Empiricism in the Age of COVID19: Apply the Required Learning (Part 3)

Jun 10, 2020

This is the final installment in a 3-Part Series on applying empiricism in the time of COVID-19 and using hypothesis-driven approaches to adapting to SAFe® and agile practices in the remote world.

The Process

We planned (Part 1), we executed (Part 2) , and now we learn and adapt!

For the conclusion of this series, I will apply lessons learned and use the proven After-Action Review method. Developed by the military and widely adopted by many industries, an After-Action Review is a structured review process for evaluating:

  • What we intended to accomplish
  • What happened
  • Why it happened and what was learned
  • How to improve moving forward
Apply learning in SAFe

In order to be true to the process and to remind readers what we were attempting to do (our strategy), our original hypothesis is restated here (what did we intend to do?):

By having fun and enabling critical tooling so that our teams can conduct themselves as if they were 'in the room/face to face,' we can achieve a successful outcome from our Inspect & Adapt ceremony and maintain the 2.5 day cadence. By embracing empiricism, we could run a series of small, fun experiments, reinforce core Agile and Lean Principles, and prepare our teams to excel!


What Happened

So how did we execute relative to our strategy? What did we do? The Release Train Engineer (RTE) and I developed a strategy of using gamification to introduce new tools and methods to the team. Our goals were to:

  1. Develop several key skills
  2. Introduce new tools
  3. Strengthen team cohesion

To achieve these goals, we outlined the skills and built team-based games and competition, then scheduled learning times, including:

  1. Team-based Training
  2. Team Happy Hours
  3. Individual Learning Opportunities


Why it Happened

When we evaluated our situation, we looked at several things:

  1. Time to prepare
  2. Things that needed to be accomplished
  3. Separating teams learning
  4. Target key roles (Scrum Masters (SM) & Product Owners (PO))
  5. Setting a good cadence

The table below outlines our plan of action, including objectives (outcomes sought) for each group, and the cadence, as well as our observations from putting the objectives in place. Note: By reviewing the cadence, you can scale this to meet your timeline.

Objective Target Group Cadence Observations
Introduce MS Teams







Using MS Teams daily enabled the teams to gain comfort with key, basic functionality and enabled better transparency about the teams' work (see Part II)

Using MS Teams weekly, in our Scrum of Scrums and PO Sync, as well as targeted training with these leadership groups.

We scheduled biweekly Happy Hours with games to develop the team cohesion, and to expose the teams to using breakout rooms, and other advanced features in MS Teams.

Introduce Miro, Mural Virtual Collaboration Tools




Daily/ Every other Day







Using MS Teams & Miro (Mural) for collaboration regularly enabled the SMs & POs to gain comfort with key, basic functionality and enabled better visibility & Risk Management (SoS & PO Sync)

Transparency about the teams' work and coordination. Used MS Teams weekly in our training with these leadership groups. It enabled breakout functionality and recording and MS Stream utilization.

The scheduled Happy Hours with games required Team to interact with breakout rooms, video content and interactions with Miro, Mural and Mentimeter.  These activities taught key skills in a fun way.
Custom Utilities and Processes




As needed There were a number of additional skills and utilities that we built and designed to make work flow faster and smoother. Our Application Lifecycle Management tool is Rally, and we did not have API Integration in place. We also designed several processes that enabled efficient use of time and made people comfortable and confident.



Other Findings

The main learnings and adjustments made were around optimizations and tailoring the learning to the groups we were working with. We observed positive iterations, and the feedback reaffirmed the purpose for our strategy. We witnessed the teams working better and making their own adjustments, while also seeking out optimizations. They became increasingly interested in challenging our games and demonstrated interest in learning more advanced techniques.

After the PI Planning, we conducted a few retrospectives. The first was an instant retrospective at the conclusion of the 2.5 days of activity in the form of a Word Cloud.

PI Planning Word Cloud

The second was a survey-based retrospective, allowing for more detailed data collection to enhance our feedback loop. There was also an open feedback option after each rating, which is the second Word Cloud.

PI Planning Survey Retrospective
PI Planning Word Cloud



Adapting the Strategy

How will we refine our execution for a better outcome and repeat our successes?

The feedback (as shown above) was mostly very positive. I believe our biggest learning was that we should've enlisted our teams more openly to design their best work environment. For next time: Create the hypothesis around the outcomes we seek, then unleash the teams' creative talents to find the best way to learn and design in a continuous loop!

Some additional minor adjustments might be made around timing and coordination. Based on our situation, we could have done a better job on aligning in a sequential learning model. We also could have communicated our intentions better and ensured that people understood how to prepare for the sessions. However, I believe that, in large part, gamifying the exercises offset the learning and made it a fun trial-and-error experience.

In the end, I was more than pleased with the outcomes of the exercises. More importantly, I observed an immature Agile Release Train bond, excel, and mature, even exceeding the expectations of the Scaled Agile, Inc approach of extending the PI Planning to more days, not the same or less days.

The teams' feedback was about keeping the virtual tools, moving away from physical boards and rooms for space—it was all about collaboration optimization.

I expect that moving forward, the key learning of the teams will be that they CAN and SHOULD challenge the status quo. In the end, they became believers of empiricism and embraced the risk-taking of continuous improvement and learning. It was wonderful to watch teams mature quickly and embrace things it often takes other teams years to achieve!


Final Thoughts

If you can unleash your very best asset, your people, and meet them where they are, the likelihood of achieving your goals is higher than beyond your expectations. It is truly unleashing the power of the agile mindset and developing lifelong learners, masters of the hypothesis-driven method.

I hope you enjoyed the journey with me and my teams. It has been a powerful reminder of the power of the human spirit to not only succeed, but exceed!

Embrace your people, meet them where they are, empower them to drive forward, protect them, and provide for them to embrace manageable risks. Then enjoy their achievements and encourage them to do better next time!

Thanks for coming along on the journey!

Until next time!

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Written by Travis Reed