What Is Planning Poker And How Does It Work?

Planning Poker

The fact that you stumbled upon this blog shows that you are interested in product management and development. 

As you have observed, product management and development have constantly been in demand over the years. They also have innovative methodologies and tools to facilitate that. 

Tools are known to bring ease in life, and they save us from hassles and chagrins, don’t they? 

Well, planning poker is one such fantastic tool.

This blog has keenly whittled down major concepts, nuances, and even tons of nitty-gritty details about planning poker. 

Sounds interesting? Then keep reading. 

Before jumping into the detailed conversation, let’s first clarify the basics. 

What Is Planning Poker?

Planning poker is an estimation technique that has become very popular in agile software development. 

The core idea behind planning poker is to estimate items by playing numbered poker cards. 

The number of fingers shown on each card indicates its rank within a given range. 

So, for example, you might pick up ten and two fives and then declare that the current estimate is 15 (5+5+10).

This answer is acceptable, but it leaves the question of, “Who came up with 15? What are they thinking about?” 

The problem is that the decision to show a certain number of fingers occurs in isolation, without other people knowing what others are thinking. 

There’s no way to understand the full range available using this technique alone. 

This factoid is perhaps one of the main reasons people choose to use such a simple tool as planning poker when faced with tasks that might take a few days to over a year to complete. 

Once they use it, they often continue using it without any variation in the assumptions behind its use.

Planning Poker Definition

“Planning poker is an estimation technique using playing cards in which you use fingers to vote on estimates.”

Now, how did this technique come about?

It stems from the software industry, where participants collectively estimate items or work packages without discussing their assessments in advance. 

This approach avoids biasing each other’s ideas by discussing them. It has become trendy when designing software, especially in online environments that allow remote participants to collaborate. 

What are the Benefits of Planning Poker?

  • It is a straightforward technique suitable for most people who have never used estimation techniques before.
  • The planning poker method ensures that everyone gets a turn to provide input about the estimated difficulty of action items without feeling rushed or waiting too long to answer.
  • It allows the group to discuss their estimates to understand how they were derived. Unlike other estimation techniques, this is the only process that shows individual estimations at the end of sessions. 
  • When used with story points, planning poker prevents velocity differences between team members. This practice prevents it from becoming a source of conflict by accurately estimating how much work the entire team does.
  • It encourages everyone to keep their estimates private during the discussion of each item so that you can achieve consensus before anyone explains. This way removes personal biases and hidden agendas related to individual estimations.
  • It allows continuous negotiation throughout an estimation session so that items with more uncertainty are estimated first, and the overall number gets adjusted later as things get clarified. Other methods might leave it up to chance which item you should calculate first. Such a process causes greater scope creep if the assumptions behind that first estimate become wrong after more discussion.
  • It allows for a quick estimation of items with unknown complexity at the beginning of a project to know if they might be more or less complex than expected. In contrast, other methods might not estimate until more information is learned later in the project. It could result in underestimating how much work is left if these unknowns turn out to be more significant than initially assumed.
  • When used with story points, planning poker makes it easy to track velocity over time and use that data to estimate future work. Hence, there’s less risk in committing too many resources early in a project before knowing what kind of progress you can realistically make. It also helps avoid having fewer people work on something with enough capacity to support earlier.
  • It doesn’t require a formal process to be followed. Unlike many other estimation techniques that prescribe, you need to discuss the order items. In other cases, everyone needs their stopwatch, which can take too long and defeat the point of using an estimation technique. However, there’s usually no time pressure involved in using planning poker.

How Does Planning Poker Work?

Let us understand the workflow and mechanism it works.  

Step 1. 

The team members (preferably five to nine) sit around a table. 

Each team member takes a turn estimating the items under discussion one by one. They raise their fingers corresponding to the number of story points they think should be assigned. Zero is considered an acceptable answer if no reliable estimate is available.

Step 2. 

Everyone votes as per their estimate. The number of fingers held up will vary from player to player.

Then, someone tallies up all the votes and announces the total to everyone before moving on to the next item for estimation.

Step 3. 

Each member keeps their vote private until the end. 

This practice ensures that others cannot influence or change their estimations mid-stream to avoid defeating using this technique.

Step 4.

After tallying all the votes, everyone discusses their reasoning for each vote and why they think it should be an X number of story points. 

Through this approach, everyone has a shared understanding of the collective vote and how you derived those individual estimations.

Step 5. 

The facilitator (or anyone else who is not voting) can ask clarifying questions during or after this process to understand everyone’s thinking before moving on to the next item for estimation.

Step 6. 

The above pattern repeats itself until you assign story point estimates to all items discussed. The total sum matches the consensus agreed upon results at the beginning of the session.

This step usually ends up being identical to planning poker without any discussion because people typically don’t change their initial vote.

Step 7. 

Once you tally the votes, teams need to agree on whether they think the items assigned story point estimates should be considered “Good,” “OK,” or “Bad.” 

