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Soon time for one of Europe’s largest PI Planning events

In mid-June some 4,500 SEB employees will be gathering virtually for the year’s second PI Planning event. It will be one of the largest and most extensive agile planning processes to be carried out in Europe.

“SEB has taken quite a unique approach with an agile transformation that involves the entire company. Typically an agile transformation grows as a bottom-up movement within IT. But to gain the full effects, the entire company must be involved,” says Jonas Lundström head of the Lean Agile Center of Excellence (LACE) at SEB.

Program Increment Planning, or PI Planning for short, is conducted every quarter. But what is it exactly, and how has the process developed in SEB? We ask Jonas Lundström and Patrik Thiis, head of business development in business area Investor Services and leader of one of the domains within the bank.

“From a pragmatic perspective and my point of view, PI Planning is a way of jointly synchronising product planning between business, IT and support functions,” Patrik explains. “It is a way of synchronising all strategic input and all dependencies by sitting down for one week each quarter and conducting joint planning.”

Jonas Lundström adds: “It is also a way of going from a predetermined, instruction-steered way of planning to one that is intention-based. It entails pointing out the direction and which intentions we have for various areas and then marshalling the total know-how in the bank to see how these intentions can be realised. In this way we get a handshake and a realistic plan.”

How has the PI Planning process developed within SEB?

“When I started at the bank just over two years ago ten weeks would pass between the first and last PI Planning. That can create big problems. Imagine that tribe A sets a plan and begins working, but has a dependence on tribe B, which does not do any planning until after ten weeks. This can result in tribe A failing to make its deliveries entirely,” says Jonas.

“There’s a reason for conducting the planning at the same time so that we can synchronise. We have gone from a planning interval of ten weeks down to one week this year. This is an enormous shift, and we are shooting to concentrate our planning even more, down to two days together.”

Adds Patrik: “During this time we have also changed over from physical meetings to virtual events, which has been a challenge at the same time that it has simplified logistics by not having to book lots of physical premises.”

What effects has the synchronised planning had thus far?

“The biggest advantage is that you uncover problems in another way than previously,” says Jonas. “Business, IT and support functions have come closer to each other, which makes it more transparent when there’s a clash. Historically, capacity problems have been solved by asking for more money, but now, through the domain organisation we have fixed capacity, and the question instead is how we can optimise our flows and extract more value.

“We can’t do everything at the same time and have to set strict priorities at times. Flow optimisation is an everyday concern in manufacturing companies, and I hope it will also be that way in the knowledge industry. There is enormous potential to optimise flows and thereby remove bottlenecks. Over the long term it may be the best way to create more value at a lower cost.”

Patrik Thiis concurs that the big advantage of PI Planning is a more fine-tuned machinery, greater transparency and a better understanding of interdependencies.

“But we still live in parallel worlds, where the line organisation and domains are not reflected one-to-one. You don’t solve all problems just by changing the concept,” he says.

Jonas Lundström is of the same mindset. There are still challenges and a need to develop the organisation and ways of working:

“Our domains and tribes today are not perfectly structured in accordance with our value flows end-to-end,” he says. “An apt quote that we use to describe the transformation is: ‘It is easier to act yourself into a new way of thinking than it is to think yourself into a new way of acting.’ In other words, launch early, ask for feedback, maximise learning and change.