The Real Point of Planning Poker

It’s funny, you’d think, from reading about planning poker that the purpose of this exercise is to come up with accurate estimates. I think that’s missing the point.

The estimates are a useful by-product, if your organisation values such things, but actually the most important benefit you get from planning poker is the conversation. As part of the exercise, you explore the story as a team, and uncover any misunderstandings about the scope and depth of the work to be done to satisfy the story. The result of this exploration is a shared understanding of what the story means.

There are other ways to have this same conversation. My favoured practice is to hold a specification workshop where the team explores the scenarios that a user could encounter when using this new functionality. These scenarios are a much more useful product, to me, than an estimate. They give me a starting point for writing my automated acceptance tests, and they also give us all a concrete reference point as to the scope of the story. If my organisation needs estimates to be happy, we can count the number of scenarios to give a realistic feel for the relative size of the story.

Published by Matt

I write software, and love learning how to do it even better.

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  1. I understand that conversation is one of the important values of planning poker. Interestingly though, the first planning poker game ever was to cut out unneeded conversation. Two subject matter experts would not stop debating how they would implement a story, even though the time to do either was the same. After a couple hours and as many stories, I handed out cards and had people write their estimate on the card. Only when there were divergent opinions on effort did the conversation take place. We did not have to argue (discuss) how when we agreed on how much. Conversation was targeted right where we needed it. Another important aspect of PP is it gives a voice to the quiet people.


  2. That’s a really interesting story James, thanks.

    I think specification workshops are similarly effective because they stay focussed on what the software should do, rather than how we’re going to implement it. In many contexts, where each story is built out of the same kind of technology as the last, I find that the scenarios are roughly the same size.

    You’re right about giving a voice to quiet people. I also think it sends an important message to a team who’s used to having deadlines imposed upon them.

  3. agreed !!
    conversation is the key to accurately plan poker…exchanging ideas and learning from one another.

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