The Definitive Guide to Planning Poker - Master Agile Estimation Techniques in 2024

Unlock the power of Planning Poker in Agile development. Learn techniques, benefits, and best practices for accurate story point estimation. Improve your team's productivity with our comprehensive guide to Planning Poker.

Gergely Bihary

Last updated: Jul 7, 2024
People in a meeting room

Planning Poker has become an essential tool in the Agile practitioner's toolkit. Whether you're new to Agile methodologies or a seasoned Scrum Master, understanding and effectively implementing Planning Poker can significantly improve your team's estimation accuracy and overall project success. In this comprehensive guide, we'll explore everything you need to know about Planning Poker, from its basic concepts to advanced techniques and best practices.

1. Introduction to Planning Poker

Planning Poker, also known as Scrum Poker, is a consensus-based estimation technique used primarily in Agile software development. It was first described by James Grenning in 2002 and later popularized by Mike Cohn in his book "Agile Estimating and Planning."

The primary goal of Planning Poker is to estimate the relative effort or complexity of user stories or tasks within a project. By leveraging the collective wisdom of the team and encouraging discussion, Planning Poker helps create more accurate estimates while fostering collaboration and shared understanding.

This technique is particularly valuable because it combines expert opinion, team collaboration, and comparative analysis to arrive at estimates. Unlike traditional estimation methods, Planning Poker actively involves all team members, ensuring that different perspectives and areas of expertise are considered.

2. How Planning Poker Works

The Planning Poker process is straightforward but effective. Here's a step-by-step breakdown:

  1. The Product Owner or facilitator presents a user story or task to the team.
  2. Team members discuss the story, asking questions to clarify requirements and scope.
  3. Each team member privately selects a card representing their estimate.
  4. All team members reveal their cards simultaneously.
  5. If there's a significant discrepancy in estimates, team members discuss their reasoning.
  6. Steps 3-5 are repeated until the team reaches a consensus.

Planning Poker typically uses a modified Fibonacci sequence for estimation: 0, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 20, 40, and 100. Some teams also include a '?' card for unknowns and an '∞' card for items that are too large to estimate.

The Fibonacci sequence is preferred because it reflects the inherent uncertainty in estimating: as items get larger, the uncertainty increases. The larger gaps between numbers force estimators to make more meaningful distinctions between relative sizes of items.

3. Benefits of Using Planning Poker

Implementing Planning Poker in your Agile process offers numerous advantages:

  1. Improved Estimation Accuracy: By combining multiple perspectives, Planning Poker often leads to more accurate estimates than individual estimations. The collaborative nature of the process allows for a more comprehensive understanding of the task at hand.

  2. Enhanced Team Collaboration: The process encourages open discussion and knowledge sharing among team members. This not only improves estimates but also builds team cohesion and shared understanding of the project.

  3. Mitigation of Cognitive Biases: Planning Poker helps reduce common biases such as anchoring, groupthink, and the bandwagon effect. The simultaneous reveal of estimates prevents team members from being unduly influenced by others' opinions.

  4. Increased Engagement: Team members feel more involved in the estimation process, leading to higher buy-in and commitment. This sense of ownership can translate into increased motivation during project execution.

  5. Better Understanding of Requirements: Discussions during Planning Poker often uncover hidden complexities or assumptions in user stories. This leads to more refined and well-understood requirements before work begins.

  6. Improved Communication: The technique fosters better communication between developers, testers, and business stakeholders. It provides a structured format for discussing project details and potential challenges.

4. Common Variations of Planning Poker

While the modified Fibonacci sequence is the most common, several variations of Planning Poker exist:

  1. Traditional Fibonacci Sequence: Some teams prefer using the standard Fibonacci numbers (1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, etc.). This provides a more granular scale for smaller items but can become unwieldy for larger estimates.

