One of the most pivotal steps in the project management process is to plan out a schedule for the project. In order to do so, it is very important to chart out an estimate of the level of effort required to accomplish a development task. This is easy enough to do on short projects as resources are easier to plan out.
However, it is both essential and harder to plan for long-term projects. It is essential because it makes long-term tasks easier by dividing them up into easier-to-accomplish short-term tasks. However, one needs to be careful as a wrong judgment in estimation can lead to a major disruption in the flow of long-term projects.
Project managers, product managers, and even software developers are all plagued by this same daunting task of making a calculated estimation. It becomes crucial to ensure that the level of accuracy of these estimates is very high. To do this they have to determine the right technique for estimation and also the right timing for calculating this estimation.
One of the most prominent techniques utilized in this regard is “planning poker”. This technique was first given structure and explained by James Grenning in 2002. It was further explained and popularized in the book “Agile Estimating and planning”, by Mike Cohn. It has gained a lot of popularity due to its various benefits and has become one of the most commonly used techniques for estimation in agile software development.
The planning poker method, also known as “scrum poker” and “pointing poker”, is a gamified technique that development teams use to guess the effort of project management tasks. These estimations are based on the entire group’s input and consensus, making them more engaging and accurate than other methods. To help gauge the number of story points for the relevant tasks, teams use planning poker cards, which are similar to poker cards.
The planning poker estimation technique is used for agile software development to make an estimate of the effort required to perform project management tasks. It is a technique designed to reach a consensus between the entire group based on their input. The technique employs the use of a variant of the popular playing cards game, poker. This use of a common card game to reach a consensus based on the input makes this technique highly engaging which in turn ensures an estimate which is consistently found to be more accurate than other techniques.
The reason to use this technique is to avoid the influence of the other participants. If a number is spoken, it can sound like a suggestion and influence the other participants' sizing. This should force people to think independently and propose their numbers simultaneously. This is accomplished by requiring that all participants show their cards at the same time.
These games are carried out with the use of planning poker cards. Numbers, arranged in Fibonacci or another linear progression, are assigned to the cards. The cards are used to assign the difficulty level to tasks, as in creating a hierarchy of difficulty and which in turn would lead to better estimation of the effort required.
It is vital to be always clear about who is to be consulted in any part of project management. This is especially true for poker planning as it can make or break a project right from the word go. The product owner, or client, is one of the first people to be brought into the loop. It is always essential to understand exactly what the expectations of the client are in order to curate the product accordingly.
The product owner can answer any questions regarding the desired outcome which would guide product planning. It is therefore absolutely essential to have the product owner. The next person to include is the scrum master.
Scrum Master is the team’s facilitator, and therefore the scrum master should participate in all regularly scheduled meetings, including these planning poker sessions. Then of course the scrum team members have to be included in the meeting. They are responsible for the deliverables of the project and therefore their input is very important.
The procedure of planning poker is depicted as given in the following image.
The process starts with the client (product owner) stating a user story. The user story is basically a simplified explanation of the requirements of the project. This helps establish the product to be developed.
Step 1: Dealing with the cards
The sequenced cards in linear progression are handed out to the members attending the meeting. Every member has at least one card. These cards are used as estimated for the task. The cards are kept minimal with considerable jumps in the sequence values to enable clear distinction in the level of resources or effort required for the task. The planning poker numbers need to have significant gaps to help create the hierarchy of the tasks.
Step 2: The user story is shared
A designated moderator narrates the user story to the participants. If the meeting member has any queries, they are answered by the moderator.
Step 3: Story discussions
Everyone shares their thoughts regarding the planning poker story points. Some of the common points of discussion are –
a) What is the amount of personnel required?
b) What is the skill set required in that personnel?
c) What are the potential roadblocks?
Step 4: Initial estimations
Each person has to pick a card to show their estimation for a task. The value of the card would determine the difficulty level estimated. Everyone shows their card of estimation picked by them. Planning poker values are assigned to each task.
Step 5: Consensus is targeted
If the same estimation is assigned by all team members, then they have reached a consensus and can move forward to the next task. However, if they vary, then discussion Is made by why it is more or less difficult than estimated by others. Planning poker points are discussed and debated by the members. The process is repeated until consensus is attained. Generally, this happens after the second round.
• This looks at tasks as relative to each other and not as individual assignments. This recognizes that they form a part of a bigger project and hence difficulty is gauged in respect of each other. This helps create a hierarchy within the tasks of a project and helps accomplish long-term projects efficiently.
• Some studies have determined that the estimates made by this technique are significantly and consistently more accurate than other estimation techniques.
• It takes the input of all significant team members. Since the consensus is reached between the entire team the communication is very clear which ensures everyone understands their roles, responsibilities, and expectations very clearly. It also helps team members bounce off each other’s skills and past experiences in planning for their new project together.
• The members have to justify their estimates of why it is so difficult or not so much. This can help create a feedback loop that will help understand the roadblocks in implementation and what could be potential gaps.
• The estimations are basically made with the consensus of experts or experienced team members who are ultimately responsible for the delivery of the project. This ensures the accuracy of the estimates.
• The consideration of user stories acts as an analogy that can be compared to similar user stories before. This helps members relate the project to a previous successful project and also gives them clarity and an idea of the path they need to take to accomplish the project.
Poker estimation is the most commonly used estimation technique in Agile for a reason. It is the most consistently accurate system available and the fact that it makes communication clear and takes the consensus of all relevant members into consideration just makes it highly reliable. Members are able to chart out the requirement of the tasks and also pre-plan according to their roles and responsibilities. It is an essential skill in managing agile projects.
Taking the help of a recognized PMI training partner like Sprintzeal will help you gain this skill and be a huge asset to your team and to your clients. This will help you understand the finer aspects of this methodology devised by Scrum as well as gain a better understanding of the Scrum environment as well. Join Sprintzeal now to learn more!
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