How To Run a Hybrid PI Planning Event

As we approach 2023, you’re probably mulling over your next PI Planning event. Will it be in person? Will it be remote? Will it be something in between? How will that look?

Before 2020, most organizations held PI Planning events in person, but COVID-19 forced an abrupt shift to remote/virtual events. However, in recent months it has become clear that many organizations have fundamentally changed, and a new hybrid format is necessary. This hybrid format brings many challenges around facilitation, tools, and collaboration.

We just held our first hybrid PI Planning event at Fred IT Group. I wrote this blog post based on that experience. In this post, I discuss the following:

  • The four types or formats of PI Planning
  • The main challenges of hybrid PI Planning
  • How we prepared for our first hybrid PI Planning event
  • My key learnings as the Release Train Engineer for our first hybrid event

PI Planning Four Different Ways

Before we go any further, it is essential to define the four types of PI Planning that are now commonly occurring: 

  • In-person PI Planning — Everyone on the Agile Release Train (ART) is in one location (collocated). The planning is done face-to-face, in “a big room”, using physical tools. This format was the recommended and most common format before COVID-19.
  • Distributed PI Planning (Scenario 1) — Teams are collocated but distributed from other teams on the ART. This scenario occurs when teams are based in different countries or states, and it is impractical for them to travel. 
  • Distributed PI Planning (Scenario 2) — Individuals are distributed, and there are no common or shared locations. Everyone joins remotely (typically from their homes), so facilitation is carried out using digital tools exclusively. This scenario is sometimes called remote, online, or virtual PI Planning. This format became prevalent in 2020 due to COVID-19.
  • Hybrid PI Planning — A subset of the attendees are located in the same place (a large meeting room). Other participants join remotely from individual locations (their homes). Teams may have a mix of in-person and remote attendees. Facilitation and tools are therefore needed to accommodate both types of participants throughout the event. Due to increased flexible working arrangements and remote-first hiring, hybrid PI Planning is likely to become increasingly common. 

Although they might seem similar, there are key differences between distributed (scenario 1) and hybrid PI Planning. In the distributed scenario, the ART is spread across a few locations only, with a facilitator at each. Teams with strong dependencies will ideally be collocated, so most key interactions are still in-person. In hybrid PI Planning, there is one group in a central location and individuals joining from dozens of remote locations. This context is much more complex as all interactions are potentially a mix of in-person and remote. Additionally, hybrid events carry a unique challenge around ensuring that the in-person subset (effectively the largest group) does not disproportionally dominate the event.

The Challenges of Hybrid PI Planning

We suspected that hybrid PI Planning would likely need to differ from the in-person and distributed events we had previously held. Some of the initial questions that we knew we would have to address were:  

  • How do we facilitate the event so as not to privilege people in the office over people at home? or vice versa? 
  • How do we create equal opportunities to participate? 
  • How do we help people returning to the office feel safe at their first large-scale work event in several years?
  • What are the challenges for people who have only attended fully remote, distributed PI Planning events?
  • What are the logistics of a hybrid event? 
  • What tools and equipment are needed? 
  • Do we use any physical tools? Or do we exclusively use digital tools?
  • How do we ensure that everyone can hear and be heard? And see and be seen?
  • Do teams do their breakout planning in the “big room”? Or do we need to provide physical breakout rooms? How do we help foster cross-team collaboration if the latter? 
  • How do we communicate expectations?
  • How do we support our team facilitators (Scrum Masters)?  

These questions are mainly looking to answer a broader one: How do we create an event that values and includes both in-person and online participants equally in a shared experience?

How We Prepared for Our First Hybrid PI Planning Event

Having established that hybrid PI Planning would involve unique challenges, we made some critical decisions and took the following steps to prepare.

Communication and alignment with the teams

Several weeks before the hybrid event, we held a meeting with the ART to share our plans and offer the team members a chance to ask questions or provide feedback. This pre-work helped us set expectations and create alignment. We also made and distributed an information pack, which contained information such as: 

  • Agenda
  • Floor plans and locations of the team breakout rooms
  • Instructions on how to use video conferencing equipment 
  • Facilitation tips 
Screenshots of agenda and floor plans from Fred IT's hybrid PI Planning information pack
Excerpt from the information pack (floor plans blurred for this blog post)

Collaboration tools

We decided to primarily use digital tools over physical ones. We knew our remote team members would not be able to see or contribute to physical boards. We used Miro for whiteboards, Mentimeter for polls (including confidence votes) and feedback, and MS Teams for calls.