  2. T-Shirt Sizes: This method uses sizes like XS, S, M, L, XL for estimation, which can be easier for non-technical stakeholders to understand. It's particularly useful for high-level, initial estimates or when working with business teams unfamiliar with story points.

  3. Powers of 2: Using 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, etc., can be useful for teams that prefer a wider range of options. This scale provides a clear distinction between each level and can be helpful for teams dealing with a broad range of task sizes.

  4. Three-Point Estimation: This variation involves estimating best-case, worst-case, and most likely scenarios for each item. It provides a more nuanced view of the potential effort involved and can be particularly useful for tasks with high uncertainty.

  5. Custom Scales: Some teams create their own scales based on their specific needs. For example, a scale of 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 20, 40, 100 combines elements of Fibonacci and powers of 2.

5. Tools and Software for Planning Poker

While Planning Poker can be conducted with physical cards, many teams, especially those working remotely, opt for digital solutions. Some popular tools include:

  1. A web-based tool that integrates with popular project management and video conferencing platforms.

  2. Jira: Offers integrations to facilitate Planning Poker for teams already using the Atlassian suite.

  3. Trello Power-Ups: Various Trello add-ons provide Planning Poker functionality, allowing teams to estimate directly within their Trello boards.

  4. Dedicated mobile apps: Several apps are available for both iOS and Android devices, enabling teams to conduct Planning Poker sessions on the go.

  5. Zoom or Microsoft Teams with integrated apps: Many video conferencing tools now offer integrated Planning Poker apps, facilitating remote estimation sessions.

When choosing a tool, consider factors such as ease of use, integration capabilities with your existing project management tools, support for your team's specific estimation method, and features for remote collaboration.

6. Best Practices for Effective Planning Poker Sessions

To get the most out of your Planning Poker sessions, consider these best practices:

  1. Prepare Adequately: Ensure all stories are well-defined and that the Product Owner is ready to clarify any questions. Send out the list of items to be estimated in advance, allowing team members to familiarize themselves with the stories.

  2. Set Clear Ground Rules: Establish guidelines for discussion, time limits, and how consensus will be determined. For example, you might decide that if estimates are within two adjacent cards, you'll use the higher estimate without further discussion.

  3. Encourage Participation: Make sure all team members feel comfortable sharing their opinions and asking questions. Create an environment where everyone's input is valued, regardless of their role or experience level.

  4. Focus on Relative Sizing: Emphasize that estimates are relative to each other, not absolute time predictions. Encourage team members to think in terms of complexity and effort rather than hours or days.

  5. Use Reference Stories: Keep a few well-understood stories as benchmarks for comparison. These reference stories can help calibrate estimates across different sessions and team members.

  6. Timebox Discussions: Prevent prolonged debates by setting time limits for each round of estimation. A common practice is to limit initial discussions to 2-3 minutes per item.

  7. Document Assumptions: Record any assumptions or clarifications made during the session for future reference. This can be invaluable when revisiting estimates or during sprint planning.

  8. Rotate the Facilitator: Consider rotating the role of facilitator among team members. This helps maintain engagement and provides different perspectives on how to run the session.

  9. Review and Adapt: Regularly review the effectiveness of your Planning Poker sessions and be willing to adapt your process. What works for one team may not work for another.

7. Planning Poker for Remote Teams

With the rise of distributed teams, conducting effective Planning Poker sessions remotely has become increasingly important. Here are some tips for virtual Planning Poker:

  1. Use Video Conferencing: Seeing team members' faces can improve communication and engagement. Tools like Zoom, Google Meet, or Microsoft Teams can facilitate face-to-face interactions.

  2. Leverage Digital Tools: Utilize online Planning Poker platforms that integrate with your video conferencing software. This reduces the friction of estimating, as the Planning Poker session will be visible within the video conferencing app.

  3. Establish Clear Communication Protocols: Define how team members should indicate they want to speak or ask questions. This could be through a chat function, a raised hand feature, or a agreed-upon verbal cue.

