Agile planning poker with remote teams

Anyone that has been working in agile software development has undoubtedly used some form or planning poker.  A common standard is to have sizing meetings with the team, and in these meetings the team comes together and measures the complexity of a unit of work commonly referred to as a user story.

During these meetings, the team will commonly use what is referred to as the Fibonacci sequence to rate the complexity of the unit of work to be done.  Some people will by default try to tie this back into hours to complete the story.  Please understand that this is not the purpose of this exercise.  The team should rate each story for the level of complexity to complete.  Some people will even discuss and agree on a comparison sheet in that they will look back at completed work items and say an example of a “3” would be a particular user story, an example of a “5” would be this, and so forth for each of the ratings.Another common track I have found is that developers will want to give a dev rating, and qa will want to give only their rating.  Try to work past this and talk through the ratings.  This helps the entire team understand the effort and complexity of the work to be done.  Again, the rating is for all the work and not just one part.

Now that I’ve given a quick overview of the sizing meeting, lets discuss the concept of group thought and why planning poker cards are important.  In my experience I have seen groups be slow to respond with a size and others that will sway because of perhaps a more senior team member being in the room.  As one can guess, this can alter a person’s perception of the complexity and deters additional conversation regarding the work.  So while the senior team member may have a lot of knowledge, that one detail that another member has that may make a difference would end up not being discussed.  As you can guess, this is clearly not a good thing.

Planning Poker Cards

To help reduce the possibility of group thought during these sizing meetings, we employ the use of planning poker cards.  Essentially, the team will discuss the work, and then in private they will pick a card from their poker deck for the work.  Once everyone has picked a card, everyone will flip their card over and reveal their sizing at the same time.  While this method seems overly simple, the chances of group thought is greatly reduced and thus the team should see a more accurate sizing for their work items going forward.

While this process works great for teams that are co-located, the process does seem to fall apart somewhat when you are working with remote associates.  Mainly being because you do not have a way to display everyone’s votes at exactly the same time.  If over a phone line, by the time you get person three to give their vote, you have already introduced the possibility of group thought.  Because of this, I have been searching for online tools that may be able to get us past this scenario.  As you can guess, this not necessarily a very complex requirement for a tool and having a minimalistic approach to the tool would actually be helpful.  When using an online tool, obviously we do not want to give any details or anything that would expose the company or our work.  So given this, the need is a simple application that will show a person’s name, whether they have voted, and then give the ability to display all the votes at the same time.  After searching for some time, finally stumbled across a tool at

The Interface

The tool appears to be free, and has the basic functionality that is needed to make this work for a remote team.  Once a pointing session is created, you simply share the link with your team members to bring up in a browser.  When the link is loaded, it will ask for the person’s name which is very generic.  Once they are in, you can cast a vote during your discussion and then once the discussion is done, any user can click to display the votes from all the members. By doing this, the votes are displayed to all members at the same time. This finally gets us out of the group thought issue and has already started many more discussions in just one use then we have had previously.  This is a quick and easy tool to use and would suggest it for anyone that is facing the same challenges.



~ The Redneck Coder


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