Planning Poker and Agile Estimation

Ruth Hadari
Ruth Hadari
Agile Advocate, Engineering Ops Expert
Posted on
Jul 19, 2022
Updated on
Jul 26, 2022
Table of Content

Engaging employees in the estimation process can be difficult. Managers often have a preferred approach which they want everyone to use, but employees may be uncomfortable with this method or may not understand it. This is where Planning Poker comes in — a way to get everyone involved and committed to the estimation process.

What is Planning Poker?

Planning Poker, also commonly called Scrum Poker, is a consensus-based, gamified technique for estimating the relative size or effort for development goals in software development. The technique is a variation of the Wideband Delphi method and was first proposed by James Grenning in 2002.

Planning Poker is usually utilized in Agile software development, particularly in Scrum and Extreme Programming (XP). It is also used in other contexts such as project management, product management, and operations. 

What is the Goal of Planning Poker?

Agile development teams use Planning Poker as a tool to help them plan their Sprints. The goal or expected output of a Planning Poker meeting is to estimate the effort required to complete a task.

This helps the team reach a consensus on how long a task will take and ensures that all team members are on the same page. It is a simple and effective tool that can be used for any size project.

How Does Planning Poker work?

In Scrum Poker, group members make estimates, or Story Points, by playing numbered cards face-down to the table instead of saying them aloud. The numbers on these cards represent an estimate of the development effort required for the task at hand. 

What Is The Correct Order of Steps During Planning Poker?

To start a Scrum Poker session, each player is given a deck of Scrum Poker cards, valued 0—21 or 1—99. It is up to the team to decide which scale to use for Planning Poker, but the most commonly used set is the Agile Fibonacci sequence estimation (1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, and 21). 

The User Stories are then read aloud by the Product Owner or Scrum Master. Each player privately selects a card from their deck that represents their estimate of the amount of work required for the User Story. 

When all players have selected a card, everyone shows their card simultaneously. If there is consensus (defined as more than half of the group having chosen the same value), then that becomes the estimate. If there is no consensus, the Scrum Master or Product Owner will ask the group to discuss their estimates. 

Once the team has reached a consensus on an estimate, the card is placed in front of the User Story. The Scrum Master then asks the next player to read out their User Story. This process continues until all User Stories have been estimated.

Benefits of Planning Poker

There are many benefits to using Planning Poker:

It helps to avoid scope creep

Scrum Poker can help avoid scope creep by allowing the team to collectively agree on the effort required to complete a User Story. This can help prevent features that do not deliver value from being added to the product backlog.

It improves estimation accuracy

Scrum Poker can help improve the estimation accuracy of a project as it forces team members to think about the scope of work and time required for each task.

It encourages collaboration

Agile Planning Poker encourages collaboration between team members as it requires discussion and consensus to agree on the effort needed for a User Story. This can help build a shared understanding of the work needed and identify any areas of disagreement.

It helps to identify risks

Scrum Poker can help to identify risks early on in the project as team members are forced to think about the potential challenges that they could encounter. This can help to mitigate these risks later on.

It makes it easier to compare estimates

Agile Planning Poker can help improve estimates' accuracy by forcing team members to think carefully about the effort required for a User Story. This can help to avoid situations where team members give estimates that are too high or too low.

Moreover, Scrum Poker can make comparing estimates easier as everyone uses the same format (i.e., Planning Poker cards with numerical values). This can help quickly identify any estimation discrepancies and address them accordingly.

When should a Planning Poker meeting be held?

Scrum Poker meetings should be held when there is a need to come to a shared understanding of the relative size of tasks in a project. 

The most common time to hold a Planning Poker meeting is during the product backlog refinement process, where the team estimates the effort required to complete items in their product backlog. Sessions may take more than a day, depending on the number of backlog items. 

Items are added to the product backlog by the Product Owner. The team then reviews the items and provides estimates for each. The estimation process can be done using various methods, but Scrum Poker is a popular choice because it forces the team to discuss each item and reach a consensus on their estimate.

Who should take part in Planning Poker meetings?

The whole team should take part in the Planning Poker meeting, including the Product Owner, Scrum Master, and development team; this is so everyone can get a feel for how long each task will take, which can help with overall Sprint planning.

Recommended Poker Planning tools

When it comes to Scrum Poker, there are many different tools available to help you plan and estimate your project. Here are some of our favorites:

Agile Scrum Planning Poker for Jira

Jira Planning Poker is an online Scrum Poker application that offers an organized dashboard, various card formats, integrated chat, and more. It's updated regularly and is free for up to 10 users. 

PointingPoker.com

Pointingpoker.com

PointingPoker.com is a free web-based Planning Poker application that is simple and offers features such as chat, multiple rooms, estimation history, and more. It also provides a statistics page wherein you can see the time spent on voting and determine if a consensus has been reached.

Pokrex

pokrex.com

Pokrex is a web-based application that has both paid and free plans. It offers features such as estimation history, chat, various card decks, and more. Paid plans start at $7/month.

Final Thoughts

Planning Poker is a great way to get everyone on the same page when it comes to estimating the effort required for tasks in your project. Using this Agile Estimation Technique, you can avoid the potential biases that can come into play when individuals are left to estimate tasks independently.

Scrum Poker can also help to ensure that your team is comfortable with the level of detail that goes into each estimate. This can be especially helpful when you have new members on your team who are still getting up to speed on the project.

Go Retro will be launching a tool that will help you run your own Scrum Poker sessions. Stay tuned for more details!
Until then, you can check out Atlassian's marketplace, which offers several Planning Poker apps:

Overall, Planning Poker is a valuable tool that can help your team come up with more accurate estimates and avoid potential biases. If you’re not already using this technique, we recommend trying it on your next project.

About the author

Ruth Hadari
Agile Advocate, Engineering Ops Expert

Highly experienced in leading multi-organizational teams, groups, in-shore as well as off-shore. The go-to person who is able to simplify the complex. An agile advocate, experienced in all common methodologies. Responsible for the entire software development lifecycle process from development, QA, DevOps, Automation to delivery including overall planning, direction, coordination, execution, implementation, control and completion. Drives execution, and communicates on status, risks, metrics, risk-mitigation and processes across R&D.

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