Planning Poker: Agile Estimating Made Easy

By Marco Franzoni June 26, 2024

Planning Poker: Agile Estimating Made Easy

Introduction: What is Planning Poker?

Overview of Planning Poker

In the dynamic world of Agile project management, accurate estimation is crucial. Enter Planning Poker, a collaborative and engaging technique designed to streamline the estimation process for agile teams. Known by many names such as sprint poker or scrum poker, Planning Poker leverages collective team wisdom to assign story points to user stories. This method, popularized by Mountain Goat Software, not only makes the estimation process fun but also fosters a deeper understanding of the work scope among team members.

Importance in Agile Estimating

Planning Poker plays a pivotal role in Agile estimating. By bringing together product owners, scrum masters, developers, and other team members, this technique ensures that every perspective is considered during sprint planning. Participants use a deck of cards based on the Fibonacci sequence or T-shirt sizes to estimate the effort required for each user story. This approach helps in achieving consensus, reducing estimation bias, and improving the accuracy of effort estimates. Moreover, it facilitates real-time discussion and decision-making, which is especially valuable for remote teams during estimation meetings. Planning Poker isn't just about creating estimates—it's about fostering collaboration, enhancing team communication, and ultimately delivering more value to the project.

Planning Poker: Agile Estimating Made Easy

How Does Planning Poker Work?

Basic Principles

Planning Poker is built on the principles of collaboration and consensus. Each team member, including product owners, scrum masters, and developers, plays an integral role in the process. Using a deck of cards with values from the Fibonacci sequence or T-shirt sizes, participants independently select their estimate for the effort required to complete a user story. This approach helps to avoid bias and encourages a thorough discussion once the cards are revealed. The process emphasizes the importance of agile teams working together to ensure accurate and realistic story points estimates.

Steps in the Planning Poker Process

  1. Preparation: The product owner selects user stories to be estimated and provides a brief description.
  2. Discussion: The team discusses the user story to ensure everyone understands the scope and requirements.
  3. Estimation: Each participant selects a card representing their estimate.
  4. Reveal: All participants reveal their cards simultaneously to avoid influencing each other’s estimates.
  5. Discussion: If estimates vary, the team discusses the reasons and re-estimates until consensus is reached.
  6. Finalize: The agreed-upon estimate is recorded.

This structured process helps agile teams to estimate effectively, even in remote settings, ensuring that every voice is heard and the team reaches a consensus on the effort required for each user story.

Decide Which Issues to Estimate

Identifying User Stories

The first step in Planning Poker is to decide which user stories need estimating. The product owner, in collaboration with the scrum master and the agile team, selects the most relevant and impactful stories for the upcoming sprint. This selection is crucial for effective sprint planning and ensures that the team focuses on high-priority tasks. By leveraging the Mountain Goat Software approach, the team can better organize and manage their backlog.

Prioritizing Issues

Once the user stories are identified, the next step is to prioritize them. This involves discussing the value and urgency of each story to determine which ones should be estimated first. The product owner plays a key role in this discussion, guiding the team to focus on stories that offer the most value. Prioritization helps streamline the estimation meeting, making it more efficient and productive for all participants, whether they are co-located or part of remote teams.

Planning Poker: Agile Estimating Made Easy

Before Estimating: Ensure User Story Readiness

Discussing User Stories

Before diving into the estimation session, it's essential to ensure that each user story is thoroughly discussed and understood by the team. This discussion helps to clarify any ambiguities and ensures that all team members have a shared understanding of the story’s scope and features. A well-facilitated discussion sets the stage for a productive and fun Planning Poker session, making it easier for participants to provide accurate estimates.

Criteria for Readiness

For a user story to be ready for estimation, it should meet certain criteria:

  • Clear Description: The story must have a well-defined description.
  • Acceptance Criteria: Specific conditions that the story must satisfy.
  • Feasibility: The story should be feasible within the sprint's scope.
  • Agreement: Consensus among team members that the story is ready for estimation.

Ensuring readiness helps the team rely on accurate estimates, making the Planning Poker session more efficient and effective.

Estimating Using Scrum Poker

Tools and Techniques

Scrum Poker, a variant of Planning Poker, utilizes a variety of tools and techniques to facilitate the estimation process. Teams can use physical cards or digital platforms to play Scrum Poker. Online tools like Mountain Goat Software's Planning Poker allow team members to participate from anywhere, making it especially helpful for remote teams. These tools often come with free versions, making it easy for organizations to adopt them without purchasing.

Common Practices

Common practices in Scrum Poker include inviting all relevant team members to the estimation session and ensuring that everyone understands how to play. It's important to note that the goal is to create a collaborative environment where each person feels comfortable sharing their estimates. The facilitator, often the scrum master, guides the session, helping to reach consensus efficiently. These practices help streamline the estimation process and ensure accurate and reliable estimates.

