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January 22, 2023
8 min read

Async Poker vs. Planning Poker – Which Fits Ideal for Scrum Teams

Async Poker and Planning Poker are both widely used estimation techniques that provide consensus-based accurate estimates. Find out more about both these techniques and their differences in this article.
Anton Versal
Anton Versal
Learn which planning poker version is better for your Scrum team

The decades-old traditional project management methodologies are becoming less common now as the trend is shifting toward more iterative and feedback-based project management. Scrum is one such methodology that many organizations, especially software firms, are using nowadays. There are many attributes of Scrum methodology, such as product backlog estimation, sprints, daily scrum, sprint review, sprint retrospective, and similar others. Out of all, product backlog estimation plays a crucial role in the successful start of Scrum-based product development because it is the stage where the team estimates the product backlog items and sets a mindset on what to accomplish and how to proceed.

There are many ways to estimate product backlog in Scrum, but Planning Poker and Async Poker are considered the best ones to get accurate estimates. The basic concept behind Planning Poker and Async Poker is almost the same, i.e., involving the same consensus-based estimation approach. However, Planning Poker involves on-site estimation, while Async Poker involves remote estimation. So, which is the best fit for the Scrum teams? Let's discuss these estimation techniques in detail and see which is the best one to choose for which scenarios.

What is Planning Poker Estimation Technique?

Planning Poker, also known as Pointing Poker and Scrum Poker, is a consensus-based gamified estimation technique that estimates the effort required to accomplish backlog items. In this technique, the development team discusses and mutually assigns story points to user stories that reflect the required efforts. The story points are based on the Modified Fibonacci sequence, i.e., 0, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 20, 40, and 100. Below are the steps involved in a Planning Poker estimation session:

  1. Product Owner, development team, Scrum Master, and key stakeholders join an on-site meeting room. The development team is handed poker-styled cards with numeric values that of the Modified Fibonacci sequence.
  2. The Product Owner reads a user story. The development team listens to the story and clarifies doubts with the Product Owner. Afterward, they begin the mutual discussion to discuss how to proceed with it, the challenges, etc. Everyone can contribute to this round of discussion.
  3. After completing the discussion, every development team member secretly picks a card that he/she believes best justifies the required effort.
  4. Once all members have picked their cards, they show them at once.
  5. If all members have shown the same card, then it is finalized as the team's story point for that user story. However, if there are some variations, then the ones who gave the highest and lowest points are given a chance to present their thoughts on their choices. Afterward, the team re-discusses and re-estimates the user story to eventually reach a consensus.
  6. The above 5 steps continue until all user stories are estimated.

The Scrum teams might also reference previous similar estimated user stories to have more accurate estimates this time. Overall, Planning Poker is the best way to estimate user stories in a mutually-discussed environment.

What is Async Poker Estimation Technique?

Just like Planning Poker, Async Poker is also a consensus-based estimation technique that uses Modified Fibonacci Sequence to assign story points to user stories. However, Async Poker is meant more for distributed/remote teams since it does not require participants to join an on-site meeting room. The members estimate the user stories individually and then share their estimates with the moderator, which collects all the estimates and finalizes the team's overall estimates. Below are the steps involved in an Async Poker estimation session:

  1. The moderator picks the members that will participate in the estimation and sends them the user stories to be estimated before the deadline.
  2. The members read, understand, and estimate the user stories at their own pace and deliver all the estimates before the deadline.
  3. The moderator gathers all the estimates, reviews them, and checks if all members have given the same estimates. If there are some major variations, then the moderator can arrange a quick online meeting where the members can join, clarify the misunderstanding, re-estimate, and reach a consensus.

This way, Async Poker helps teams estimate product backlog items without requiring them to join any on-site meeting room or spend hours mutually discussing and estimating user stories. In fact, teams use the Async Poker technique using tools like Async Poker - Remote Planning&Estimation that help streamline and centralize the whole estimation process. Overall, Async Poker is more of a modified version of Planning Poker. That's why it is also called Asynchronous Planning Poker.

