Agile

Planning Poker

Contents
What is Planning Poker?
Definition of Planning Poker
Planning poker is a consensus-based estimation technique used by agile teams to size product backlog items by estimating effort or complexity. In a planning poker session, team members discuss a backlog item then simultaneously reveal individual numeric estimates printed on cards. If estimates differ significantly, the high and low estimators explain their rationale and the group discusses, repeats voting, and eventually arrives at a consensus estimate to assign.

Planning Poker, also known as Scrum Poker, is a consensus-based technique for estimating and planning the effort required to complete product development tasks in a software development environment. It is a fundamental tool in the Agile and Scrum methodologies, which are widely used in product management and operations. This article will delve into the intricacies of Planning Poker, its application, and its relevance in product management and operations.

The technique was first described by James Grenning in 2002 and later popularized by Mike Cohn in his book "Agile Estimating and Planning". Planning Poker is designed to combine individual opinions into a team consensus and to avoid cognitive biases that can influence the estimation process. It is a way to ensure that every voice on the team is heard, and that the team is fully aligned on the work required to deliver a product increment.

The Concept of Planning Poker

Planning Poker is a game-like approach to estimating work effort. It involves team members making estimates by playing numbered cards face-down on the table, instead of speaking them aloud. The cards are then revealed at the same time, promoting a sense of fairness and avoiding the influence of other participants' estimates.

The numbers on the cards are usually based on a modified Fibonacci sequence, which reflects the inherent uncertainty in estimating larger, more complex items. The sequence typically includes 0, 1/2, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 20, 40, 100, and sometimes includes a '?', which represents an unknown estimate, and a coffee cup card, which suggests a break is needed.

Why Use Planning Poker?

Planning Poker is used to avoid anchoring, a common cognitive bias where individuals rely too heavily on the first piece of information they hear. By playing cards face-down, team members are encouraged to think independently and propose estimates based on their understanding of the task's complexity, not influenced by others' opinions.

Moreover, Planning Poker promotes discussion and collaboration. After the cards are revealed, the highest and lowest estimators explain their reasoning, fostering a conversation about the task's complexities and unknowns. This process not only helps the team reach a consensus but also enhances their understanding of the work to be done.

When to Use Planning Poker?

Planning Poker is typically used in Sprint Planning meetings in Scrum, where the team estimates the effort required for the User Stories in the upcoming Sprint. It can also be used in other Agile events, such as Backlog Refinement sessions, to keep the Product Backlog updated with the latest estimates.

However, Planning Poker is not limited to Agile or Scrum environments. Any team that needs to estimate work effort can use this technique. It can be particularly useful in remote or distributed teams, where online versions of Planning Poker can facilitate collaboration and consensus-building.

How to Conduct a Planning Poker Session

Conducting a Planning Poker session involves several steps. First, the Product Owner or Agile Coach presents a User Story or task to the team, explaining its requirements and answering any questions. Then, each team member selects a card that represents their estimate of the effort required to complete the task.

Once everyone has selected a card, all cards are revealed simultaneously. If there is a consensus on the estimate, the process moves on to the next User Story. If not, the team discusses the reasons behind the different estimates, and a new round of estimation is conducted. This process continues until a consensus is reached.

Role of the Product Owner

The Product Owner plays a crucial role in a Planning Poker session. They are responsible for presenting the User Stories to the team, explaining the requirements, and answering any questions. The Product Owner should ensure that the team has a clear and shared understanding of what needs to be done before the estimation process begins.

However, the Product Owner does not participate in the estimation itself. This is to avoid influencing the team's estimates with their own biases or expectations. The Product Owner's role is to provide clarity and context, not to dictate the estimates.

Role of the Development Team

The Development Team is responsible for providing the estimates during a Planning Poker session. Each team member should consider the complexity of the work, the effort required, and any potential risks or uncertainties when choosing their card.

During the discussion phase, team members should be prepared to explain their estimates and listen to the perspectives of others. This collaborative process is key to reaching a consensus and ensuring that the team has a shared understanding of the work required.

Benefits and Limitations of Planning Poker

Planning Poker has several benefits. It encourages team collaboration and communication, helps to uncover unknowns and complexities, and reduces the influence of cognitive biases in the estimation process. Moreover, it can be a fun and engaging way to conduct estimations, which can boost team morale and motivation.

However, Planning Poker also has some limitations. It can be time-consuming, especially for larger teams or complex tasks. It may not be suitable for every team or every situation, and it requires a certain level of understanding and commitment from all team members to be effective.

Overcoming the Limitations

There are several ways to overcome the limitations of Planning Poker. For instance, teams can limit the number of discussion rounds for each User Story to avoid spending too much time on the estimation process. They can also use a simplified version of the technique, such as T-Shirt Sizes (Small, Medium, Large), for initial estimates or for less complex tasks.

Moreover, teams can combine Planning Poker with other estimation techniques, such as the Bucket System or the Affinity Estimation, to adapt to different situations and needs. The key is to find the approach that works best for the team and the task at hand.

Planning Poker in Remote Teams

Planning Poker can be easily adapted for remote teams. There are several online tools and apps available that simulate the Planning Poker process, allowing team members to select and reveal cards virtually. These tools often include additional features, such as timers, voting systems, and chat functions, to facilitate the process.

When conducting a Planning Poker session remotely, it's important to ensure that everyone is engaged and that the discussion is as interactive as it would be in a face-to-face session. This might require using video conferencing tools, encouraging active participation, and taking regular breaks to maintain focus and energy levels.

Conclusion

Planning Poker is a powerful tool for estimating work effort in product management and operations. By encouraging team collaboration, reducing cognitive biases, and promoting a shared understanding of the work required, it can help teams to plan more effectively and deliver higher quality products.

However, like any tool or technique, Planning Poker is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Teams should experiment with different approaches, adapt the technique to their needs, and continuously learn and improve their estimation process. With the right mindset and practices, Planning Poker can become a valuable part of any team's toolkit.