A side-by-side comparison of a physical program board and digital program board
(Left) physical Program Board (Right) digital Program Board


In our Scrum Master Community of Practice, we ran a Futurespective workshop (AKA Pre-mortem Workshop) where we discussed what the worst and best hybrid PI Planning event would look and feel like. This helped our Scrum Masters anticipate issues, find solutions, and discuss the best outcomes.

Screenshot of Futurespective workshop: What would the worst hybrid PI Planning event look and feel like? What would the best hybrid PI Planning event look and feel like? Stick notes with answers below each question.
Futurespective workshop

Moving team breakouts out of the big room

During in-person PI Planning, the entire event usually takes place in a single big room. Given the hybrid setup, we realized this would not work well for the team breakout sessions. So we booked individual breakout rooms for each team instead. We then used the main room for sessions with the entire ART, such as the Business Context and Plan Reviews. 

A comparison of the big room setup and team breakout room setup
(Left) Big room setup (Right) Team breakout room

Testing equipment

We spent significant time testing the equipment in both the main and team breakout rooms before the event. We also had backup plans in case of equipment failure.

My Key Hybrid PI Planning Learnings as Release Train Engineer

The two days were pretty intense, and we learned a lot. We collected feedback throughout the event so that we could continually make adjustments. We collected in-person feedback on physical boards and remote feedback on a digital board. This ensured we understood the context of the feedback we received. Keep reading for some of our key learnings.

screenshots of both physical (with charts and stickies) and digital PI Planning retro feedback; what went well? what didn't go well? what could we do differently?
PI Planning event feedback

Quality of internet connection and audio/video

Two of the most important success factors for a hybrid event are a stable internet connection and clear sound and video. We had a great audio and video setup, but unfortunately, the internet connection was poor in our main room on day one. After receiving feedback from our online participants, we moved to a location with a better internet connection for day two.

Consider what you share on the screen

We discovered during the main group sessions that it was really important that both the in-person and remote participants could see:

  • The screen share
  • The chat window
  • The videos of the other participants 

If the chat window was not visible for in-person participants, they were not able to follow some of the conversations that were happening online.

We also realised it was important the online participants could see all the people in the room, not just the people presenting. Likewise, it was important for in-person participants to see the videos of the people online.

Microphone use and etiquette 

Most of us were not accustomed to using microphones and struggled to hold them consistently at an appropriate distance (myself included). In-person attendees needed occasional reminders to wait for a microphone to reach them before speaking so that online participants could hear them.


It had been several years since most of us had attended a large-scale work event in person, and many people understandably felt quite nervous. We chose to acknowledge this in the opening address, which I think helped calm nerves and establish an appropriately supportive environment. 

The social benefit

One thing that was universally agreed on was that it was great to get a chance to meet or reconnect with all of our colleagues. We provided coffee, snacks, and lunch so people could spend their breaks socializing and not searching for food.

snacks from Fred IT's PI Planning
Time for a break

It takes a team

I learned that it takes a team to pull off a good large-scale hybrid event. If you are the RTE facilitating hybrid PI Planning, find people who can assist you with AV setup, office logistics, tech support, etc. It’s far too much for one person to attempt on their own.

Tips and Resources for Release Train Engineers Facilitating Hybrid PI Planning

Facilitating PI Planning as a hybrid event is a lot of work, particularly the first time around, but it is definitely worth trying. Although we are still learning, my key takeaways so far are:

  • Be intentional in how you design and facilitate the event, and do not underestimate the work required.
  • Expect to learn a lot and to make adjustments and improvements as you go.
  • Make sure you focus on both perspectives, in-person and online. Be extra mindful of the experience you are not having!
  • While we still value flexible working arrangements, the communal and social benefits of coming together for PI Planning are real, tangible, and significant. 

