Planning Poker or how to improve your Sprint

Planning Poker, what is that? When it comes to Web Development, you often hear words like Scrum, Sprint, The planning meeting is the first official event of a Sprint in the Scrum. During this meeting, that can take up to 8 hours for a 4 weeks’ sprint, the Product Owner will present the user stories in the backlog in a priority order.  A user story is the description of a software feature, written in informal and non-technical language, which should be simple enough for the clients to understand but detailed enough for the development team to be able to know what is expected from them.

The goal of the Planning Meeting is to estimate and classify the user stories by its size and determinate, considering the team velocity and capacity, which features will be delivered by the end of the Sprint.

A popular way of estimating the size and effort needed to complete a user story is using the Planning Poker, which is a gamified process that uses physical card decks, mobile apps, or even websites with representation of cards so each team member can vote for their estimates at the same time.


planning poker

A deck of cards used for planning poker will usually have numbers from the Fibonacci sequence (0, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 55, 89) or a similar simplified progression (0, ½, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 20, 40, 100). It is also common to use card with an (?) symbol to represent an unsure opinion or a that the item was not well specified and needs to be more detailed, a card with an infinity symbol, that represents an item that is too big to be completed and should be split into smaller tasks, and a card with a coffee symbol that is a request for a brief pause.  Each team member will need a full set of cards.

In the begin of the planning meeting, the team will be reminded of examples of previous items that had been done and its size. The new User Stories will be presented and should be voted using a comparative method. The team will attribute points for each user story, classifying them by their size, complexities and risks, instead of talking about actual hours needed to complete it.

After listening to the Product Owner’s description of the user story, the team will have the opportunity to ask questions and discuss the technical aspects of it. Then, each member will pick a card that corresponds to the number of points that they think best represents the size of it. All members should show their cards at the same time.

The members with the highest and the lowest estimates will then justify their choices. After the justification period, the team will vote once more to try to reach a consensus, repeating the process as needed.

The role of the Scrum Master, or the meeting moderator, is to ensure that the discussion is structured and that a consensus is reached within a reasonable time and not to have any influence in the team’s decision.

The process will repeat until the team judges that they have reached a limit of work that can be done during the Sprint, adding the points of each User Story voted. The more the team works together, the better they will know their own capacity and velocity in terms of points to Sprint.

The benefit of using the cards in the planning poker versus a spoken vote is that the first voters will not influence the opinion of the next ones, forcing all the team to understand and think independently about the tasks being proposed. This is a great opportunity for members to talk about foreseen problems associated with the tasks, that other members might not have noticed, allowing a more precise estimate.

A well conducted planning meeting will ensure that each team member knows exactly what to do to help the team reaches its goal by the end of the Sprint.