Async Poker vs. Planning Poker – Key Differences

Now that we know what Async Poker and Planning Poker is all about, we can see a few resemblances between them. For example, they use the same consensus-based approach to estimate user stories and emphasize estimating "efforts" instead of "time". However, they have some main differences that can help decide which technique fits best for your team. So, below are 7 key differences between Async Poker and Planning Poker estimation techniques:

1. Remote vs. On-Site Estimation

The first and most prominent difference between Async Poker and Planning Poker is how the estimation session takes place. Async Poker is a completely remote-based estimation technique that uses digital technology to complete the estimates. There is a minimal discussion between members, and that too if the team fails to assign the same story points.

On the other hand, Planning Poker requires an on-site estimation session. So, the Product Owner, development team, Scrum Master, and other key stakeholders should sit together in a meeting room and estimate user stories on the spot.

2. Brief vs. Lengthy Discussion Rounds

Async Poker is meant to reduce the estimation session as much as possible. That's the reason it intends to avoid discussion rounds and save time. If the estimates delivered by individual members to the moderator all match, then there is no discussion round. The moderator only calls a discussion round if there are some major differences in the estimates. Moreover, the duration of the session is also very brief because everyone is familiar with the user stories, so they can quickly discuss, re-estimate, and reach a consensus.

Alternatively, Planning Poker relies heavily on discussion rounds. There is a dedicated discussion round before the members do the estimates. After the estimation, the team might have two more discussion rounds to reach a consensus.

3. Written vs. Verbal User Stories

Async Poker uses written user stories that are dispatched to the members. These written user stories are also very detailed so that members have all the information they need to understand the scenarios and do accurate estimates.

Planning Poker mainly uses verbal user stories. The Product Owner reads the user stories and the members listen to them. Since members can clarify their doubts directly with the Product Owner, so the verbal user stories are not made that detailed.

4. Freedom vs. Instant Estimation

Async Poker gives Scrum teams the freedom to estimate the user stories at their own pace. Once they have received the user stories to be estimated, they have all the time they need to read and understand them. All they have to ensure is to deliver the estimates before the deadline.

Planning Poker requires the Scrum teams to estimate user stories on the instant. Once the Product Owner reads the user story, they then discuss the user story and instantly estimate it. So, even if a few members are slow learners, they still have to keep up with others and estimate alongside the team.

5. Members Count

In Async Poker, the moderator decides which user stories to estimate and then picks only those members that are actually going to estimate the user stories. In fact, the moderator can even shortlist the members within the development team instead of inviting the whole development team to estimate. Once the estimates are finalized, they can be sent to stakeholders and other members.

Planning Poker involves the Product Owner, Scrum Master, development team, and other key stakeholders. Although it's mostly only the development team that estimates user stories, still stakeholders and other members are invited to the meeting room. So, the members' count is more in Planning Poker compared to Async Poker.

6. Biasness

Async Poker and Planning Poker mainly eradicates the chances of biasness by ensuring a consensus-based estimation. However, Planning Poker still involves some elements of it unwantedly. For example, when members are discussing a user story, senior members might unintentionally force their opinion on others, especially on the newbies. This forced opinion is later reflected in the estimates. On the other hand, Async Poker does not involve any discussion before everyone has given their estimates, so there are minimal to no chances of any biasness.

7. Time Efficiency

Async Poker is a highly time-efficient way of doing estimates. It saves time during all the stages of estimation. For instance, there are no discussion rounds before estimates, members are free to estimate on their own, the re-discussion sessions are brief, and only relevant members participate in the estimates.

On the other hand, Planning Poker is not really time efficient. It can take up to 2-4 hours or even more if teams find difficulty in reaching a consensus. Moreover, it involves discussion rounds before and after estimates and includes more participants, thereby consuming a lot of extra time.

Wrapping Up – Which One to Pick?

Both Async Poker and Planning Poker value every member's opinion and give them a chance to present their viewpoints without pressure. This way, teams are not just able to estimate the efforts, but they are also able to highlight risks and uncertainties they might face. But the main question is, which technique should you pick? The answer mainly depends on your business model.

If you have a remote/distributed Scrum team or the members have a busy schedule, then Async Poker is the best technique. It gives the freedom of estimation and reduces the discussion rounds, making it ideal for estimating without spending much time. Alternatively, if you are looking for more mutually-discussed estimations and all the members are available to participate in an on-site session, then Planning Poker can serve your needs effectively. To sum up, consider the above differences between Async Poker and Planning Poker and pick the estimation technique that ticks all of your checkboxes.

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