Additional Resources

Resources for SAFe® Community members

About Tom Boswell

Tom Boswell is an Enterprise Agile Coach

Tom Boswell is an Enterprise Agile Coach and certified SPC and RTE. He has worked at multiple organizations using SAFe, coaching at the team, program, and enterprise levels. He is passionate about lifelong learning, helping others grow, empowering teams, and co-creating more meaningful workplaces. Connect with Tom on LinkedIn or at

My Release Train Engineer Career Path: Transition from RTE to Enterprise Agile Coach

Enterprise Agile Coach

Recently I’ve transitioned from working as a Release Train Engineer (RTE) to an Enterprise Agile Coach. While the RTE career path isn’t always well defined, this has been a rewarding journey personally for my professional development and collectively for growing our organizational capabilities. 

In this blog post, I discuss:

  • Enterprise Agile Coach as a potential development path for RTEs
  • My personal experience nine months into the role and what an Enterprise Agile Coach does in a SAFe® context
  • Learning paths for RTEs and several key insights

Pointing the Release Train Engineer Career Path toward Enterprise Agile Coach

If you look at the SAFe Big Picture (in any configuration), you can quickly identify Agile coaching roles at the team (Scrum Master) and program level (Release Train Engineer). But beyond these roles, the development path isn’t always clear. 

Release Train Engineer

What are the opportunities for Release Train Engineers?

To start, current Release Train Engineers could look at either a Solutions Train Engineer (STE) or a SAFe® Program Consultant (SPC) role. STE is a good progression, but the role only exists in very large enterprises (typically comprising thousands of people) building large solutions (for example, cyber-physical) that require multiple ARTs for development. SPC is a much more common role because it is required at organizations of any size. SPCs play a critical part in implementing SAFe.

But, because SAFe leverages the concept of a dual-operating system (proposed by John Kotter), SPC is often more a set of responsibilities than a specific position. So although many RTEs become certified SPCs to deepen their knowledge of SAFe and increase their own SAFe transformation capabilities, SPC is their next credential but not their next job title.

Enterprise Agile Coach is a common job title for someone who operates at an organizational level and works across organizational boundaries to coach Agile transformations and enable business agility.

These functions make Enterprise Agile Coach an excellent progression for an RTE whose scope has expanded beyond an ART to a broader role in their organization.

Release Train Engineer

What Does an Enterprise Agile Coach Do? My Experience After Nine Months

After working in my current organization for six months, it became clear the role had grown significantly beyond Release Train Engineer. I found myself increasingly leading a SAFe implementation rather than facilitating an ART. I was also managing an Agile delivery function/department with Scrum Masters working on projects operating outside of SAFe. I was promoted to Enterprise Agile Coach to recognize these responsibilities and to make my role clearer across the organization. 

Some of my new Enterprise Agile Coach responsibilities, which are described in SAFe, include:

  • Delivering and provisioning SAFe training across the business
  • Establishing a Lean-Agile Center of Excellence (LACE)
  • Value Stream identification and onboarding new teams onto our ARTs
  • Extending practices to the portfolio level
  • Leading Communities of Practice

RTEs or Scrum Masters may occasionally do (or directly support) some of this work, but there is an essential distinction between leading and contributing to these activities. Additionally, RTEs and Scrum Masters have program and team-level responsibilities that they need the capacity to focus on.

My new role also encompasses leading an Agile delivery function/department, which has a wider scope than our current SAFe implementation. Some of our delivery teams work outside our SAFe ARTs on independent projects with fixed durations. Taking a more complete and integrated view of how we deliver our value streams and projects has allowed us to gain a broader range of perspectives and insights, share knowledge, and apply standard practices across teams when beneficial. 

In my experience, the biggest shift from RTE to Enterprise Agile Coach has been learning to influence across organizational boundaries and starting to more fully apply systems thinking (SAFe Principle #2). This includes partnering with departments beyond Product and Technology (like HR) to examine the impact of policies, consider the working environment, and remove systemic impediments. I’ve also gained a better understanding of how value flows across the organization rather than just focusing on optimizing development activities.

One of the challenges that I had not anticipated was the amount of work needed to develop my own personal leadership capabilities. Here are a few of the practices I’ve found beneficial for building a new skill set:

  • Regular professional coaching
  • Developmental practices such as meditation and journaling
  • Leadership self-assessments
  • Enterprise Coaching Mastercamp

Additionally, I’ve continued reading widely to expand my knowledge in some of the disciplines listed in the next section.

