Your First Quarterly Big Room Planning

 

If you’re scaling Agile ways of working across several teams in your organization, you’ll inevitably come up against the challenge of bringing them together in an Agile quarterly planning meeting. 

Affectionately referred to as Big Room Planning, or simply BRP, (because we usually need a bigger space if we’re doing so in-person), this quarterly planning moment is the expanded, far-reaching cousin of backlog refinement. 

Big Room Planning meetings bring teams that collaborate with each other together for 1-2 days to plan the upcoming quarter at a high level, set expectations with stakeholders, identify and mitigate risks, as well as flag capacity issues, if any are discovered. 

Thinking about bringing this planning session into your organizational calendar for the next quarter? Discover the benefits of this quarterly planning session and some essential tips for making your first one a raging success. 

Benefits of Big Room Planning

Benefits of Big Room Planning-1

We could write an entire article just listing the many benefits of hosting a Big Room Planning session each quarter inside your organization. But you should at least be aware of some obvious benefits that become immediately apparent when you’ve got such a varied group of attendees coming together to plan like:

  • Increased visibility across teams
  • Greater project alignment to organizational OKRs
  • Shared understanding of business goals 
  • Steel thread between individual contributions and strategic initiatives
  • Increased communication between execution teams, strategists, and their stakeholders 
  • Better foresight into risks, dependencies, and opportunities in the quarter
  • More realistic commitments based on true team capacity

But there are also less obvious benefits that might become apparent over time, like:

  • New leaders are often borne out of Big Room Planning because it creates an environment where team members can take the lead on strategic conversations around priority and budgets
  • Team building because it brings a diverse group of representatives from different organizational areas together to plan the quarter and get to know each other as a result
  • Faster cultural shift in that the BRP models the organization at its most transparent and inclusive, showing team members what day-to-day work could look like inside their teams every day of the work week

Big Room Planning is like an elevated Sprint Planning and Backlog Refinement meeting all bundled together and make both of those touchpoints far easier throughout the quarter. 

Now that you’ve seen the myriad benefits of BRP, it’s time to learn how to prepare and conduct one.

 

How to Get Ready for Your First Big Room Planning

For all intents and purposes, your first Big Room Planning meeting is bound to be a little bumpy. Partly because it’s your first one, but also because your teams are not used to having the conversations that this meeting creates space for. 

Based on our experience leading organizations through their first Big Room Planning meetings, either in-person or virtually, we’ve identified the most important elements you need to have in place for a successful event. If you’re looking to build this quarterly planning cadence into your new Agile organization, keep reading for ways to make sure your first one achieves impactful outcomes.  

How to Get Ready for Your First Big Room Planning

Block Time as Early as Possible

It might read like a no brainer, but let’s start with a quick win that will keep people positive about the fact they’ll spend 1-2 days of valuable working time on planning, as well as ensuring they actually attend.

If you want the right people in the room, block their calendars as early as you possibly can. 

Teams and stakeholders that don’t see quarterly planning coming in their calendars will book other meetings that they’ll need to step out for and disrupt the planning process. 

Instead, by scheduling your four Big Room Planning sessions in the calendar at the start of the year, all of your VIPs on the invite will anticipate the events and be better prepared to dedicate the full attention this meeting deserves. It’s also a clear signal that these sessions are important and to be taken seriously.

Lead With Good PR

For those members of your organization who’ve never taken part in a Big Room Planning meeting before, you’ll need to do some education using the right verbiage to get them on board with the idea. 

Sending out a monthly Agile newsletter can help you ease team members into the idea of planning quarterly (rather than annually or when a project rolls around, as they might be used to) and give them vital tips on how they can prepare for the events.

Spending so much time up front planning for the quarter might appear unseemly for some team members coming from more traditional organizational hierarchies, where less frequent, annual plans are more common. 

Prove to everyone that BRP is worth the time you’ll spend in it by giving this invaluable quarterly touchpoint the good PR it needs to become something people truly look forward to and prepare for. 

Choose Your Technology Wisely

There’s a case to be made for both virtual and in-person Agile quarterly planning meetings. Virtual planning tends to stay on track more easily, but in-person planning is more engaging for attendees. 

However, in both cases, technology can be helpful in effectively documenting the outcomes of discussions that take place throughout the day. Visualization tools, in particular, can ensure that teams don’t lose track of action items, priority changes, or other shifts that they agree on throughout the day. 

Big Room Planning meetings that run on post-its and Sharpies are not out of the question as they also help with visualization. But, the ease of translating digital notes into another digital task management tool like Jira or Workfront can’t be beat. 

Consider digital visualization tools, like Miro or Mural, to support your next quarterly planning meeting by capturing all your team’s conversations in one consolidated place.

Leadership Endorsement 

We’ve participated in Big Room Planning sessions that were kicked off by Agile coaches, team leaders, and C-suite/VP level leaders. Based on our observations, nothing quite instigates excitement like hearing a C-level executive or Vice President being supportive of the fact that this group has come together to plan ahead. 

Hearing words of encouragement from organizational leaders that team members don’t usually have direct access to can be very motivating. 

Of course, BRPs can still succeed with a kick off from a departmental or team leader or an Agile coach. But if you’re able to get a 30 minute speech from someone the teams rarely engage with, but look up to, it can make all the difference to the energy in the room.

Coaching Support

Your first Big Room Planning stands to gain a lot from expert facilitation and moderation. We might sound biased when we say this, but we’ve heard about many such forums derailing because the teams in the breakout rooms have too many open questions as they plan ahead for the quarter.

Leaders have a huge role to play in Big Room Planning. They set the stage, clarify strategy, and keep team spirits high.  

