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Planning Poker Game

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One Agile hidden principle is to shift hard, annoying, and unpleasant work to amusing game. Thus, whether is it for teaching, practicing or using Agile, playing games (also called Serious Games) is widely used to simplify these activities and make them more attractive and fanny.

Are you serious? How can you be productive while playing?

A straightforward answer is that you are more productive when you like what you are doing and when you are forced to do some task your productivity goes down. Agile professionals understand that very well and try to use it as much as possible in practice. To mention only some games that are used, we have :

  • The marshmallow challenge to teach elementary concepts for successful project;
  • The Business Value Game to practice customers and features selection techniques;
  • The Planning Poker that teams use as a technique (or game) for voting, for estimating, and for leveling feature’s or task’s understanding.

If you have ever played Poker, you would have notice that participants play in rounds using cards distributed to them. For the Planning Poker, we will keep only these two elements. -I am not qualified to show you how to play and win real poker game. But if you insist on me to do so, be sure to end up washing dishes in the casino :(-

Let take an easy example to practice this game. Suppose you, me and three other organizers are preparing a party for the next Sunday and we want to estimate how many people will show up this day. -It happens that while writing this, the next Sunday coincides with Valentine’s Day !-

To answer the estimation question, let’s do the following:

  1. Four from us (organizers) will participate and one will be a moderator
  2. We write down on cards, with the same size and color, values like: 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 45 and 50 (we suppose the number will not exceed 50). We make 4 copies of this deck one for each player.
  3. The moderator will ask the question: “how many people will attend?”
  4. The moderator will ask players to play a round by selecting a card form their deck without showing it to the others
  5. The moderator will ask players to show their cards to everybody at the same time
  6. If the values are equal, no need to go further. The game ends and the estimation is set to the common value.
  7. If the values are different (which is in general the case for the first rounds), two people with the highest and lowest values will explain why they choose their values. The moderator must keep an eye on the running time so that explanations do not exceed few minutes.
  8. The moderator will ask players to play another round as in step 4 and we continue looping until we all agree on some reasonable value for the estimation.

Wait here! if some players stick to their selected different values, this can go forever!

  1. If we don’t agree on a common value after some rounds (2 or 3 ) we can apply 1 of these 2 possibilities:
    1. Take the mean of the values as estimation, or
    2. Take the most common value (majority)

Let’s play:

Player

Round

Organizer 1 Organizer 2 Organizer 3 Organizer 4
1

 

Explanation

15

20 35

40

Talk first: Valentine’s Day, people will prefer to spend it with their beloveds. Talk after: 2 months ago, we had around 40, but I forgot about the Valentine’s Day!
2

 

Explanation

25

25

35

35

Talk after: I took in account Organizer 4 comments but I did not add that much since the proposed music is different and especially adapted to Valentine’s Day. Yet, I forgot about the bad weather! Talk first: Most people cannot travel because of the announced bad weather.
3

30

30

30

30

 

In fact, this leads us to estimate the number of attendees but more important if generates all the discussions around that helps us to have a better understanding of the party conditions.

For the planning Poker, we use a deck of cards a little bit different from the one used for our party. We prefer a nonlinear reparation of the values in order to magnify the differences.

These values are inspired for a well-known Fibonacci’s sequence defined using this formula: Un+2 = Un+1 +Un. First elements are: 0, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34….

For our Planning Poker game, we can use this sequence for example:

0 1 2 3 5 8 20 40

The selected values after 5 or 8 might vary depending on author or team. Some teams add cards with values as ½, 100 or infinity and card with “?” mark. This is to allow half value of the metric unit, to reflect a huge amount as a value or to request more explanation about what is under estimation.

PlanningPokerCards

Planning Poker Cards

Two last points regarding Planning Poker:

  • The metric unit used is defined and agreed between participants and must stay still for the whole project,
  • Using Person-Day to estimate a task duration for example might not be a good choice since it depends on the developer working on it; thus we suggest using the following technique:
    • Between all the items to estimate, select a small (but not too small ) one that everyone understand very well and set it as reference,
    • When voting, every participant gives an estimation by comparing the item being estimated to the reference one. So one might vote the card “2” to indicate that, for him, the estimation for this item is 2 times the estimation for the reference item.

Have fun … 🙂

I hope this helps,

Sif E. El Harti

Written by selharti

February 12, 2016 at 7:19 am

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