What is planning poker?
Think about the card game poker. It’s all about estimating and predicting. But how can this card game apply to Agile working?
A problem faced by project managers, product managers, and software developers is how to accurately estimate or predict the amount of work, or story points, needed to finish a task or project.
Planning Poker helps to solve this problem, making use of the whole team and their estimations to eventually reach a consensus.
How does planning poker work?
Step 1: Hand out cards
The group holds a pack of cards with values on them, usually pertaining to story points (usually the Fibonacci sequence, so 0, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 20, 40 and 100, etc.). Story points are a unit of measure to express the amount of work making up a backlog item.
This process of handing out cards can also be done via an app for remote teams, so physical cards may not be necessary. Some cards might also have different symbols on to represent that more information may be needed.
Step 2: Read story aloud
Step 3: Discussion
The group then discusses the user story or feature, asking any questions they may have. Discussion points will likely include:
- How should work be handled or delegated?
- How many people might be involved?
- What skills are needed?
- How should any roadblocks be dealt with?
Step 4: Select a card
Once fully discussed, each member of the group picks the card with the number which they think best represents the time needed for the project. All cards are revealed at the same time, to avoid any biases coming into play.
Step 5: Consensus
If everyone has selected the same value, it’s simple! That will be the time estimated in the project plan.
However, if everyone pools their cards and doesn’t completely agree on a value, then discussion begins again. It’s particularly important to hear from the highest and lowest estimators, and their justifications for their chosen value. The team then votes again.
This process is repeated until everyone reaches a consensus. Sometimes, however, the entire team might decide that more information is needed before a decision can be made. The task or project might then be deferred to the next sprint plan while this information is found.
Who should be included in planning poker?
Including the right people is key to a successful Planning Poker session. You need the participants, the facilitator, and a manager figure to ask questions to.
- Scrum Team members: The core team is key to meeting the deadlines outlined in the product backlog. They provide discussion of story points during the Planning Poker session.
- Scrum Master: The facilitator of Agile meetings.
- Product Owner: As owner or manager, they should be the person to describe user stories and to answer any questions from the Scrum team.
How agile teams use planning poker
This gamified technique is very useful, but when should it be used? Usually, Agile teams would hold a Planning Poker session after creating the initial backlog, and once per iteration or sprint. This enables the team to develop estimates, understand the scope of a project, and create a more accurate sprint plan. Let’s take a look at some more benefits…
What are the benefits of planning poker?
More accurate estimation of tasks in relation to each other
It can be tricky to accurately estimate the time needed to complete a project, particularly if the team has never come across the process or a specific task before. Planning Poker familiarises the entire team with judging a project’s size and creates a log of different types of tasks to draw from as a basis of comparison when gauging the size of a future tasks.
De-formalises the planning process
Apart from the gamified aspect, Planning Poker doesn’t require any formal process to be followed, and doesn’t necessarily have a time limit – unless the team is pressed for time of course. It’s best to put a significant amount of time aside for Planning Poker to have the most useful session.
Gets the whole team involved
Planning Poker takes away any seniority among colleagues and creates an open space for everyone to discuss their thoughts. This increases morale and makes people care more about the project.
Encourages collaboration and lively discussion
Defending opinions and engaging in direct discussion improves communication across the team. New employees especially might be encouraged to speak and back up their opinions, and some individuals may even come up with brand new ideas or optimised solutions.
Identifies gaps in knowledge
The discussion encourages everyone to justify their opinions and to back up why their number might be particularly high or low. This has the potential to allow any gaps in knowledge, implementation, or requirements to come to the fore and be discussed as a team. Planning Poker therefore enables the entire team to catch roadblocks early.
What tools are out there?
Planning Poker doesn’t even need to happen while teams are all in the same physical room anymore. There are many apps which have been developed to make things easier for remote teams – meaning Planning Poker is just as easily run online.
Planning poker summary
- Planning Poker is a gamified technique based on estimation and reaching a consensus as a team.
- It uses story point cards which are held up by the team at the same time after a use story or new feature is described. These are discussed and a final number is agreed upon after as many rounds as needed.
- It is best to hold a Planning Poker session after the initial backlog is made, and once per iteration or sprint.
- Planning Poker enables more accurate estimating, de-formalises the planning process, gets the whole team involved, encourages collaboration, and identifies any gaps in knowledge.
- It can be in-person or virtual via apps!