Planning Poker Technique

What is Poker Technique

It seems so interesting how the idea of a game can be weaved into a technical terminology. Poker is one such term. Planning poker is an estimation technique used in agile methodology. It has its origin from an old estimation methodology known as Delphi method(an estimation technique for sales and marketing). It is an approach where a group of experts assimilate to analyse the size of project goals to be accomplished. Just like in a game of poker, where the cards are faced down and the numbers are not spoken by any member, they reveal it when its their chance. Planning poker technique follows the same ideology. Individuals contribute their ideas that generates a consensus based conclusion.

Anatomy of poker technique :

A deck of cards is placed in the centre of the table. A numeric metric is used so that an estimation could be made in quantifiable terms. Many approaches are available to implement the poker strategy– numeric sizing(1 to 10), t-shirt sizes(xs,s,m,l,xl,xxl) , fibonacci sequence(1,2,3,5,8...). The onus of choosing a specific methodology lies on the person heading the team, often termed as a facilitator, chooses a method that best serves the purpose. So, a metric is chosen by the facilitator, in the form of a quantity representing, say, number of days, to complete the task. Poker planning begins somewhat like this.

poker planning

The facilitator disseminates the information to the team members, with respect to the software component in consideration. Each person selects a card from the deck. When the last card is chosen from the deck, the facilitator initiates revelation of all the cards. One by one every member starts disclosing their cards. This way a decision is made, based on the metric chosen and an estimate is made regarding the establishment of the mission to be achieved. The T-shirt method is appropriate when the parameters have to be set in terms of hours of working and so on. The estimation process is repeated unless a final conclusion is made.

Types of Cards :

  • The ZERO card:This card is marked with 0 symbol. It means not much work is involved in that work.
  • The QUESTION Mark card:This card is shown when any member has no clue of what to estimate. In such a scenario, the work is discussed further and re-voting is done.
  • The INFINITY card:This signifies that the story under consideration is so big that it does not seem feasible to implement , hence further clarification is needed of how things should proceed in the right direction.

Benefits :

  • As the activity is carried out by experts, usually the estimations are quite accurate.
  • A controlled environment of work is established, measured in quantifiable terms.
  • Offers a result oriented approach.

Challenges faced during Poker Planning Technique : :

  • Productive Discussions :Time is precious, hence the time allocated to planning should be decided prior setting up the discussion.
  • Divide the whole session into smaller sub-sessions :There may be possibilities that the planning poker technique is adopted in iterations. When a new project begins, there has to be frequent discussions regarding the execution of the project. Hence the overall plan should be divided in sub-parts.
  • Deciding the time to be allocated for every iteration :Further the time division has to be made to each subset of discussion.

Idea behind Poker Planning :

The ideology that underlies a poker planning technique in the context of Agile estimation, is to collaborate views, ideas, opinions of people from different areas, and sum up each. This helps to deliver the project within the right time by applying the right approach.

More people + More ideas= Effective estimation plan

Everything on this planet which seems to offer an edge over their counterparts, has their share of disadvantages also. Let's have a look at the demerits hidden in poker planning technique.

Demerits :

  • Although a team effort is what it takes to execute a poker planning, there are few things that are often overlooked. The experts share their individual experiences, so the consensus formed tends to have a limited span. It means that often some or the other aspect of the software development process is compromised, that is , a domain specific vision- designing, programming, testing etc. Basically a person's knowledge is confined to a specific domain, hence the niceties pertaining to each domain is not heeded much attention.
  • Often a product backlog is prepared to prioritize entries by the team. The product owner needs to assess how difficult it is to realise a task. It may happen that the same backlog is handed over to some other agile testing team, which may pose a problem, because the estimations may vary from one project to another.
  • What needs to be estimated, has to be clearly defined, else the scope of estimation may remain void somewhere.

Conclusion :

The planning poker technique lays a robust foundation for building an application in planned and quantifiable terms. Interestingly, the technique acts as a recreation activity, the team members have a candid conversation and thus get a chance to plan a project playfully, which may otherwise turn out to be a burdensome task. It is thus the most efficient estimation technique.