Going Beyond Release Train Engineer Skills: My Key Learnings

Enterprise Agile Coaching is shaped by a wide range of disciplines. If you’re interested in moving to Enterprise Agile Coach, some of the areas you might start exploring include:

  • Systems thinking and complexity theory
  • Organizational design
  • Organizational change process
  • Developmental theory
  • Leadership development
  • SPC certification (for advanced knowledge of SAFe)
Release Train Engineer

Some of the ideas and concepts that immediately resonated with my own experience are:

  • Holons – The concept that something is simultaneously a whole in and of itself but also a part of a larger whole (see Arthur Koestler, Ken Wilber, and Michael K. Spayd). This is a useful way to consider individuals, teams, ARTs, and the enterprise. 
  • Fractals – Patterns reoccur at various scales, and this occurs throughout the organization (Mandelbrot).
  • Developmental stage models – Understanding how organizations can be centered in a developmental stage and how their worldviews and values affect the system and culture (see Clare Graves, Don Beck, Ken Wilber, and Frederic Laloux).

Defining Your Release Train Engineer Career Path: More Resources

Enterprise coaching can be very challenging but is also incredibly rewarding. Working more holistically as an Enterprise Agile Coach across the organization has broadened my perspective and understanding of how systems work. 

My previous work as an RTE gave me access to program-level perspectives and insights invaluable to my current role. For any RTE that wants to move into Enterprise Agile Coaching, I recommend seeking out mentors and peers to help support you in your learning journey, adopting a strong growth mindset, and investing in your own development as a leader. 

From Our Team

Defining your RTE career path can start now with a few small steps. Below are more resources you can use to improve your daily practice as an RTE and clarify your professional development path:

About Tom Boswell

Tom Boswell is an Enterprise Agile Coach

Tom Boswell is an Enterprise Agile Coach and certified SPC and RTE. He has worked at multiple organizations using SAFe, coaching at the team, program, and enterprise levels. He is passionate about lifelong learning, helping others grow, empowering teams, and co-creating more meaningful workplaces. Connect with Tom on LinkedIn or at

Facilitation Tips to Excel at the RTE Role – Agility Planning

Release Train Engineer

I spend most of my time in the Release Train Engineer (RTE) role facilitating groups from all levels of the organization.

When I facilitate poorly, people notice, and the Agile Release Train (ART) struggles to align on objectives and mitigate risks.

When I facilitate well, meetings blend into daily work, and the ART runs smoothly.

In this blog post, I focus on facilitation tips and tools that have worked for me in agility planning with three ceremonies that RTEs facilitate:

  • PI Planning
  • Scrum of Scrums (SoS)
  • System Demo

Let’s take a look at how I prepare for and facilitate each.

Release Train Engineer

Prepare for the RTE Role in PI Planning

PI Planning is the most important event the RTE role facilitates. A well-run PI Planning aligns the ART to:

  • strategy
  • business context
  • priorities

It creates the space for tough conversations about dependencies and tradeoffs. Teams have the autonomy to plan to achieve the desired value delivery within their capacity.

How to prepare for a successful PI Planning

It’s helpful for me to think about PI Planning preparation in the following sections.


This includes the tools and tips I use to stay organized before and during PI Planning.

Book calendars in advance

If you want 125 people available at the same time in the same location, you need to get dates on the calendar a year ahead of PI Planning. When I have not met this criterion, key stakeholders miss the event due to scheduling conflicts.

ART Readiness Workbook

We use an updated version of the readiness checklist in the ART Readiness Workbook. The SAFe® PI Planning Toolkit on the SAFe Community Platform includes this checklist.

It includes everything we need to prepare our teams and ARTs for PI Planning, from the program backlog to video call links. We’ve started calling it “the dream” because it keeps us so organized that the event runs like a dream.


This is how I think about the information I want to convey during PI Planning.

Business context

Work with leaders to prepare a strong business context presentation. As a facilitator, it’s my job to ensure the connection from strategy to execution is clear. That connection starts with the business context.

As an RTE, I work with our leaders to paint the picture of:

  • Our progress so far
  • Our priorities moving forward
  • What we want to do with those priorities
  • Why it matters

A motivating message will resonate with people and set the tone for the event.

Note: Leaders can be your GM for the business unit or CEO for smaller organizations.