Estimation That Sets Remote Teams Up for Success

Challenges for Remote Teams

Remote teams face unique challenges during the estimation process. These include difficulties in communication, varying time zones, and the lack of face-to-face interaction, which can lead to misunderstandings and delays. Agile teams must address these challenges to ensure effective collaboration and accurate estimates.

Solutions and Best Practices

To overcome these challenges, remote teams can rely on online Planning Poker and Sprint Poker tools designed for virtual collaboration. Best practices include scheduling regular estimation sessions, using video conferencing for better interaction, and ensuring that all team members are engaged and participating. These solutions help remote teams maintain the same level of efficiency and accuracy in their estimation process as co-located teams, setting them up for success in agile projects.

Stay in Sync with an Automatic Meeting Summary

Benefits of Meeting Summaries

Automatic meeting summaries help agile teams stay organized and ensure that everyone is on the same page. These summaries provide a quick recap of what was discussed, decisions made, and action items assigned, which is especially helpful for remote teams. They create a consistent record that team members can refer to later.

Tools for Summarizing Meetings

There are various online tools available that can automatically generate meeting summaries. These tools, often free or with free tiers, can be integrated into your existing workflow. They help create concise, accurate summaries, reducing the manual effort required. Such tools are invaluable for maintaining clear communication and ensuring that all team members have access to important meeting notes.

Planning Poker: Agile Estimating Made Easy

Choose Estimation Techniques That Work for You

Different Estimation Methods

There are various estimation techniques available to agile teams, including Planning Poker, T-shirt sizes, and the Fibonacci sequence. Each method has its own approach to estimating effort and complexity, allowing teams to choose the one that best fits their workflow and project requirements.

Pros and Cons

Each estimation method has its pros and cons. Planning Poker is highly interactive and fosters team discussion, making it a popular choice. T-shirt sizes are simpler and quicker but may lack precision. The Fibonacci sequence offers a balance between detail and simplicity. Teams should consider their specific needs and preferences when selecting an estimation technique. Online tools can help facilitate these methods, often with free options available for organizations to try out before committing.

Story Points: The Basics

What Are Story Points?

Story points are a unit of measure used in agile project management to estimate the effort required to complete a user story. They account for the complexity, risk, and overall work involved. Story points help teams to create a relative scale of effort, enabling developers and other team members to estimate more effectively and consistently.

How to Use Story Points in Planning Poker

In Planning Poker, developers discuss each user story and then individually estimate its effort using story points. This process promotes thorough discussion and helps the team reach a consensus on the estimate. For example, an organization might use an online tool to invite team members and contact them for the estimation session. These tools often link Planning Poker sessions with other agile processes, ensuring a smooth and efficient workflow.

Sprint Poker vs Traditional Estimation

Comparison and Benefits

Sprint Poker, a variant of Planning Poker, offers significant benefits over traditional estimation methods. Unlike traditional estimation, which can be more rigid and less engaging, Sprint Poker involves agile teams in an interactive and collaborative process. This method encourages thorough discussion and consensus among participants, leading to more accurate estimates. Agile teams find Sprint Poker to be more fun and efficient, making it easier to estimate the effort required for each user story.

Examples of Use Cases

Agile teams can use Sprint Poker in various estimation scenarios, such as during sprint planning or estimation meetings. For example, a team might use Sprint Poker to estimate the story points for new features or to assess the effort required for complex user stories. Tools like Mountain Goat Software’s Planning Poker facilitate this process, making it easier for remote teams to participate in real-time estimation sessions. These examples highlight the versatility and effectiveness of Sprint Poker in different project contexts.

Planningpoker: Tools and Platforms

Popular Planning Poker Tools

There are several popular tools and platforms available for Planning Poker that cater to the needs of agile teams. Some widely used tools include Mountain Goat Software's PlanningPoker, Scrum Poker, and other online platforms. These tools are designed to facilitate the estimation process, making it easier for teams to collaborate and reach consensus on story points.

How to Choose the Right Tool

When choosing a Planning Poker tool, agile teams should consider factors such as ease of use, integration with existing project management tools, and features that support remote collaboration. It's important to select a tool that meets the specific needs of the team and enhances the overall estimation process. Evaluating the available options and considering feedback from team members can help in making the right choice for effective and efficient estimation.

Planning Poker: Agile Estimating Made Easy

Conclusion: Enhancing Agile Estimation with Planning Poker

Recap of Key Points

Planning Poker is an effective tool for agile teams to estimate project efforts accurately. It involves the whole team in a collaborative and engaging process, promoting consensus and improving the estimation quality. By using tools like Scrum Poker and PlanningPoker, teams can streamline their estimation meetings and ensure that every member's input is considered.

Final Thoughts

Incorporating Planning Poker into your agile estimation process can transform the way your team approaches sprint planning and effort estimation. By fostering better communication, enhancing collaboration, and making the process more fun, Planning Poker helps agile teams deliver more value and work more efficiently. Whether your team is co-located or remote, leveraging Planning Poker can significantly enhance your project management practices.

Read Next