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October 24, 2023
9 min read

Key Characteristics of Planning Poker Estimation Technique

Planning Poker is a gamified estimation technique that not just makes estimation a fun activity but also leads to better team collaboration and accurate estimates. Keep reading this guide to learn more about the key characteristics of Planning Poker.
Anton Versal
Anton Versal
Let's look into the pros and cons of Planning Poker Estimation Technique.

Team collaboration is key to turning projects into success. However, there are many examples when projects fail or get delayed due to a lack of proper team collaboration. One such area where teams struggle is the estimation process, as it is where developers, managers, testers, and other members get stuck. Since organizations are actively shifting to Agile-based development, estimation is one of the core steps during project development. In the estimation process, the team members come together and discuss what they are going to work on next, which is overall called product backlog estimation.

Estimation seems an easy process but it requires extra effort and proper team collaboration to turn into accurate estimates. Without accurate estimates, teams can often misjudge the required efforts or be unable to pinpoint hidden risks that might cause trouble later on, eventually leading to project delays.

Since estimation and team collaboration is a must in Agile-based product development, multiple estimation techniques have emerged in the past couple of years. Out of all the emerging techniques, Planning Poker stands as the most widely used and efficient way of estimating product backlogs. If you also have heard about Planning Poker before or you are concerned about what makes Planning Poker so special, then let's clear your doubts in this article.

The Working Principle of Planning Poker

Planning Poker is a gamified, consensus-based estimation technique that uses a set of poker-style cards to do the estimation. In this technique, story points are assigned to product backlog items in a mutually discussed environment to reflect the efforts required to complete the backlog. Mostly, the Product Owner, Scrum Master, developers, testers, analysts, and other development team members, along with key stakeholders, participate in the estimation session.

Following are the general steps involved in the Planning Poker estimation technique:

  1. All participants join an on-site meeting room, and the development team members are handed poker-style cards with numbering as of Modified Fibonacci sequence 0, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 20, 40, and 100.
  2. The Product Owner takes one item from the product backlog and reads it out.
  3. The development team begins the discussion by clarifying the doubts with the Product Owner. Afterward, they do a mutual discussion to see how to accomplish the targeted goal(s) of that item and to identify hidden risks associated with that item.
  4. After the discussion round, the development team members then pick the card individually that they think best reflects the story point for that backlog item. Once everyone has picked the card, they all show their cards at once.
  5. If everyone has picked the same card, then it is declared the team's final estimate. If there are variations, then members that have given the highest and lowest points are given a chance to present their viewpoints. After that, the team re-estimates and tries to reach a consensus.
  6. The above 5 steps continue until all the backlog items are estimated.

This is how a Planning Poker estimation session is carried out. Normally, a Planning Poker session lasts for 2-3 hours, but the length can vary based on the length of the product backlog items. At the end of the day, the Agile team has mutually agreed on story points for all the product backlog items that they are going to work on next.

8 Key Characteristics of Planning Pokers

Planning Poker looks like a simple and general estimation technique, but it has many hidden characteristics that make it so popular. Below are the 8 key characteristics of Planning Poker worth knowing:

1. Gamified Approach

One of the main characteristics of Planning Poker is that it provides a fun way of doing estimates. The use of poker-style cards makes the whole process gamified. When every member secretly picks the card and shows it together with others, everyone remains excited to see what cards other members have picked. Overall, it keeps participants engaged and productive and offers an easy and friendly way to do estimates.

2. Accurate Estimates

Planning Poker is not just popular due to its fun and easy-to-use nature, and teams also prefer Planning Poker due to more accurate estimates. There are multiple discussion rounds in a session. The first discussion round happens to discuss and understand user stories and look for uncertainties. The second discussion happens after providing individual estimates in order to reach a team's estimate. The third one occurs after the re-estimate. Overall, the continuous discussions throughout the session lead to more accurate estimates.

3. Team Collaboration

Planning Poker is an estimation technique that truly justifies the word "estimation with team collaboration". It requires that the Product Owner, Scrum Master, all the key players from the development team, and key stakeholders are part of the estimation session. This way, new members get a chance to interact with the team and become more comfortable. Overall, everyone values each other opinions, which makes collaboration effective and productive.

4. Everyone Speaks

Another key characteristic of Planning Poker is that it lets everyone speak. During the discussion round, everyone has an equal chance to clarify doubts, present their views, and highlight any risks they might see in the user story. Similarly, they are free to pick the card of their choice and then justify their reasons openly to everyone. Overall, it empowers newbies to have a say in estimation.