They do this evaluation based on common sense and how things went during estimation so far. 

These variables roughly correspond to low, medium, and high scope risk, if there’s any chance of scope creep to speak of after making agreements before starting the next step in this process.

Step 8. 

Teams can optionally decide at this point whether or not to split up large items into smaller ones using whatever criteria makes sense for each project (usually relative complexity). 

This step makes it easier to track progress later on instead of having one massive item hanging over everyone’s heads. 

Step 9. 

The first item on the list is discussed and given a story point estimate. 

After going through the above process, there is no prior discussion involved for all other items estimated for the first time. Whatever number everyone thought was reasonable earlier still applies. 

This step keeps things consistent from an estimation perspective despite doing something different from everything else on the list.

Step 10. 

Each player adds up their estimates and records them somewhere visible for future reference before prioritizing the criteria all players have agreed upon for this phase.

This step usually varies from having a date to set conditions to finish something essential as soon as possible. Sometimes, there’s not enough time available during a sprint.

Step 11. 

Once that’s finished, each team member selects only those items they think are most important and gives them a priority rating from one through five. 

Rating five signifies something must be done immediately and needs to prioritize anything else tagged with four, for example. 

You record this data somewhere visible for everyone to see how those estimates were derived based on accurate information rather than applying arbitrary assumptions. 

This practice technically makes it a prioritized backlog. 

Step 12. 

All higher priority items are then selected and put into one or more user stories depending on how many individual tasks you need to complete. Along with that, other necessary information like acceptance criteria and requirements are also put together. 

The product owner should sign off these things once everyone defines them. They should do this before anything goes through any formal review process. 

They should also include testing to ensure they don’t miss out on anything important before moving on to the next step.

Step 13

A sprint planning meeting occurs where the entire team comes together. 

Everyone involved works through those user stories one at a time to make sure they understand what’s expected of them for this sprint before accepting anything. 

This approach should be a priority no matter how trivial it might seem.  

This prioritization is just because you spend more than enough time on estimation. To avoid wasting any more resources and creating something that was never going to work, you discuss everything beforehand like it should have been.

Step 14. 

After completing all requested functionality related to each user story, you should merge into whatever branch was agreed upon by both team members. The product owner deploys it into production. 

Later, that user story gets marked as done and removed from that list of prioritized backlog items.

Step 15. 

The next step is to develop another user story based on the agreed criteria. This story usually has its basis on how long the sprint has left compared to everything else which is still in progress. 

As such, you can move it along after there are no more remaining stories in need of completion for this iteration (which should always be possible unless otherwise noted).

Step 16. 

This process repeats until every task scheduled during estimation is either completed or abandoned. 

The last occurrence happens because what they had available wasn’t feasible up to that point (which should always be the first choice for difficulty versus time remaining). In other words, it is called the sprint goal.

Step 17.

The next day, or whenever they start working on things again after that point, another retrospective meeting occurs so everyone can discuss the victories and errors of this sprint. 

Subsequently, they plan out any necessary changes for the following iteration (including increasing team size if necessary).

Step 18

This entire procedure is repeated at least once during each subsequent sprint until either this project has been completed or something breaks that no one expected would happen. 

The latter occurrence means you will need to add new tasks and then estimate/prioritize all over again, like in step two. 

This process repeats steps thirteen through eighteen until you achieve the goal of not using formal estimation to determine how much time will be required.

This factoid means the entire process must always remain flexible enough to accommodate the changes.

What are the Drawbacks of Planning Poker?

It is always intelligent to study every nuance of a concept to get those intricacies right. 

You read this far! kudos 

That means you are through the definition and the benefits of the concept. 

Let’s now dissect some complications and thwarts that come along the way.

  • Planning poker only really works well with tasks that have been broken down into small enough chunks to fit a particular time frame.
  • Planning poker can become a contentious process if users feel they have to commit to something they would never have agreed upon otherwise or vice versa. This occurrence can become disastrous for teams. 
  • Not everyone involved in this process may understand how planning poker works which mean there’s no guarantee that everything will get done in the way that’s most beneficial for the team, product owner, and so on.
  • Planning poker doesn’t allow planning during sprints where everything is smoothly running. Hence, there are no issues to address, and you can plan less in the long run than the other options available.
  • In planning poker, what people estimate might not correspond with their skill level when working on something relatively complex. It means they might not have a good idea about completing this task before the next iteration starts.
  • Planning poker only works well for weekly sprints and planning anything far in advance. Planning should only take place up to the point where you do this type of work each day. You can exempt this process if there aren’t enough people involved or other issues. To conclude, planning poker is not the best option if the team accounts for time outside the working hours, like planning things while at a conference.
  • The exact amount of discussion may need to occur for planning poker to be successful. This process can be time-consuming at times. Planning poker isn’t easy or quick, even though it’s supposed to be.
  • Planning poker does not work well with complex tasks because we need to break them into smaller pieces, which you cannot estimate in isolation. They require data from other places/parts of the system, which may contain dependency issues. Suppose planning poker is helpful as a primary tool. In that case, such a process could lead to one task taking several weeks, drastically changing the work goals.

