agile release train, it can be seen that by regularly "recharging and tool sharpening" the team, the effectiveness, speed, stable and sustainable pace of the entire team and job satisfaction have been improved.


Activities that can be performed by IP iteration:


Innovation is one of the pillars of lean and agile thinking. But it is often difficult to set aside time for such a thing before the deadline for publication. To this end, ART uses IP iteration to conduct some research and design activities, as well as hackathons. The rules of the hackathon are simple:

  • Team members can do anything they want to do, and can do anything others want them to do, as long as these things are consistent with ART's mission.
  • The team will demonstrate what they have done to others at the end of the event.

The results or findings obtained through these activities are usually included in the to-do list of the project to help promote innovation. There are also innovations and repairs that go directly into the product. The automation and process improvements resulting from the hackathon will also be applied immediately.

Invest time to participate in PI activities

Pl system demonstrations, review and adjustment workshops, and Pl planning meetings are all very important PI activities that require time to execute. Putting these activities in a dedicated IP iteration cycle means that other iteration cycles can have normal length and speed without being disturbed by these key activities. More importantly, these important activities are systematically fixed in the project schedule to ensure that they can be held on time.

At the same time, doing so makes it possible to sort out the to-do list at the project group level and value stream level at the last moment of the iteration, as well as to optimize the characteristics and capabilities, which can help significantly improve efficiency in the next planning stage.

Promote continuous learning

Employees at all levels are lifelong learners. Changes in technology are changing with each passing day, and methods and practices are also constantly changing. These have brought many opportunities for continuous learning. However, they usually have not used these learning opportunities effectively. In addition, the initial transition to lean agile required many new technologies and skills, including:

  • Special report and story writing
  • Building quality
  • automated test
  • Collective ownership
  • Lean-Agile architecture
  • Continuous integration
  • Pair work
  • Master of product owner and Scrum Master skills
  • Team building

Practitioners are also facing the challenge of keeping their technical level up to date. The introduction of new technologies is more frequent than ever, but it is just too busy to deliver, ignoring the learning of new technologies, and will continue to accumulate technical debt. IP iteration is the time to pay off technical debt. ART needs to provide time for continuous learning so that team members and leaders have time to learn and master these new skills. These study times can also be used to enhance and support the research on specific topics in the practice community. The end result will be that both individuals and businesses will benefit from it, employees skills will be improved, job satisfaction will increase, speed will increase, and time to market will be shorter for products and services.

Provide a buffer for achieving PI goals

Lean principles tell us that 100%utilization will bring unpredictable results. In short, if everyone is working at full capacity, when there is an inevitable problem, no one has free time to deal with it. This will lead to unpredictability and delay in value delivery.

As a countermeasure, IP iteration can also be regarded as a "guard band"(or buffer zone) to prevent unfinished work in the current PI from being transferred to the next PI. During PI planning, ART does not arrange functions or stories for IP iterations, but provides a buffer(extra time) for the team to respond to emergencies, delays due to dependencies, and other issues, thereby improving the team The ability to achieve PI goals. This buffer greatly improves the predictability of the project team's results, which is extremely important for the business owner. However, it is usually a failure mode to use this time to complete the work. Doing so will destroy the main purpose of IP iteration, and innovation may be affected. The team must note that this IP iteration cannot simply be seen as a supplement to insufficient planning, or as a reserved time for performing quality activities that should have been completed in each iteration.


What happens if there is no IP iteration

  • Without capacity buffer, ART is unpredictable;
  • Due to the urgency of delivery, there is no time for innovative learning;
  • Technical debt continues to grow;
  • Excessive fatigue of personnel;
  • Rhythm and synchronization become challenges because there is no time allocated to the team to plan, demonstrate and improve together;
  • There is no time to continue learning;
  • The actual working speed becomes slower.

to sum up

IP iterations provide the team with a regular, dedicated, and rhythmical opportunity to enable the team to deal with activities that are often not easily put into standard development iterations(such as PI planning meetings, inspections and adjustments, hackathons, etc.) It is the complete end of PI and the beginning of the next PI. Of course, ART can decide whether to use IP iteration according to the actual situation.

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This article is from Choerodon Pigtooth Community Chai Xiaoyan.