Product strategy

The product strategy connects the business context to the prioritized backlog. It shows the research, customer feedback, and PI roadmap that will achieve our strategic themes.

This means RTEs work with the head of product to create a presentation that encourages engagement with the content. It should also include plenty of time for Q&A.

I know I’m successful when, in the Q&A, team members make clear connections between the product strategy and top features in the program backlog.

Prioritized program backlog

Our product team prepares early for the upcoming PI by:

  • Understanding customer needs and desired outcomes
  • Defining, sizing, and prioritizing features

This process gives teams plenty of time to understand priorities. It also helps them understand how to do the work and which features to pull first. If I have done a good job of facilitating through the business context and product strategy, the teams will have confidence in the backlog. They’ll also understand how to engage with it to achieve the most value in the PI.


How you set up impacts how your teams engage and where they focus during planning.


Release Train Engineer

We use the Virtual PI Planning Collaborate template for virtual PI planning. This template allows us to set up all the things we would have on the walls if we were in person in one easy-to-use online location. It cuts down on logistical questions during PI Planning and allows people to focus on their tasks.


We spend a lot of time thinking about tables, breakout rooms, and supplies:

  • Does all the in-room tech work?
  • Are there clear instructions for how to use it in the room?
  • Are there snacks and fidget toys on the table for idle hands?
  • Plenty of sticky notes in different colors with pens and markers?

The less time people spend looking for supplies or troubleshooting tech, the more engaged and focused they will be.

Snacks and fun

Whether in person or virtual, planning for snacks and fun is crucial. We send out a theme for planning in advance. We also provide engagement ideas like:

  • costumes
  • virtual backgrounds
  • table decorations

In-person, we plan for snacks and catering; virtually, we send meal kits or snack boxes to people’s homes. Themes bring fun and create camaraderie and empathy that make difficult conversations easier. Snacks keep people focused and stave off the hangry moments.

How to facilitate a successful PI Planning

No matter how well you prepare and set up, facilitation will be tricky, and there will be many twists and turns. Here are my top tips for facilitating successful PI Planning.

Use a detailed facilitator’s agenda

We write a script and annotate every transition, timebox, and tool used. As a facilitator, I plan out:

  • How long to give each team for read-out, Q&A, and transition to the next team
  • Who will present on which screen and from where, and so on

Scripting this prevents worry in the moment and allows us to focus on active facilitation.

Know your end goal so you can pivot

These down-to-the-minute agendas will go off the rails at some point. It may be because a meaningful conversation runs past the timebox. Or we need to discuss a risk or de-scoping in real-time. With a detailed facilitator’s plan, we can adjust in the moment and still achieve our goal.

Embrace crucial conversations

PI Planning includes difficult trade-offs, scoping conversations, and cross-team dependencies and risks. Emotions are high, and the content is high stakes. We must model and facilitate embracing these conversations in productive ways. As a facilitator, I ensure these conversations are happening by coaching people through them.

When people come to me with problems and risks they want me to solve, it is often something they can solve themselves with a crucial conversation. I coach them to use:

  • “I” statements
  • Clear, transparent communication

The pain caused by avoidance or indirect communication is always worth this time and effort. For more detailed PI Planning facilitation guides and templates, check out the SAFe PI Planning toolkit. Find it on the PI Planning SAFe Community Platform page.

Release Train Engineer

Prepare for the RTE Role in Scrum of Scrums

After PI Planning, it’s essential to manage dependencies in a clear and consistent way. The RTE role helps create clear visibility on impediments to and progress toward our objectives.

For the ART, Scrum of Scrums (SoS) acts like a train-level stand-up. As an RTE, preparing well for SoS ensures we get the right outcomes. Facilitating well ensures it does not become a status meeting.

How to prepare for a successful SoS

Here are my tips and tricks for preparing a successful SoS in the RTE role.

Agenda and purpose

It’s important to provide a clear and visible agenda and purpose for SoS. This enables all the teams in the ART to prepare and show up with the right information to work dependencies and remove impediments.

Visuals to help review dependencies and progress toward objectives

We use the program board we built in SAFe Collaborate at PI Planning during SoS. We also use an iteration-by-iteration cross-team dependency board in our ALM tool.

Knowing we will use these in advance gives a clear place for everyone to prepare for the event. It also creates a visible place for dependencies and risks.

