Planning For Your First Potentially Shippable Increment – Part 1

Written by William F. Nazzaro and Anu M. Smalley

In 2013 the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) appears to be the de facto standard for those organizations seeking to go beyond team agile and truly bring distributed, scaled agile adoption to their enterprise.  While SAFe has made quite the splash and many companies are seeking to adopt it, we would like to share some of our experiences both pro and con with assisting our clients in implementing SAFe.

One area of SAFe that is incredibly powerful is the concept of a Potentially Shippable Increment (PSI) and the metaphor of an Agile Release Train (ART).

What is a PSI?

PSI provides the Program or Enterprise with a timebox in which iterations are then conducted.  The PSI offers the following: “a routine and continuous planning cycle, an aggregation of iterations value into larger piles of newsworthy value and a quantum unit of thinking, roadmapping, implementing and measuring.” [1]

What is an ART?

“The Framework’s primary scaling mechanism, the Agile Release Train (ART), is to the program what iteration is to the team. It follows the same pattern—plan, commit, execute, demo, and reflect—but at the Program Level (see Figure 1) where it produces system-level working software every two weeks, and full, potentially shippable increments of software every 4-5 iterations.” [2]

Figure 1 – Agile Release Train

Although the PSI and Agile Release Train are very helpful for teams to focus the delivery of business value to their stakeholders the one concern we have with the current version of SAFe [3] is little to no mention on planning for your first PSI.  While this may be an oversight or intentional (and we acknowledge that SAFe is meant to be a framework and not a prescriptive process), we feel this lack of detail may actually catch those new to SAFe off-guard as they embark on their first Agile Release Train.

Why do I need to plan for my first PSI?

Many organizations new to SAFe are likely to conduct an Agile Release Train Quickstart.  This 5-day immersion program will bring together anywhere from 50 to 100 people into a single location with the sole purpose of identifying PSI 1’s features and objectives.  If the Quickstart is the first time that a company is thinking about teams, governance, value streams and features, it could be quite costly and disappointing for those in attendance.

We therefore recommend planning for your first PSI and allow a Program and Enterprise the time to ask and answer these hard questions prior to bringing all of these people together.

Now that we’ve framed the problem, in our upcoming blog posts, we will discuss and share what should be done prior to launching your first PSI.