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What is Planning Poker?

Posted by Chris Adams

Article Rating // 34148 Views // 0 Additional Answers & Comments

Categories: Business Analysis, Systems Analysis, Agile Methods, Project Management, Business Analysis Planning (BABOK KA)


Planning Poker is a consensus-based technique for estimating effort.  It is primarily used in agile development to estimate the size of user stories, but can be equally as powerful for estimating effort of key tasks in a project plan using a traditional work breakdown structure.
In Planning Poker, each person involved in the estimation process will submit an estimate with all estimators revealing their estimates at the same time.  This is one of the primary benefits of the Planning Poker technique -- it avoids anchoring which occurs when one estimator knows the estimate given by another.  If each estimator overhears another estimated a feature at 3 story-points this could have an impact on the other estimates, even if only subconsciously.
Planning Poker got its name from the use of playing cards within the estimation process.  It’s intended to add a fun spin to the estimation process.  While it began with a simple deck of playing cards, other variations of card decks have been created over time.
Using a standard deck of cards, each estimator is given an Ace, 2, 3, 5, 8, and King. These correspond to either the story points needed to complete the development of a particular user story (agile) or the estimate of hours or days required to complete a task (traditional work breakdown structure).  A King represents 13, or in some cases, the need to break a user story into smaller user stories.  Units of effort (story points, hours, days) are determined ahead of time.

Here are the steps used in the Planning Poker process. It assumes that the estimation process is occurring with everyone present in the same location, but with minor changes the process can be performed in a distributed manner.

  • A moderator chairs the meeting to ensure that each member adheres to the guidelines
  • A product manager or similar team leader provides an overview of the feature set or user story that is to be estimated.  The team can ask clarifying questions about assumptions and risks. However, there should be no mention of numbers that might indicate the specific amount of effort a feature will take in order to avoid anchoring.  A summary of the discussion is recorded.
  • Each person involved in the estimation process will determine how much effort is required and lay a card face down in front of them reflecting that estimate. Then everyone turns their cards over simultaneously.
  • Those who have significantly higher or lower estimates are given the chance to justify the estimate.
  • The process repeats until all estimates converge around the same value.  A timer can be used to ensure that each round of estimation doesn’t take too long.


Chris Adams
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Do your homework prior to the business analysis interview!

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