What is Planning Poker in Agile? | David Tzemach

Planning poker is probably the most popular and preferred Agile estimation method in the industry. While using this estimation technique, the entire development team estimates each user story and as a result, each team member can affect the result and share their thoughts related to the efforts and complexity involved in delivering this story.

The planning poker session usually starts with the PO, who reviews a specific user story. The review includes summarizing the requirements, expectations and Definition of Done. These provide the team with the necessary information for the estimation process.

Playing the game

Phase 1: Each team member gets a deck of estimation cards representing a sequence of numbers. The most popular sequence of numbers is based on the Fibonacci sequence (1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, etc.). There are also three special cards:

  • 0 - The story has a minor amount of work (up to two hours).

  • CB - Coffee break!

  • ? - I do not have the knowledge to estimate this story.

Phase 2: The moderator (any team member) presents one user story at a time to the team. The PO answers any open questions the team may have about the story.

Phase 3: Each team member privately chooses a card representing their estimated “size” of the user story and places it face-down on the table. The size is based on different factors such as risk, knowledge, complexity, time, etc.

Phase 4: When everybody is ready with their estimations the cards on the table are revealed simultaneously, which leads to one of the following scenarios:

  1. A consensus on a specific estimation agreed by most team members. The size is then approved and the team can move to the next story.

  2. A large discrepancy between two estimations, the high and low estimators will describe the reasons that lead to their estimate. This leads to a debate and then to a conclusion as to how long the story should take.

Tips for optimizing the planning poker session

  • Set the engagement rules – Planning poker is just one method teams can use to estimate their stories. As such, it is very important for the SM to ensure everyone understands the goal, roles and processes prior to starting the game.

  • The case of a tie – A team with six members estimates a story. Once they reveal their estimations, there are three cards with one estimation (3) and three other cards with another estimation (5). As the numbers are very similar, I suggest taking the larger estimation (5). This is because it puts the team on a safer side while committing to the story. It also reduces complaints you receive for choosing the lower estimation.

  • This is an estimation game, not an open discussion – The estimation game should allow team members to provide their most accurate estimations, reflecting their thoughts. There is no room for deep technical details to be discussed per task within a story.

  • The “Coffee Break” card is here for a reason – Playing planning poker is a simple technique for estimation. However, it still requires effort and concertation from the team for a few hours. The “CB” card allows them to take a break when it is used.

  • Ensure the team reviews the stories before the meeting – One pitfall I have seen with many teams is that the planning meeting is the first time the team sees the stories they should estimate. This has a direct impact on their ability to provide effective estimations.