  4. Use Screen Sharing: Share the backlog or user stories on screen to keep everyone focused. This ensures all team members are looking at the same information during discussions.

  5. Consider Asynchronous Estimation: For teams across multiple time zones, consider using tools that allow for asynchronous voting and discussion. This can be particularly useful for initial rounds of estimation.

  6. Encourage Active Participation: In a remote setting, it's easier for some team members to become passive observers. Actively encourage participation from all team members, perhaps by doing a round-robin for initial thoughts on each item.

  7. Use Breakout Rooms: For larger teams, consider using breakout rooms for smaller group discussions before bringing everyone back together for final estimation.

  8. Have a Dedicated Facilitator: In remote sessions, a skilled facilitator becomes even more important to keep the session on track, manage time, and ensure all voices are heard.

8. Integrating Planning Poker with Other Agile Practices

Planning Poker doesn't exist in isolation. It's most effective when integrated with other Agile practices:

  1. Sprint Planning: Use Planning Poker to estimate items for the upcoming sprint, helping to determine sprint capacity. The estimates can inform decisions about which items to include in the sprint backlog.

  2. Backlog Refinement: Incorporate Planning Poker into regular backlog grooming sessions to keep estimates up-to-date. This ensures that the product backlog is always prioritized and estimated, facilitating smoother sprint planning.

  3. Continuous Improvement: Use insights from Planning Poker sessions to inform retrospectives and improve future estimations. Analyze the accuracy of past estimates to refine your estimation process over time.

  4. Release Planning: Leverage estimates from Planning Poker to help forecast release dates and plan product roadmaps. While individual sprint estimates may vary, the aggregate of these estimates can provide valuable insights for longer-term planning.

  5. Team Onboarding: Use Planning Poker as a tool to help new team members understand the project and the team's estimation process. It can be a great way to get new members engaged and contributing quickly.

  6. Cross-team Calibration: For organizations with multiple teams working on related projects, Planning Poker can be used as a calibration tool to ensure consistency in estimation across teams.

9. Measuring the Success of Planning Poker

To ensure your Planning Poker sessions are effective, consider tracking these metrics:

  1. Estimation Accuracy: Compare estimated story points to actual effort expended. This can be done by tracking the number of story points completed in each sprint versus the number planned.

  2. Sprint Velocity Consistency: Monitor how consistent your team's velocity is from sprint to sprint. While some variation is normal, wild fluctuations might indicate issues with the estimation process.

  3. Time Spent on Estimation: Track how long your Planning Poker sessions take and aim to optimize efficiency. Long sessions might indicate a need to refine the process or improve story preparation.

  4. Team Satisfaction: Regularly gather feedback from team members about the estimation process. This could be done through surveys or as part of sprint retrospectives.

  5. Number of Estimation Rounds: Keep track of how many rounds of voting it typically takes to reach consensus. A high number might indicate a need for better story preparation or more effective facilitation.

  6. Correlation Between Estimates and Business Value: Over time, analyze whether higher point estimates correlate with higher business value delivery. This can help in prioritizing the product backlog.

Remember, the goal is continuous improvement. Use these metrics to identify areas for refinement in your Planning Poker process, always keeping in mind that the ultimate aim is to deliver value to the customer more effectively.


Planning Poker is more than just a estimation technique; it's a powerful tool for fostering collaboration, improving project predictability, and enhancing team dynamics. By understanding its principles, following best practices, and continually refining your approach, you can leverage Planning Poker to drive success in your Agile projects.

Remember, the key to effective Planning Poker lies not just in the technique itself, but in how well your team embraces its collaborative spirit. Encourage open discussion, value diverse perspectives, and always strive for continuous improvement. With practice and persistence, Planning Poker can become an invaluable asset in your Agile toolkit.

Whether you're just starting with Planning Poker or looking to optimize your existing process, the principles and practices outlined in this guide will help you and your team estimate more accurately, collaborate more effectively, and ultimately deliver better results.