Introducing Program Increments for Companies Using SAFe®

Group sprints by program increment in Aha! Develop | Photo by Aha!

October 19, 2022

Introducing Program Increments for Companies Using SAFe®

by Jeff Tucker

The benefits of agile product development are well known — increased productivity, faster time-to-market, fewer defects. But for larger enterprise companies, applying agile principles at scale can be a challenge. You need a way to keep plans and progress in sync across multiple teams. The Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®) offers a solution by organizing teams into agile release trains and using program increments to establish delivery cadence.

You can now define program increments in Aha! Develop — so large enterprises using the SAFe methodology can coordinate sprints across many engineering teams.

If you are familiar with SAFe, you know that a program increment (PI) is a way of setting a fixed time frame for multiple engineering teams to plan, build, and deliver new features in concert. During PI planning, upcoming work is discussed, assigned to teams, and then tentatively scheduled into sprints. This ensures that everyone understands the business objectives and follows the same sprint cadence — making it easier to coordinate delivery at scale.

Today's update provides two important enhancements to support this approach. We made it possible to group teams under team lines so you can organize agile release trains (ARTs). And we added program increments as a record type in Aha! Develop. This enables you to define program increments at the team line level, assign work to them, and organize sprints across teams.

From here, each team can pull work from the program increment into upcoming sprints. As the program increment gets underway, technical leads can see a consolidated view of sprint progress by team. A progress bar shows the overall percent of work completed across the program increment and how much is remaining — so you can quickly see if you are on track to meet your PI objectives.

This functionality is available for customers on the Aha! Develop Advanced plan. If you use Aha! Develop and Aha! Roadmaps together, product management can also view the new program increment record type. This makes it possible to assign features directly to program increments and report on progress.

We know that implementing SAFe can be complex. This is why we created a detailed best practices articlethat explains how to configure Aha! software to help you be successful. We also encourage you to talk to our Customer Success team, many of whom have deep experience using SAFe to coordinate the planning and delivery of software in complex environments.

Let's take a deeper look at how to effectively plan and manage program increments:

Organize your teams

Start by defining your team hierarchy in your Account settings. You can create as many team lines and teams as you need to match your SAFe configuration. In the example below, we created a team line to represent our "Fredwin Cycling" agile release train and grouped four development teams within it.

Use documents to organize meeting notes and outline key processes for your team line.

Define program increments

Scaffold out your program increments for the year. Fill in key details for each one — including the date range, sprint cadence, and description. (You can fully customize the layout of your program increments and choose which fields you want to include). Below, we set our program increments to last for eight weeks and scheduled four two-week sprints within each one. This automatically generates sprints for each team in the agile release train.

If you use Aha! Develop with Aha! Roadmaps, you can link program increments to your strategic product initiatives.

Streamline PI planning

Now let's plan out a program increment. In our example, product management has already assigned the most important features to the program increment from Aha! Roadmaps. During PI planning, we define the requirements in more detail, estimate effort, and identify any cross-team dependencies. From here, technical leads can allocate work to each team by moving items into upcoming sprints.

Use the capacity bar on the program increment record to optimize the team's overall workload.

Deliver against your plan

Get a visual snapshot of program increment progress. Use the Sprints tab in the program increment record to see a breakdown of sprint performance by team — drilling into each sprint as needed for a deeper understanding. You can also view the Related tab to monitor the status of work items. Over in Aha! Roadmaps, product management can include the program increment record type and fields in any report to see if delivery is on track.

Hover over the progress bar to see the number of points (or time) in progress, completed, and not started.

Use team lines and program increments to ensure greater alignment and collaboration across your engineering teams.

If you follow the Scaled Agile Framework we hope you will give these new features a try. Of course, you don't have to follow SAFe to take advantage of them. Team lines and program increments are useful mechanisms for coordinating work across any large engineering organization.

Aha! is a trademark of Aha! Labs Inc. Scaled Agile Framework® and SAFe® are registered trademarks of Scaled Agile, Inc.

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Jeff Tucker

Jeff is passionate about promoting customer empathy throughout product and engineering teams. He is a Senior Product Manager at Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software. Jeff has more than 10 years of experience across product, design, and engineering roles. Previously, he managed products at developer tool and cybersecurity startups.

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