When is the perfect time to play Planning Poker?

by Sampath Prahalad

Question: When is the right time to estimate the User stories in the Product backlog?

Answer: User story estimations are usually taken up during Sprint planning. To know the planning poker process involved, refer to ‘Estimating using Planning Poker’. The good thing of doing the estimations just at the beginning of the Sprint is that the Product Owner knows exactly which user story is urgent and important to be taken up at that point of time. However, the flip side is that there is pressure (and good amount of monotony) on the delivery team to complete the estimation and then perform task break up and task assignments within the small planning window. There is a tendency of the planning window becoming big and eating into the actual implementation time of the Sprint.

So then, what is the solution to this?

The solution is to make the User story estimation meeting a short recurring one and not tie it to the Sprint planning session.

Here is how it works.

The Scrum master sets up a recurring meeting (1 hour every 2 weeks is good enough) for User story estimations. The meeting is strictly time boxed and attended by the Product owner, Scrum Master and the delivery team members. The rest of the procedure is the same as the one above. The Owner presents the user story and describes it. The delivery team understands it, asks questions and then picks up a number that represents the complexity.

This way, we estimate the user stories before they are slotted up for a Sprint.

This means that, when we actually come to Sprint planning, the already estimated user stories are pulled into the Sprint and the delivery team goes ahead with task break up and task assignment.

The advantage of taking this approach are the below.

·         The important user stories are estimated when we start the Sprint.

·         The Product owner knows the complexity and is able to decide on the user stories for the Sprint before the Sprint planning meeting.

·         The delivery team has already discussed the User story and is very well aware of it.

·         The delivery team can dive right away into task break up and assignments for the selected user stories. There is no pressure and monotony of a single long meeting that combines estimation and task breakup.

The disadvantage?

·         The owner and delivery team might end up estimating for a one or two user stories that might not be taken up in the next couple of Sprints.

 have seen this approach working in a couple of teams and am waiting to take it to other teams.

I would love to hear what you think. Feel free to leave comments.

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