Effort Estimation using Planning Poker

Scrum Board - Planning Poker

Planning Poker is a consensus-based estimation technique commonly used in Agile Software Development to estimate effort or relative size of user stories.

During a planning session, the Product Owner or Customer reads the User Story or describes the feature to the team.

Each team member (Estimator) holds a deck of cards with values that typically represent the Fibonacci series (0, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 20, 40, and 100). These represent the story points or sizing unit which the team is estimating based on.

Planning Poker - Card Deck

Rules of the Planning Session

  1. If all estimators selected the same value, that becomes the estimate.
  2. If not, the estimators discuss their estimates. The “outliers”, i.e, the high and low estimators should ideally share the reason for their estimate.
  3. After discussion, each estimator can re-select a new card, and all cards are again revealed at the same time.
  4. The poker planning for that story continues till consensus is achieved, or until the team decides that the story needs to be deferred until further information is obtained to achieve a consensus.

Planning Poker - Flowchart

Advantages of using Planning Poker

  • The structured, game-like format ensures that the session keeps moving along.
  • It provides an opportunity for experts to voice and share their opinion.
  • The format can surface-up wrong assumptions when there are differences in estimates and thereby bring a consensus to the understanding of the user story.

Disadvantages of using Planning Poker

  • Coming to a consensus in estimates does not necessarily mean that the understanding of the expectations of the user story is accurate.

Additional Tips

If you have a distributed team, instead of using physical cards, online tools/websites can be used to simulate the same experience. A few that I have used in the past are:

Based on my experience running projects, I have preferred to break down stories into smaller ones if an estimate >=13 was assigned to it. This makes it easier to track and ensure progress in the sprint.

The following video from Mountain Goat Software provides a good overview of Planning Poker.


Image Credits: [1]

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About the Author: Anuj Seth

Anuj is a certified PMP with over 20 years of Software Development and Management experience. He founded PM Tips in 2020. Contributors are welcome. Drop him a note via the Contact page.

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