Estimation is a routine activity we employ on a daily basis.
We make frequent estimates in daily life, such as ascertaining the weight of vegetables through their feel, or judging a fruit’s ripeness based on its scent.
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This article delves into Planning Poker, a well-known and uncomplicated agile planning and estimation method, also commonly referred to as Scrum Poker Cards.
Let’s consider a real-world estimation scenario. Imagine three friends – Tim, Bob, and John – intent on attending a Technical Conference post work. The site is 60 km away and situated in an area of hilly terrain. While having lunch, they estimate their travel time relying on past experiences, their proficiency in driving and familiarity with the terrain.
This casual chat helps us understand how past experiences and knowledge play a crucial role in real-life estimations. Similarly, in software development, we make estimates influenced by previous experiences, technical prowess, and detailed understanding of the tasks involved.
What You’re Going to Learn:
Why Do We Need To Estimate?
Crucial to software development, the act of estimation influences the project delivery schedule, primarily directed by business requisites. To stick to deadlines, it is imperative for the team to collaborate and devise realistic estimations.
During the initial phases of a project, when requirements may not be clearly defined, producing a high-level estimate is essential for proper planning. It helps in making decisions whether to procure additional resources or to extend deadlines if the estimated inputs exceed the team’s abilities.
Understanding Units Of Estimation
Estimations can be generated in units of hours, days, or story points. While hours and days form an easy and relatable measure, story points serve as a representation of the complexity and uncertainties associated with a task.
Team velocity in previous projects provides a baseline for calculating story points. The larger the story point value, the higher is the effort required to complete a task. It is imperative to comprehend that story points cannot be directly equated with hours.
What Is Planning Poker Or Scrum Poker?
Planning Poker or Scrum Poker, as referred to in Wikipedia, is a consensus-derived, gamified technique for estimating the relative size or effort pertaining to development goals in the software development process .
Utilzing a set of cards, similar to the game of poker, to make estimates, this technique will be elaborated in subsequent sections of this article, explaining how a planning poker meeting can be conducted.
Parabol introduces an agile meeting platform for remote agile teams, encompassing sprint poker, retrospective, and daily/weekly scrum meetings. It’s free for up to two groups of team members.
Sprint Poker is a planning poker tool tailored for remote agile teams. With a two-way Jira integration, it enables stories to be imported, estimated, and then exported back to Jira. The tool accommodates various scales and methodologies of estimations and fosters customization. It also provides an interactive deck of cards for planning poker sessions.
When Is Planning Poker Done?
Planning Poker ought to be conducted prior to the launch of a sprint or iteration. User stories should be selected from the backlog prior to the planning poker engagement. These estimations subsequently aid in making decisions with regards to the stories to be included in the iteration.
As an instance, if the cumulative estimate of the selected user stories exceeds the capacity of the team, decisions have to be made to ensure successful project delivery.
Conducting Planning Poker Session
A mock planning poker session is explored below for a better understanding.
Execution of the planning poker session requires a deck of scrum planning cards. These could either be physical or digital through mobile apps. The cards typically contain different estimations like 0, 0.5, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 20, and so on, based on the Fibonacci series.
Optional cards signifying uncertainty (“?”), an impossible task (Infinity symbol), or a break (Coffee cup) can also be employed.
The following depicts a typical deck of planning poker cards:
A timer can also be helpful in limiting the discussion time for each topic.
Now, let’s utilize a web-based University registration application for our planning poker session. Tia will lead this session as the facilitator. The people performing the estimation are Tony (coder), Maria (UI designer), and Gavin (tester). The Project Manager, Jose, will be present but will not participate in the estimation.
The following steps highlight the process of the planning poker session:
Step #1: Tia schedules the planning poker session and circulates the prospective user stories for the next sprint among the team members.
Step #2: All the participants gather for the meeting and are handed a deck of planning poker cards or access the planning poker card application on their smartphones.
Step #3: Tia elucidates User Story 1, with the estimators asking questions to clarify their understanding, discussing the areas impacted, and the strategy for development.
Step #4: Each estimator independently specifies their estimation for User Story 1. In this scenario, Maria, Tony, and Gavin all select 2 story points.
Step #5: With the consensus reached, the team then moves on to the next requirement.
Step #6: Tia provides a basic understanding of User Story 2, and each of the estimators independently furnish their estimation. All participants choose 1 story point, resulting in a consensus.
Step #7: An overview of Task 3 is provided by Tia. Maria and Tony select 1 story point, while Gavin opts for 2 story points. As the consensus is not reached, Tony and Gavin are requested to explain their selection. After a round of discussions, they finally concur on 2 story points.
Step #8: Tia asks for the final estimates, and the team unilaterally agrees on 2 story points for Task 3.
All user stories having been estimated, the total story point for the subsequent sprint is 5. The Project Manager can now frame a new sprint based on this estimation and designate the start and end dates.
Summary Of Steps
[Click to magnify image]
Online Tools for Planning Poker:
Some Useful Tips
#1. Estimators should come well prepared, having reviewed the requirements in advance. This ensures accurate estimates based on a comprehensive understanding of the tasks.
#2. Planning Poker is a concentrated, time-constrained activity, separate from other meetings like Daily Scrum or Backlog Grooming. It focuses predominantly on providing estimates based on the team’s velocity.
#3. Estimates should ideally be provided by those who will be carrying out the actual work. For geographically dispersed teams, online sessions can be conducted for better collaboration.
#4. Don’t forget to make the planning poker session enjoyable!
[Image credits: Scrum Alliance]
- Planning Poker Estimation is a beneficial tool within agile methodologies.
- This tool has scalability and provides estimates based on team velocity.
- Planning Poker ensures involvement of the actual team members who will be working on the tasks, thus providing more realistic estimates.
- It is crucial for Project Managers to refrain from making estimations without team consultation and understanding of technical specifics.
- Businesses are increasingly switching to non-traditional estimation techniques like Planning Poker in their transition towards Agile.
Estimation is a vital part of project planning. The approach should be uniform, flexible, scalable, and efficient in its ability to estimate tasks and user stories of varying sizes. It should not be a drain on time and resources.
Remember, the last thing required is an estimation task for estimating!
About the Author: This piece was penned by Neha B., a Quality Assurance Manager specializing in managing in-house and outsourced QA teams.
If you seek any assistance regarding the utilization of Planning Poker for Agile estimation and planning, feel free to contact us.