What is Planning Poker Agile?

Planning poker is an agile method that uses a deck of planning poker cards marked with numbers to estimate effort or complexity. 

When you use planning poker as an estimation tool, you identify the size of each task. 

Then the group discusses how much time something might take. 

At this point, they pull out their planning poker card and reveal it to everyone, so they can discuss it again to reach a consensus on how big or small that task might be.

Agile planning is all about planning your sprints, iterations, projects, and making long-term strategies

The planning poker method is one of the planning methods used in agile. It helps estimate how much time or budget you’ll need to complete a particular task. 

What is Jira Planning Poker planning?

Jira is one of the most used project management tools by agile teams worldwide. In this section, let’s understand why it is essential to comprehend planning poker in Jira. 

Jira software is an issue tracking tool that helps track bugs, issues, and tasks to get your work done faster and better.

Fews points to remember:

  • Planning poker in Jira is a perfect way to get your projects and issues in order and prioritize them to plan sprints and future development.
  • Jira offers a lot of functionality that makes it super easy for agile teams to plan their sprints. Its planning poker is one of those features that help users get things done.
  • Jira planning poker is a way of allowing you to plan your sprints and issues in agile with the use of Jira cards, planning tools, and planning poker cards.
  • You can choose to use planning poker cards in Jira with one person per card to see how much time an issue might need. On the other hand, you can also play planning poker with Jira cards to allow all your agile team members to participate in the process.
  • Jira planning poker allows you to invite all of your team members and choose how many cards each person will get. You can then start playing the game and estimate its time to complete specific issues.
  • If you want more accuracy, you also have the option to decide on what kind of Jira software card you would like to use.
  • Jira planning poker is excellent for estimating issues and sprints in agile teams. It makes the time estimations easier by getting everyone involved. It allows you to plan sprints better and get the work done faster because your whole team is working together.

What is Kanban Planning Poker?

Kanban is another product management tool with planning poker built into its system.

Kanban planning poker is a simple, low-fidelity technique that helps prominent distributed people plan and prioritize their work.

It can be used as part of a more extensive process to help teams collaborate.

This method uses kanban cards, which are index cards with symbols. 

Each card is used for certain workflow states and can hold specific information about the process of your workflow or issues you have.  

  • The kanban planning board enables you to develop your story point estimates quickly and efficiently.
  • This technique works best for larger teams where the members reside in different geographies or time zones.
  • To play the game, first divide all members into two or more teams based on estimation skills, experience, and so on. Then, give each group a card and ask them to estimate the number of kanbans in each column.

Suppose anyone is unsure about the kanban estimation. In that case, they can use the deck, choose one at a time, and finally add up all of them together to get the final estimate.

What is Sprint Planning Poker?

Below we have enlisted a few crucial points regarding sprint planning poker you must know.

  • Sprint planning poker is one of many methods to estimate the time it might take to complete a specific task or project.
  • It is usually done in the scrum to help plan each development, bug, or issue that needs to be completed for the sprint to end.
  • It is a method used by scrum teams worldwide. It is a form of speed estimation that helps you minimize estimation errors.
  • It also allows you to become more accurate with your estimations. It makes you discuss the issue/task before estimating that might hold up the development process.

How Does Sprint Planning Poker work?

During sprint planning poker, all members of the development team receive 8–10 story cards and then break them into two piles:

  • Pile one includes all stories that you can complete within one sprint.
  • The remaining stories will likely not fit within the sprint planning timeframe. These stories are in pile two, which represents the sprint backlog.
  • Sprint planning poker starts by having one person from each team hold up a number card that corresponds to their team’s assessment of the relative difficulty of one story.
  • Sprint planning poker compares relative effort between stories rather than thinking about the absolute effort required to complete one.

What is Planning Poker Scrum?

Planning poker scrum exists to break down top-down planning into more transparent, bottom-up planning, resulting in better estimating and planning.

Let’s understand the details.

A planning poker scrum is a group estimating technique that divides development teams into subgroups.

The planning poker scrum method splits the planning phase into two separate events:

1. Top-down planning: The project team creates a tentative roadmap for all requested features and functions. They identify which items you could complete in one iteration (a single development cycle) without causing too much disruption to the project.

2. The planning poker scrum event: The planning team (and potentially other interested or affected parties) then assign story points to each feature. They allot story points based on how difficult they think the features will be to implement.

Conclusion

With the intensive competition in the market, it has become more important to save and use time in the right direction to fetch maximum yields.

Now planning poker is a technique to save your precious time and energy.

Planning poker is a gamified technique for timeboxing. 

It is an excellent way for estimation, and since it’s consensus-based, it provides accurate results.  

This blog was to facilitate your journey to using planning poker. 

A complete reading will surely clear most of your doubts and make your ride much more straightforward.

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