Anyone who’s ever managed a project or product backlog knows very well how tedious the process can be:

  • Prioritization and refinement meetings take way longer than they should
  • Too many tasks are often considered the highest priority - which is confusing
  • Certain people always gravitate towards the spotlight, while others never do

What's in here:

If only there was a way to skip the headache that comes with backlog prioritization meetings... 😑 wait a second, there is, and it’s called planning poker.

Read along to see what planning poker is, why it works, and how to play it with the team. Also, check out the video at the end for a demonstration of what a planning poker feature can do in Jira.

What is planning poker in project management?

Planning poker (also called priority poker and Scrum poker) is a technique used by agile teams to estimate or predict the effort needed to complete a task or user story. The point is for the team to align without taking much time to get there.

What are the types of planning poker?

These are common types of planning poker:

  1. Standard Planning Poker: uses a deck of cards, with a number for each card; this is the traditional/most commonly used planning poker method.
  2. T-Shirt Sizing: uses a simple numbering system like XS, S, M, L, XL.
  3. Fibonacci Planning Poker: uses the Fibonacci sequence (1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21…).
  4. Modified Fibonacci Planning Poker: similar to the Fibonacci method but more granular, with smaller numbers.
  5. Affinity Estimating: used to estimate the size of a user story by grouping it with similar stories.

The method of choice will depend on the specific needs and preferences of the team!

Planning poker types: standard, t-shirt sizing, fibonacci, modified fibonacci, affinity estimating
Types of planning poker

How does a planning poker session go?

In a Planning poker session, every team member assigns a value (or holds a card) to represent the estimated effort they believe is required to finish a certain task.

Once everyone has “voted”, the reveal is done, which brings us to an unbiased consensus when it comes to the effort required. The goal is to arrive at a shared understanding of the complexity of the task, with everyone aligned on the level of effort required to complete it.

For more on planning poker and how beneficial it is for prioritizing with the team, here’s a good article.

Who invented planning poker?

Planning poker was invented by James Grenning, a software development consultant and co-creator of the Agile Manifesto, apparently after a particularly slow meeting. The method was then made popular by Mountain Goat Software’s Mike Cohn, a founding member of the Agile Alliance.

Ok.. so, planning poker was first introduced in 2002 and most agile teams use it today, but it's fair to say that the concept itself goes back to the Delphi method developed in the 1950s.

How to do planning poker?

Planning poker works like this:

  1. Define the task: the team defines the task they’re going to estimate; could be a user story or a product feature.
  2. Explain it: the person who proposed the task explains it to the team, to make sure everyone understands what needs to be done.
  3. The team estimates: each team member estimates the effort it will take to complete the task.
  4. Reveal and discuss: team members reveal their estimates simultaneously, then outliers are discussed and misunderstandings resolved.
  5. Reach consensus: the team agrees on the estimated effort required to complete the task.
  6. Record it: the estimate is recorded and the team moves on to the next task.

The goal of planning poker is to arrive at a shared understanding of the complexity of a task, and alignment on the level of effort required to complete it.

Planning poker includes 6 steps
There are 6 steps to a planning poker game

Why does planning poker work?

Planning poker works because it deals with the challenges of estimating work as a team by helping:

Beat bias

Planning poker helps avoid something called anchoring bias (where the first estimate can influence others) by making everyone estimate independently.

Improve communication

Planning poker encourages discussion amongst the team, which helps showcase misunderstandings from the get-go.

Align on effort

Once the team has agreed on the estimated effort required to complete a task, it’s smooth sailing from there.

Give a common reference

The use of a common set of values in planning poker helps team members understand each other’s estimates, to reach an agreement; it acts as a reference.

Planning poker helps improve team accuracy when making estimates, which means better project planning and delivery! If you’re interested in inclusive prioritization, here’s a blueprint on how to decentralize decision-making with data.

Why do we use planning poker?
How planning poker helps

How do we use planning poker in software development?

We use planning poker quite a bit in software development to:

Estimate user stories

Which is the most common use of planning poker; here’s for more on user stories.

Estimate dev tasks

You can estimate the effort required to complete tasks like coding, testing and documentation.

Prioritize features

Planning poker is often used to prioritize features or backlog items by assigning story points/data metrics and scoring; this is helpful for understanding story points.

Size backlog items

The team can use planning poker to size the items in a product backlog; it helps everyone understand what is what so they know what to address first.

Improve accuracy

Use planning poker to improve the accuracy of estimates, given that it promotes discussion and understanding amongst team members.

Software developers use planning poker to
Planning poker in software development

How to use planning poker in Jira?

Priority poker can help you make sense of your Jira backlog prioritization quite a bit. In this video, you'll see how to run a planning poker online session with your team in Jira. For this, Nikki's using Foxly's planning poker feature to prioritize her backlog in Jira Cloud.