Planning Center is a set of online software products you can subscribe to individually or use together as a full church management system. Included free with all subscriptions Find the information you need to follow up with your congregation and gain insight into your church members, all in one place. Planning Poker combines expert opinion, analogy, and disaggregation into an enjoyable approach to estimating that results in quick but reliable estimates. The values represent the number of story points, ideal days, or other units in which the team estimates. The estimators discuss the feature, asking questions of the product owner as needed. When the feature has been fully discussed, each. The charred body of professional poker player Susie Zhao was found in a remote Michigan park last week - and police are asking for the public's help to solve the 'mysterious death.' Welcome to pointing poker (aka planning poker)! Online, virtual and co-located agile teams use this application during their planning/pointing sessions to effectively communicate points for stories.
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This post continues my recent series about Planning Poker by focusing on when to estimate.
Because Planning Poker is a consensus-based estimating approach, it is most appropriate to use it on items that require consensus. That is, I recommend using Planning Poker on product backlog items rather than on the tasks that make up a sprint backlog.
Estimates on the user stories of a product backlog serve two purposes:
- They allow the product owner to prioritize the product backlog. Consider two product backlog items that the product owner deems to be of equal value. The product owner will want to do first the item that has the lower cost. The estimates given to items are their costs, and so are used by the product owner to make prioritization decisions.
- They allow the company to make longer-term predictions. A product owner cannot begin to answer questions like how much can be delivered by a certain date or when a set of features can be delivered without first knowing the size of the work to be performed.
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When to Play Planning Poker
Knowing those two reasons for estimating product backlog items is important because it helps answer the question of when a team should estimate. A team should estimate early enough to fulfill these two needs but no earlier than necessary.
Practically, then, this means that a team should estimate with Planning Poker at two different times.
First, a team should play Planning Poker after a meeting like a story-writing workshop in which they have written a large number of product backlog items. I recommend doing such workshops about quarterly.
This allows the product owner and team to identify a larger goal than can be achieved in one sprint, and create the user stories needed to reach the goal.
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A typical quarterly story-writing workshop might produce 20 to 50 product backlog items. At a target rate of estimating about 20 items per hour, this could lead to two or so hours spent estimating for each quarter.
The second time a team should play Planning Poker is once per sprint. Some teams will do this as part of a regular product backlog grooming meeting, and I think that’s fine if the whole team participates in grooming.
If the whole team does not participate, another good time to play Planning Poker is following one of the daily scrums late in the sprint. If the team estimates too early in the sprint, there’s a chance they’ll need to repeat the process for any late-arriving stories.
But the team should avoid estimating so late in the sprint that the product owner cannot consider the newly estimated items when deciding what the team will work on in the next sprint.
A Time Not to Play Planning Poker
List all poker sites. There’s only one time when I think it’s a mistake to play Planning Poker: at the start of the sprint planning meeting. The first problem with doing it then is that it’s too late for the product owner to adjust priorities based on the new estimates.
Some product owners may be able to rejigger priorities on the fly, but even if they can, they'd probably do so better with a little more time to think.
A second problem with playing Planning Poker to start sprint planning is that it almost always causes the team to spend too much time estimating. I think this happens because team members walk into the sprint planning meeting ready to think in detail about their user stories.
But with Planning Poker, they are asked instead to think at a high-level and put a rougher, less precise estimates on the user stories. Many team members seem to have a hard time giving rough estimates in a meeting in which they will next be asked to give much more precise estimates of tasks.
This leads to more involved discussions than I recommend, and that leads to the team taking longer to estimate than when that is done separately. By following the guidelines here, you’ll be able to help your team estimate at the two times they should use Planning Poker, and avoid estimating at the one time they shouldn’t.
Question: When do you play Planning Poker?
Planning Poker® in Scrum brings together multiple expert opinions for the agile estimation of a project. In this type of agile planning, we include everyone from programmers, testers and database engineers to analysts, user interaction designers and more. Because these team members represent all disciplines on a software project, they’re better suited to the estimation task than anyone else.
To get started with Planning Poker with your team, you can purchase Planning Poker cards from Mountain Goat Software. Or, play Planning Poker online for free.
How Does Planning Poker Work?
At the start of this agile planning exercise, each estimator is given a deck of Planning Poker cards. Each card has one of the valid estimates on it, for example: 0, 1/2, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 20, 40, 100 and infinity.
For each user story or theme to be estimated, a moderator (usually the product owner or an analyst) reads the description. There will be some discussion, where the product owner answers any questions the estimators have. But the goal of Planning Poker in Scrum is not to derive an estimate that will withstand all future scrutiny. Instead, we want a valuable estimate that can be arrived at inexpensively.
After discussion, each estimator privately selects a Planning Poker card representing his or her agile estimation. Once each estimator has made a selection, cards are simultaneously turned over and shown so that all participants can see one another’s estimate.
Estimates will likely differ significantly. And that’s OK. The highest and lowest estimators explain their perspective so that the team can know where they’re coming from. The moderator takes notes during this agile planning session that will be helpful when the story is programmed and tested.
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After discussion, each estimator re-estimates by selecting a card. Often, the estimates will converge by the second round. If not, repeat the process until the team agrees on a single estimate to use for the story or these. It rarely takes more than three rounds in agile estimation to reach the goal.
Tips for Planning Poker in Scrum
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Here’s some tips for common challenges in Planning Poker:
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- Keep discussions productive: Consider purchasing a two-minute sand timer, and allowing anyone in the meeting to start it at any time. When the sand runs out, the next round of Planning Poker cards is played. This helps teams learn to estimate more rapidly within agile planning.
- Break out into smaller sessions: It is possible to play Planning Poker with a subset of the team. It’s not ideal, but a good option if there are many stories to be estimated, as can often happen at the start of a new project.
- Choose the right time to play: Estimating teams will need to play Planning Poker at two different occasions. The first time, teams will usually estimate a large number of items before the project kicks off or during first iterations. The second time, teams need to put forth ongoing effort to estimate new stories identified during an iteration.
You can learn more about Planning Poker in detail in the Mountain Goat Software store or in Mike Cohn’s book, Agile Estimating and Planning.