Planning poker—why and how we estimate

Planning poker cards
All the tools you need to become an Agile planning ninja

When creating a plan—whether it be a big project release plan or a smaller two-weeks’ timebox plan—you essentially need to know three things:

  1. Tasks —What are the requirements? What do you need to do?
  2. Size — How big are these tasks compared with one another? How long will these take to complete?
  3. Priorities — Which tasks need to be done first because others depend on them? Which tasks are most important regardless of dependencies?

It’s very much like creating a recipe: assemble the right ingredients, measure them to the correct proportions, and then mix them together in the right order.

In an Agile project the prioritisation of tasks is done by the business. It is their project after all; they have the most information about value, they understand the market, they have an idea of what features should be delivered next. Prioritisation is not a decision to be made by the development team.

The size of each task, however, is something that the development team is qualified to estimate. If I want a new wall built in my garden whose estimate should I trust more: mine (the person who commissions the work) or the builders (who do this job day-in, day-out for a living)?

When planning, we use a tool called planning poker to help estimate the relative size of tasks.

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