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Agile practices

Planning poker for estimating

by Simon Buehring
Learn the secrets planning poker and improve your team's Agile estimating.
Planning Poker | Scrum Poker | agileKRC

Introducing planning poker

Planning poker, also known as Scrum poker, stands as a key technique in the Agile toolkit. Planning poker brings team members together to estimate the effort involved in project tasks.

By fostering collaboration and discussion, planning poker drives consensus and ensures team members are on the same page regarding task complexities and requirements. It upholds the essence of Agile by supporting iterative development and continuous improvement through shared understanding and clarity.

The basics of planning poker

At its core, planning poker is a consensus-based estimation approach. Team members use numbered cards to vote on the effort they believe a given task requires. This practice encourages all voices to be heard and combines collective wisdom to guide Sprint Planning. The use of Fibonacci-like sequences in the cards aids in gauging task complexity, making planning poker an integral part of Agile project management.

The origins of planning poker

Tracing its roots back to the early days of Agile, planning poker originated as a playful yet disciplined approach to gauging project tasks. Its conception is credited to James Grenning in 2002, a response to the need for a more engaging and effective means of estimation within Agile teams.

Quickly embraced for its simplicity and collaborative nature, planning poker grew synonymous with Agile estimating and planning, carving out a significant place in software development and beyond.

Key figures and milestones

Ken Schwaber, a pivotal figure in the creation of the Agile manifesto, played a crucial role in popularising planning poker. Alongside other Agile thought leaders, Schwaber’s endorsement and advocacy for the technique propelled its adoption.

As more teams witnessed tangible improvements in project estimation and team dynamics, planning poker became a cornerstone method within the Agile community, celebrated for its grounding in real-world experience and psychological insights into group decision-making.

How planning poker works

Planning poker cards
Planning poker cards

A planning poker session starts by selecting a moderator, typically the Scrum Master, who facilitates the meeting ensuring each member understands the user stories or tasks at hand. Team members, equipped with a deck of planning poker cards, take turns to present their estimates. Everyone selects a card representing their assessment of a task’s complexity. Cards are then revealed simultaneously, promoting unbiased estimates. The highest and lowest estimators discuss their reasoning, and the process repeats until consensus is reached, blending individual perspectives into a harmonious estimation.

Roles and responsibilities

In a planning poker session, each role is crucial. The Product Owner clarifies the tasks, answering any queries. Developers, testers, and designers, knowledgeable about implementation details, contribute estimates. The Scrum Master fosters a neutral ground for discussion, guiding the team towards agreement. Each member’s input is valued equally, ensuring a democratic process that leverages collective expertise.

Planning poker cards and the Fibonacci sequence

Planning poker employs cards numbered in a Fibonacci sequence to reflect the non-linear nature of task complexity. This sequence escalates not by addition, but by growth spurts, mirroring how tasks can increase in complexity. The cards enable team members to choose from a range of estimates that reflect these complexities intuitively rather than adhering to rigid, linear scales, thus supporting more accurate and psychologically comfortable estimation.

Planning poker in action

In Agile environments, planning poker isn’t merely theoretical – it’s a tried and tested method that enterprises and startups alike apply with success. The process begins with the Product Backlog, where tasks are identified and laid out for review. During Sprint Planning, team members gather to play planning poker, turning the once daunting estimation task into an engaging exercise.

This active participation leads to more accurate estimations, as diverse perspectives and expertise are pooled together. After playing planning poker, teams often find their Sprint Planning sessions are not only more efficient but also more effective, setting the stage for a successful iteration with clear, agreed-upon objectives.

Online tools for planning poker

As Agile methodologies adapt to remote work environments, online tools for planning poker have become increasingly crucial. These digital platforms allow distributed teams to replicate the interactive nature of a co-located session, ensuring that geographical distance doesn’t impede the Agile process. Features like real-time voting, automated card reveals, and integrated chat functions make these tools indispensable.

Well-known solutions like the planning poker plugin for Jira seamlessly integrate with project management workflows, enabling teams to maintain productivity and camaraderie within the digital workspace.

Choosing the right planning poker app

Selecting an app for planning poker online requires careful consideration of factors such as user interface, integration capabilities with existing project management tools, and support for asynchronous estimation. A good tool should offer a simple, intuitive experience that mimics the physical interaction of planning poker. Additional features like historical data analysis and seamless synchronisation with task tracking systems further enhance a team’s ability to perform efficiently, making the right app an invaluable ally in upholding Agile best practices.

Best practices and common pitfalls

Adopting planning poker within an Agile framework necessitates awareness of best practices to harness its full potential. Teams should aim for a balanced approach, where the process fosters open dialogue without descending into protracted debates. Emphasising that estimates are just that – not commitments – is vital to maintain a healthy team dynamic.

It’s equally important to avoid common pitfalls, such as anchoring to the first estimate revealed or allowing senior team members to dominate the session, which can skew results and reduce the value of collaborative estimation.

Enhancing estimation accuracy

To refine estimation accuracy in planning poker, it’s imperative to create a baseline for comparison, such as previous similar tasks. Teams should also consider breaking down larger, more complex stories into manageable pieces. Revisiting and discussing previous estimations can provide insight for future sessions, creating a feedback loop that continually sharpens the team’s estimating acumen.

This cycle of reflect, adjust, and apply helps ensure that Sprint Planning consistently aligns with the team’s growing understanding of project intricacies and scope.

Starting to use planning poker within teams

Whenever individuals or teams adopt new Agile ways of working, including new Agile practices, it is essential for them to take bespoke Agile training tailored specifically to their needs. Ongoing Agile coaching can also help to embed new Agile practices into Agile ways of working.

Contact agileKRC for more information about our Agile consulting services and learn how we can help you along your Agile transformation journey.

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agileKRC has helped shape agile thinking by leading the teams that developed AgilePM® and PRINCE2 Agile®. We take a practical, success-oriented approach. We begin by taking the time to listen and understand your needs, before offering our real-world experience and expert guidance.

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