Three factors for successful virtual big room planning
POSTED : June 8, 2020
BY : Guillermo De Anda Quevedo

While nothing can replace face-to-face communication, especially when it comes to teamwork, COVID-19 is forcing most organizations to rethink how they’re going to conduct planning sessions. Because having teams spend a day or two cooped up in a conference room would put employees and their families at risk, most organizations are considering virtual alternatives. Digital disruption has taken on new urgency as we need to adapt to new ways of working remotely.

What is big room planning?

Big room planning (BRP) has its roots in agile release planning for scale. Intended for cross-functional teams across the organization, BRP is all about planning collaboratively. It solves the challenge of coordinating teams and stakeholders (product, tech and business) on work to be done for the quarter through bottom-up planning, which means the people that actually do the work develop a plan to commit to delivering customer-facing value.

Historically, these quarterly planning sessions were done in-person with team members sometimes flying in from across the country or globe, depending on the size of the company. Keeping team members engaged and productive during these events was a challenge even when they were sitting across from you. That challenge is now magnified by the fact that nearly everyone is working remotely, but the need to do a business-driven plan is still there.

Digital dynamics

The five digital dynamics

Agility harnesses five digital dynamics that are required to power digital transformation. These are: speed, adaptability, adjacency, scale and precision. We need speed to be able to react quickly and skillfully to customer demand and market changes. We must find adaptability to remain nimble when embracing change. Adjacency requires us to work closer together to remove silos and constraints. Scale represents the ability to design solutions and processes that are not limited by growth. Lastly, precision is about refining solutions just enough (not perfection), so that we have what we need to develop, iterate and learn.

Three key factors for successful virtual BRP

To have a successful virtual Big Room Planning session using the five dynamics, we must focus on three key factors:

Expert facilitation and true understanding of agility. This is the most important aspect of running a virtual BRP. It requires coordinators that embrace and intuitively understand the digital dynamics mentioned above. It’s not just about knowing what they are. Anybody can memorize them. It’s about having lived them and learned from the experience, which means your expertise was earned, not bought.

Virtual tools that are engaging. Video and teleconferencing fails illustrate their limitations. From a toilet flush during a Supreme Court hearing to a boss accidentally turning herself into a potato, virtual tools can lend themselves to distraction. Much harder than simply running a virtual meeting without disruption is leveraging the platforms to make it more fun to work together.

BRP sessions last on average 12-16 hours over 2 days of active workshops, which is a lot to take in remotely. Unfortunately for many enterprise organizations, their virtual tools are usually not designed to support digital dynamics and without a coherent strategy, most fail to serve their intended purpose. Most enterprise tools are not intuitive or fun to use for long periods of time. Most actually hinder progress and learning. Now with remote working those constraints have been magnified.

Nimble planning process with business outcomes. With the help of expert facilitators, the workshops that happen during a virtual BRP need to allow the team the space for creative thinking. While teams should be meeting predetermined milestones throughout the BRP, such as capacity planning and team goals being aligned to business objectives, as well as outlined risks and their interdependencies, it’s also important that remain focused on what matters most. Since this is a team-driven plan with support of the stakeholders, it’s imperative to keep them returning to the customer perspective of the solution they are building and not just the technical requirements.

Taking the leap to a virtual BRP

As one client discovered, taking the leap from a physical BRP to a virtual one has become a necessity. After PK ran a successful physical BRP for a major telecom, they were forced to cancel all future in-person events due to COVID-19. Because the telecom still needed to conduct agile quarterly planning sessions, PK innovated a way to replicate the benefits and experience through a remote BRP platform. With an emphasis on our three key factors for a successful virtual BRP, we were able to accomplish cross-functional team engagement and achieved a 100 percent confidence vote on the quarterly plan’s viability.

Some business imperatives, such as quarterly planning, can’t be put on hold until travel and group meetings are safe again. By successfully implementing virtual BRP, organizations, like the telecom above, will not only help guide their teams through the immediate need for remote engagement, but also prepare themselves for a WFH future.

If your organization has little to no experience running a virtual BRP, working with an agile practitioner who has a proven track record of running virtual planning sessions will make your next quarterly planning session a success. Many teams end up preferring them over in-person ones. Participants in our past virtual BRP sessions have found them to be less exhausting, and they don’t have to worry about commutes and other distractions that would prevent them from fully concentrating during the workshops.

Join our upcoming webinar to see virtual big room planning in action.


About the Author

“GuillermoGuillermo De Anda Quevedo has more than 15 years of experience in the technology industry with a focus on enabling companies to meet their full potential for software delivery in a lean and agile way. Before joining PK as Vice President of the Agile Center of Excellence, he worked with Fortune 500 companies including Microsoft, T-Mobile and Sony Network Entertainment.

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