5. Unbiased

Planning Poker gives everyone equal weightage in estimation no matter if they are newbies or senior members. Even if some newbies hesitate to speak up during the discussion round, they can reflect on their thoughts while selecting the card for assigning story points. This way, it eradicates the biasness from senior members and develops an environment of trust in the team.

6. Focus on Efforts with Story Points

Planning Poker estimation is more focused on efforts instead of an hours-based estimate. The use of story points with the modified Fibonacci sequence is meant to highlight the efforts required to complete that story and the level of uncertainties associated with it. For example, if one story is given 13 points, while another one is given 20 points, then the latter must require more effort or must have some risks or uncertainties, which might cause delays. Overall, the focus on efforts instead of time gives the development team some flexibility in case they experience some delay without stressing out to meet deadlines.

7. Address Uncertainties

As highlighted above, Planning Poker empowers teams to address risks and uncertainties during the estimation process. When the whole development team is participating in the estimation session, they can mutually discuss and pinpoint uncertainties, risks, and other challenges they might encounter during the development phase. If only the higher management was doing the estimate, then there are chances that they might miss out on those risks. Overall, the discussion-based collaborative estimation with the Planning Poker technique helps teams to address uncertainties before they show up.

8. Team Ownership

Planning Poker also helps in developing the culture of team ownership. Since it is the team as a whole that discusses and estimates user stories, they eventually take the responsibility to accomplish the goals of the project within the estimated efforts. Overall, this helps in creating a sense of ownership because the team is involved in the project from the beginning.

Cons of Planning Poker

Planning Poker is undoubtedly one of the best techniques to estimate in Agile. Not just it is easy to execute, but it also ensures team collaboration and accurate estimates. However, there are a few cons to Planning Poker that should also be put on the table. Some of the main ones and their remedies are as follows:

1. Can Turn Lengthy

Planning Poker requires that development team members do discussions around the backlog items before estimating so that everyone has a better understanding of the required efforts. However, the discussion round can take up significant time, especially if members start deep discussions. Similarly, 2-3 rounds of re-estimation or a large product backlog further add up to the time. This eventually leads to unnecessary extra hours spent completing the whole estimation process.

To address this con, teams should keep the product backlog manageable, time-box discussions to just a few minutes, and restrict re-estimates to just 2 rounds. This way, they can reduce time significantly and remain more focused and productive.

2. Fails to Facilitate Remote & Distributed Teams

Planning Poker is an estimation technique that requires participants to join an on-site meeting room. It requires everyone to be present at that moment and delay whatever they are doing currently. This model works effectively when all the participants are present within business premises, but fails to address remote or distributed teams in which members are even located in different time zones.

To address this con, teams that involve remote or distributed members can opt for a modified version of Planning Poker called Asynchronous Planning Poker or Async Poker. In this technique, members receive the user stories and are given the deadline by when they have to deliver their estimates. Afterward, the moderator collects all estimates and finalizes the team's estimate for each user story.

3. Need Enough People

The accuracy of estimation through Planning Poker requires the involvement of enough participants, especially the members of the development team, such as developers, testers, analysts, etc. If there are not enough people, then the estimates might go wrong. For example, the team might fail to identify possible uncertainties, which they might encounter later on during the development phase, thereby leading to delays or extra stress.

To address this con, the Agile teams must ensure that enough people or at least key members must participate in the estimation session.

4. Failing to get Everyone On Page

Planning Poker requires the team to collaboratively set story points for user stories. If the team fails to finalize the team's estimate (story point) for an item due to different thoughts, then it adds more frustration and impacts team collaboration. This can eventually compromise the results.

To address this con, Scrum Master or senior members must find a way to get everyone on the same page and help the team reach a consensus on unsolved disputes.

Wrapping Up

Considering the competitive and fast-paced business world, Agile-based development practices are much needed for better response to customer needs and faster time to market. Planning Poker helps Agile teams to have a collaborative and informed start to the project. Through mutually-discussed and accurate estimates, team members are well-informed beforehand on the required efforts, eventually leading to more productivity. The above-discussed key characteristics are proof of how Planning Poker can uplift the estimation game. So, try out the Planning Poker estimation technique with our team and experience its outcomes yourself.

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