Planning Poker is a consensus-based agile strategy often used for planning and estimating product backlogs, using cards with assigned values to decide on the effort required for an initiative.
In an agile framework, teams use “story points” to estimate the overall time and effort required to complete a user request or project, referred to as a “story.” To estimate the story point value of a task, agile teams use planning poker.
Also called scrum poker, planning poker uses physical cards to estimate the number of story points for each task. The system allows teams to more accurately estimate timeframes, build a consensus around the task’s requirements, and strategically plan work.
Here, we will discuss story points for poker planning and how poker planning works, alongside its benefits and drawbacks.
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Story Points in Planning Poker
The agile framework uses story points to estimate the time and effort required for a project. This estimate usually follows a modified Fibonacci sequence:
The significant gaps and pre-set intervals make the estimation more straightforward and allow team members to give a more realistic approximation. They can decide whether a project is worth 13 story points or 40 and proceed from there.
How Planning Poker Works
A planning poker team consists of various stakeholders across departments. This can include product managers, developers, UX and UI designers, and others. The planning poker session then takes place following the initial product backlog.
1. Distribute story point cards
Each team member receives an identical deck of planning poker cards with pre-assigned values. These can consist of the modified Fibonacci sequence above or a series in which each number is doubled (1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64).
The goal for the planning poker session is to reach a consensus on the story point value of the product backlog. The significant gaps in numbers make the process more efficient.
2. Outline the “story”
The product owner or product manager will describe the user story aloud to the group as it fits into the project backlog. This stage also allows team members to ask questions or clarifications regarding the feature or initiative.
3. Discuss the work involved
Team members can then go one by one and discuss:
- Their approach to the task
- The resources it would require
- Any risks or threats that could affect progress
This gives everyone a clear picture of the time and effort required of the user story and allows them to envision its story point value.
4. Share estimates
Everyone now chooses one of their poker cards with the value they think best represents the story point estimation. Do this without showing anyone your estimation, so you don’t influence each other’s choices. When everyone is ready, all team members can reveal their cards.
High values mean that the team member believes it will be more challenging to complete the story. Conversely, low values mean the team member thinks it will be more straightforward.
5. Create a consensus
If all team members reveal the same value, then they have reached a consensus on the story point estimate. They can then move on to the next story.
If the cards differ in value, the team discusses their estimations. Those with outlying values—either much higher or lower—explain the reasons behind their assessment. The group then reviews their cards and decides if they want to change their estimates.
If the team cannot reach a consensus, the story is then shelved for discussion in another session.
Benefits and Drawbacks of Planning Poker
For agile teams, planning poker is an excellent strategy for prioritizing items on your product backlog. But the technique is not without its pros and cons, and should not be the only one employed.
Planning poker encourages collaboration and teamwork within a team, particularly among cross-functional teams. It opens discussions between diverse perspectives, which could prompt innovations in strategy and execution.
The process is also more diplomatic than a single person dictating estimates since it considers multiple points of view, helping to raise morale within the team.
A lack of information could cause incorrect estimations despite the team consensus. If a team is missing data, it may not consider all the resources required to complete a user story. Conversely, the team may be over-optimistic in its estimation, giving itself less time and resources to complete a task.
A dominant personality may unduly influence the discussion while sharing estimates and create an unfair consensus.
Planning Poker and Agility
Is planning poker an effective strategy? Yes, though it should not be used in isolation. Planning poker leads to better estimates since it combines multiple viewpoints.
Having people justify their estimation values also opens avenues of discussion, which can heighten estimation accuracy. All of this leads to more efficient use of time and resources in the long run for your team.