That is exactly why they need trusted partners who can lead the individual working groups towards the desired outcomes from this meeting in a streamlined and efficient way. 

Agenda Keeps the Group on Track

Playing a BRP by ear is a recipe for disaster. Time tends to go by quickly when you gather all of your key stakeholders and core team members in a room and start planning the next several months of work. 

Make sure you’re not wasting anyone’s precious time by carefully curating an agenda ahead of the meeting and socializing it with the group of potential attendees. From our experience, these agendas bear a few rounds of iterations before they fully reflect the goals of the meeting and account for every piece of the puzzle that needs to come together. 

Give yourself time to change and improve it before sharing it with the group. An example agenda for Day 1 of Big Room Planning might look something like this:

Time

Duration

Topic

Teams involved

Goal

9:00-9:30

30 min

Kick-Off Overview

All teams

Reminder of Leadership OKRs and BRP goals

9:30-12:00

2.5 hours

Team Project Request Prioritization Session

Team Breakouts 

Lay out Q1 projects in a visual board, prioritize the projects by month in order of importance and OKRs, note initial capacity risks

12:00-12:45

45 min

LUNCH/BREAK

12:45-1:15

30 min

Confirm Team Priority of Q1 work

Team Breakouts 

Finalize team level prioritization for shared service team review

1:15-2:00

45 min

Rotation 1 w/ Shared Service

See rotation guide

See rotation guide

2:00-2:15

15 min

BREAK

2:15-3:00

45 min

Rotation 2 w/ Shared Service

See rotation guide

See rotation guide

3:00-3:10

10 min

TRANSITION

3:10-3:55

45 min

Rotation 3 w/ Shared Service

See rotation guide

See rotation guide

3:55-4:00

5 min

Day 1 Debrief

Department Leaders, Agile Leads, Agile Coaches/Scrum Masters

Check on progress of each team and decide if any schedule adjustments are needed for Day 2

Review the Lens

Although the assumption is that all teams participating in Big Room Planning have likely participated in Agile training and already have some experience with Agile practices, reviewing vital concepts at the start of BRP can help them consider the work through the right lens. 

To kick off an Agile quarterly planning meeting, it’s worth reinforcing the importance of the following:

  • The objectives for the year and the key results for the quarter 
  • The user story format and work breakdown structure
  • The values and principles of Agile
  • The standardized criteria for sizing among the teams (if such exists)

Making sure everyone kicks off with the same understanding of these pillars sets the stage for a successful series of discussions with the right common perspective.

Checklist for the Teams

Many a Big Room Planning meeting has been derailed by a  lack of clear direction for the teams. 

Much of the time your teams spend in this meeting will be spent in workshops with their core team members before they present out to the wider group. Ensure the time in breakouts is spent meaningfully by providing helpful guidance in the form of a checklist to help the team navigate what is expected of them. 

Checklists for Big Room Planning responsibilities from the team side while in breakouts might include:

  • Hosting a capacity round-robin to bring up instances of scheduled PTO, holidays, special projects, or major product releases over the course of the quarter. This will influence how much the team is able to commit to.
  • Bringing all unstarted work from the upcoming quarter and all left-over work from the previous quarter to one consolidated list.
  • Determine which OKR aligns to which project in the backlog for the quarter to identify low-priority projects that are not aligned to business goals.
  • Break down upcoming projects to user stories for greater granularity and detail.
  • Use Fibonacci Sequence, T-shirt sizes, or other sizing technique to determine the level of effort required to complete each user story.
  • Identify, discuss, and address interdependencies, impediments, and risks in the plan for the quarter.
  • Prioritize user stories by distributing them across sprints in the quarter or in a stacked backlog .

Retrospective At the End

Ending your quarterly planning meeting with a retrospective to collect feedback from the events of the previous quarter is a great technique to reinforce your commitment to the Agile way of working. The retrospective format invites input from the group of team members you’ve gathered and can surface critical action items to improve the next iteration of your joint process. 

Retrospective At the End

Appropriate retrospective templates to use to wrap your Big Room Planning meeting include:

Whether you’re running the post-BRP retrospective in-person or virtually, having a skilled facilitator to lead the group through some of the thornier topics can be an advantage. 

The action items generated by the retrospective can be added to the leadership backlog for the upcoming quarter. 

Keep the Momentum

Get ready for a lot of excited faces at the end of this 1-2 day event. By the end of the Big Room Planning agenda, everyone will have already understood the benefits of getting together. Hopefully, they will have also shared their feedback about what is and isn’t possible in the upcoming quarter as well as raised some potential risks to watch out for.

It’s up to leaders to send a recap and push action items from the Big Room Planning retrospective to resolution in the coming weeks. 

Keep the momentum of this crucial touchpoint and show your teams that the takeaways from this 1-2 day event were taken seriously and used for continuous improvement purposes on the organizational level. 

Before proceeding to learn what the best practices for holding a quarterly Big Room Planning are, why don't you take a second to get our Agile Marketing Transformation Checklist?

Best Practices Not Just for Your First BRP

When your first Big Room Planning goes right, you’ll reap the benefits of this throughout the entire quarter on the team and leadership levels. 

To make sure you nail your first one, follow the tips in this article and don’t hesitate to reach out to our team to hear about more ways to infuse your quarterly planning with even more team spirit and positive outcomes. 

As you can probably tell, these best practices don’t apply to your first such meeting alone. In fact, they can be applied to every large-scale planning that you undertake, no matter how often you are used to hosting it. 

If you’re looking for a coach to help you facilitate your scaled retrospective or moderate your team breakout sessions – get in touch! 

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