Planning Poker: One Tool to Better Estimate Task Durations

David - About Business - September 18, 2020

So you're telling me that you can't properly estimate your task durations as a team? Too late? Too early? Feeling anxious about having to plan yet another task?

In this article, I'll give you the proper solution and tool to transform the way you estimate task durations as a team. It's called planning poker, and I'll tell you how to implement and use it to enhance your estimations and better manage your time.

Planning Poker: One Tool to Better Estimate Task Durations - Illustration - Picture

How to Make Your Own Planning Poker

This is a step-by-step guide to crafting your own planning poker:

  1. Take one sheet of paper per member of the team, and cut 10 rectangular cards out of each sheet. If you use fewer cards, your estimates will be less accurate. Conversely, using more cards will help you be more accurate.

  2. According to the number of cards you've cut, list the most common durations (in business days) that your tasks take. Here's a one-size-fits-all list that you can use almost every time: "1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 20, 40, 100, ?".

  3. Fine-tune your list so it better represents the way you work and the time you spend. For instance, the cards "40" and "100" might be useless in your case if you don't like to plan tasks too early.

  4. Don't forget to make the "?" card. It stands for "I don't know". It's good to know when the members of a team can't tell how long a task will take. It points out potential flaws and lacks of information within the project.

Follow these simple steps, and within a few minutes you'll have a full-fledged, homemade, ready-to-use planning poker for your team.

Planning Poker: One Tool to Better Estimate Task Durations - Illustration - Picture

How to Use Your Planning Poker

Let's see how to use this powerful tool to better assess task durations using the whole team's brain:

  1. Gather every member of the team together, and sit down.

  2. Distribute each (identical) set of cards to each and every member.

  3. Get the list of tasks that your team much achieve.

  4. Take the first task, and announce it to the team. Then wait a minute so everyone can think about it and determine the time it will supposedly take.

  5. When everyone's ready, throw all your cards at the same time in the middle so everyone can see.

  6. Eventually, discuss the task durations that were chosen, and make a decision together to pick the fairest and most accurate estimate.

  7. Move on to the next task, and go back to step 4 until all your tasks were reviewed by your team.

As a general rule of thumb, when there's a conflict between two or more estimates, you'd better always pick the longest task duration that was proposed. It's fine to be ahead of time, and it feels good actually. Yet being late for delivery is extremely frustrating and stressful for everyone in the room.

Planning Poker: One Tool to Better Estimate Task Durations - Illustration - Picture

What Makes Planning Poker So Handy

Planning poker is extremely powerful for many reasons:

  • It gives a voice to each and every member of the team.

  • It's influence-proof: It means that each member of the team can express their own opinion without being influenced by others.

  • It's food for thought: In other words, it generates debates and discussions so all the people in your team discuss and tell one another what's the rationale behind their estimate.

  • It gives you another perspective on your team: At the end of a planning poker session, you can quickly tell who's confident about the project, and who's not. You can also tell who's blazing-fast, and who's not. Beyond the tasks themselves, planning poker helps you better know who you work with.

All in all, planning poker is a good way to plan ahead together. It's not widely known, but it's useful, easy to use, and not so time-consuming compared to other traditional planning approaches.

Planning Poker: One Tool to Better Estimate Task Durations - Illustration - Picture

What Makes a Good Business Tool

In my opinion, a business tool that's effective has these qualities:

  • It helps you stop wasting time.

  • It helps you make better decisions.

  • It helps you know your team and colleagues better.

  • It helps you optimize your time, and the way you work (a.k.a your processes).

According to me, planning poker's got all these qualities.

Back to you, what's your opinion? Have you ever used planning poker? Do you know any other practical and powerful tool for business?

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