Planning Poker on Tour

Eight weeks Agile and planning poker is taking over my life

For the uninitiated planning poker is a method of estimating user requirements (stories). An example story might be 'As a marketer I want a form on the website so that I can start capturing customer feedback'. A story is presented for estimation and discussed by a team of developers without anyone mentioning how much time they think it will take, the focus is purely on the work that needs to be done. Each developer then picks a card from their pack that represents their opinion of the size of a story. All estimates are kept private until each participant has chosen a card. At that time, all estimates are revealed and discussion restarts until agreement of a story point value is reached.

I've been part of quite a few of these sessions now involving playing cards or fingers for estimating. I understood the concept of estimating without being swayed by others but the power of it didn't really hit home until I tried using the principle on a night out.

So on Saturday night at a restaurant with friends we were faced with an important decision. Where should the night take us?

  1. Home
  2. Bar
  3. Club

We had been discussing our options and what people wanted to do for about 15 minutes and faced the usual group decision problems. The “I'm happy to do what everyone else wants to do” cop out was being wheeled out by most and no one had actually put forward an opinion. So empowered by Prosecco, I announced the three options, gave each option a specific digit and started the familiar paper, scissors, stone count down.

The results …

Three votes for option three and one abstained (think I should have explained the rules a couple more times!)

If we hadn't have played planning poker we would almost definitely have gone for options 1 or 2. How do I know this? Because no one wanted to make a decision and no-one wanted to admit that they were happy to stay out later in case others weren't.


In any environment whether that be at home or at work there are always going to be personalities who are happy to jump straight in with their opinions and others who like to think about the options quietly before entering into the discussion.

Planning poker gives everyone the opportunity to have their voice heard even if they don't take much part in the original conversation. If the cards turn and reveal wildly different values this is discussed to find out why someone thinks something is a big job and someone else doesn't. For a customer this means more accurate quotes and innovative thinking stemming from the group discussion. This hopefully eliminates some of the surprises that can crop up in development as everything has been thoroughly considered and agreed by developers before work starts. It also finds the middle ground in a world filled with optimists and pessimists.

Put simply, you are more likely to say what you really think if no one has told you what they think first.

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