Pitching PI Objectives to the Sharks

Oct 25, 2019

Do you find that your teams and Business Owners have a hard time digesting PI Objectives, what they are and their purpose in PI Planning? Their PI Objectives can end up sounding more like features (“Add the green widget feature to the purchase screen”), and sometimes they are ignored entirely.

Pitching PI Objectives to the Sharks

Neither scenario is okay. If your company wants to create successful business outcomes and meaningful value for its customers, then everyone needs to know what PI Objectives are, why they’re important/useful/cool, and how to pitch them. In other words, the successful application of the Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe) depends on a clear understanding of PI Objectives.

In this article, I’m going to share my favorite way to explain PI Objectives to teams, which has something to do with a popular TV show involving sharks. But first, a refresher on the what and why.


First, what are PI Objectives?

SAFe PI Objectives are a “summary of the business and technical goals that an Agile Team or train intends to achieve in the upcoming Program Increment (PI).” Simply put, they’re big goals around the real value that teams are delivering. To paraphrase SAFe Fellow Eric Willeke, PI Objectives exist to help the teams and the Business Owners align on the value and scope, focus on outcomes instead of outputs, and give us an easy summary rather than a long list of features. We use them to communicate up, down, and sideways in the organization, so they need to be in clear business language.

Sometimes, teams mistake a PI Objective for a feature. A PI Objective should be based on one or more features, but I’ve rarely seen a feature talk about the value it’s delivering. Of course, if you’ve got a good feature benefit hypothesis, then you’re probably more than halfway there!


Why PI Objectives?

You might read lots of blogs, newsletters, etc. that say agile isn’t giving the intended benefits. This often stems from misalignment between what the Customers/Business want and what the IT teams produce.

SAFe provides PI Objectives to help with the disconnect. During PI Planning, the teams create PI Objectives and pitch them to the Business Owners, who then discuss them with the teams. Next, the Business Owners work with them to express differences, come to a mutual understanding, and score the PI Objectives. If PI Planning is about alignment, then this mutual understanding is one of the best “Alignment Moments” of a PI Planning event.


What About the Sharks?!

OK, I promised you sharks. But first, a story (I’m keeping you on the hook for just a bit longer).

The night before a PI Planning with a former client, I struggled with how to teach the concept of PI Objectives in a way people would understand. Munching on pizza, I flipped through the channels in my hotel room and came across ABC’s reality show Shark Tank…and was amazed how the context of the show held uncanny parallels to pitching PI Objectives.

What About the Sharks?!

In Shark Tank, aspiring entrepreneurs get 90 seconds to pitch their product, followed by Q&A and discussion with five titans of industry, aka “the Sharks.” Once the Sharks understand and align on the pitch, they decide to invest—or not.

How nicely this premise transferred to PI Objectives! I started taking notes. Teams would be entrepreneurs. Business Owners (Business and IT) would be the Sharks. Teams would spend about 90 seconds making a business pitch for what they were going to work on for the next 4 iterations. The Business Owners would listen to understand and align on the pitch, and then they would make the investment decision by scoring the PI Objectives.

The next day, I shared the Shark Tank analogy at PI Planning. Most people had seen the show, and it really resonated with the whole train. They loved stepping into Shark Tank; not only did it help them explain their bigger goals and how they related to the larger system, but it also inspired them to have fun. There was only one person who hated the idea, but then even he became a promoter after his first Shark Tank discussion.

At one point, I had a team who presented their PI Objectives and the Sharks (ahem, the Business Owners) didn’t invest. Instead, the Sharks came back to that team and helped them find something they would invest in. While it might sound bad that the Sharks didn’t “invest,” think about the time and money saved by having that conversation before anything got built!


Wrapping Up

I hope that the Shark Tank analogy helps you think of PI Objectives in a new way. If you need additional help coaching PI Objectives and would like some excellent examples of concrete PI Objectives, then please view our free download with more information. Our goal is to help you teach and coach PI objectives in a way that makes sense to people.


Additional Reading

  • Charlene Cuenca, ICON Principal Consultant and SPCT, presented “The Synergistic Nature of PI Objectives” at the 2018 SAFe Summit. View her slideshow to learn more about how PI Objectives shift focus from output (Feature/Story completion) to outcomes (value delivery).
  • John Cutler wrote a really great article called “12 Signs You’re Working in a Feature Factory”. Read this and think about #9 and #10 as they relate to PI Planning.
Written by Randy Smith , SPCT


Randy is a Consultant, Trainer, Agile Transformation Coach, and SPCT. He believes that a transformation is about more than adopting a framework—it’s also about meeting people where they’re at to help them create an optimal human system that can happily and effectively deliver value to customers. Randy has more than 2 decades of experience in the industry and has worked in several sectors, including tech, manufacturing, shipping, financial, and medical firms, and he has served many roles like developer, test management, release management, support, etc. He started using Agile principles and values with a team in 1999, got his SPC in 2014, and completed his SPCT in May 2019.