Representation from every team

Schedules can make it hard for every Scrum Master or team representative to attend SoS, but it must be a priority.

When Scrum Masters don’t represent their teams at SoS, questions go unanswered, and dependencies are harder to manage or make visible.

How to facilitate a successful SoS

Once I’ve prepared for SoS, here’s how I facilitate smoothly in the RTE role.

Pre-fill items in shared notes so you can spend time discussing risks, dependencies, and releases

A single, visible place for all SoS notes allows teams to add updates before the meeting. It allows others to review and show up to SoS ready to ask questions or share related information.

Ask questions that go beyond status updates to uncover dependencies

Ask clarifying questions about the work and related data in the ALM tool. Asking for visuals or links to related documents ensures everyone understands.

Mix up your questions each time. This prevents automatic responses and encourages thinking about the work from new angles.

Invite guests and people new to the company

This orients new people to your organization to your process for managing dependencies and risks. It also shows them where to find the information they may need about other teams’ work.

Check out the SoS Facilitator’s guide on the ART Events page of the SAFe Community Platform to improve your SoS facilitation.

Release Train Engineer

Prepare for the RTE Role in System Demo

The System Demo is the flashiest of ceremonies the RTE role facilitates. It’s when the teams get to show off the work they’ve completed during the iteration (or PI if it’s the PI system demo).

How to prepare for a successful system demo

Because System Demo is about showing off the work of the ARTs, it’s important that I prepare them for a smooth experience.

Prepare presenters in advance

I provide a timebox and share my agenda deck two days before the demo. Participants to leave a “live demo” slide if they plan to share their screens during the event.

Then I meet with speakers half an hour before the demo. We test the timing of presentations, handoffs, and technology. This ensures a smooth delivery.

Create a reusable template

Using a template that follows the same pattern makes it easy to prepare topics. The topics I select show the progress toward our objectives and strategic themes.

A familiar template and standard format will make preparations easy and calm the nerves of those not used to presenting.

Build in time for Q&A and space for the conversation to continue past the timebox

While the demo of the end-to-end solution is critical, it is as important that stakeholders have the opportunity to ask questions and provide feedback.

We often only have time for a few questions, so we create a thread in our company messaging app for more questions and discussions.

How to facilitate a successful system demo

Once I prepare everyone, facilitating a successful system demo is pretty straightforward. Here are a few essential tips.

Open the meeting with purpose and expectations

I always take the first few minutes of the system demo to remind everyone why we are there. I also remind them of their role in ensuring we meet the purpose:

  • Paying close attention
  • Asking questions
  • Giving feedback
  • Looking for ways what they saw affects or improves their work

Connect demo topics to objectives and strategic themes

I structure the agenda by grouping demos by strategic theme. As part of the agenda overview, I discuss each theme and how each demo will connect to the theme and the team’s objective.

Embrace silence

The group often hesitates to speak up when there are over 100 people on a call or in a room, including key stakeholders and customers.

As a facilitator, I open the floor to questions and feedback. Or I ask questions and then count to 10 in my head. This can feel like an eternity of silence that you want to fill. But nine times out of ten, right toward the end of the silence, someone will come forward with a question. If you don’t allow for silence, you will lose much of that engagement.

Looking for more tips and tricks? Check out:

Conclusion and Additional Resources

The RTE role of preparing for and facilitating ART-level events impacts the ART’s ability to:

  • Connect strategy to execution
  • Manage risks and dependencies
  • Understand the end-to-end value delivered during the PI

Preparing ourselves and others in advance removes in-the-moment confusion. It also increases understanding and transparency.

We create space to pivot and shift in the moment while achieving desired outcomes.

Coaching and modeling crucial conversations means more productive team engagement and outcomes.

I hope this blog post has inspired you to explore new ways to approach facilitating your events. To help you on your journey:

About Lieschen Gargano Quilling

Lieschen Gargano is a Release Train Engineer

Lieschen Gargano is a Release Train Engineer and conflict guru – thanks in part to her master’s degree in conflict resolution. As the RTE for the development value stream at Scaled Agile, Lieschen loves cultivating new ideas and approaches to Agile to keep things fresh and engaging. She also has a passion for developing practices for happy teams of teams across the full business value stream.

View all posts by Lieschen Gargano Quilling