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How to play planning poker remotely

How to play planning poker remotely

Business leaders are perfecting their pivots, sending companies in new pandemic compatible directions. It is worth taking a moment to get ready for the inevitable flood of new planning, sizing, costing and estimating that is just around the corner.

Games of Estimation Poker (or Scrum Poker or Planning Poker, as you prefer) are a staple part of life in the office of any agile team. Getting these processes back up and running - and running at full speed - is a simple step you can take to help support your teams at this time.

Working on a technical team at the very start of lockdown I saw how we estimated the last stories of our old initiatives via video link. Teams were hesitant and bogged down in details - do they wave fingers at the camera, shout out estimates, use a tool, or revert to text chat?

All of these have issues:

  • Waving fingers is difficult to sustain and it is inevitable that some users fingers will wonder off the screen making it hard to record and communicate the result. Contrast can be an issue when skin tone matches clothing.
  • Shouting out estimates leaves everyone talking over each other - impossible on a video call - or else influencing each others results. That undermines the value of the gaming format.
  • Reverting to text is clunky and breaks everyone's flow. Some users will have more or less screen real-estate at home, with some monitors still trapped in offices. This creates an unequal experience and more complexity.
  • Screen real estate issues also affect online tools, but there is the added issue that if team members are looking at a tool they are not looking at each others faces..

Seeing this in action, we were ready to start a pivot at Agile Stationery. We're now shipping decks of single player Estimation Poker decks. Our hope is that bright high-contrast cards with a visible edge are easier to pick up on video compared to fingers. We feel it will also be easier to keep them waving while everyone takes in the results and keeps a note.

The obvious continuity with the prior real-life experiences is also a welcome relief from the constant imposition of new lifestyle changes.

To ensure you are ready for retros and sizing sessions, we're also bundling T-Shirt Size and Traffic Light cards into the same decks and calling them Virtual Agile Ritual Cards. A single deck of these means one remote worker can:

- give a points score between 1 and 21 on the Fibonacci scale
- answer yes / no to a question
- give a red / amber / green rating
- select a small / medium / large size

We've produced these specially on thicker more durable cards, since we feel there is less of a need for them to be compact. They come in sets made for a single player and if you select "Multiple Addresses" when adding to cart then a human being will phone you to get the decks shipped directly to your team at their homes, saving you from a trip to the post-office.

In fact, we now offer the option to split any deck in our range and organise shipping directly to your team. Just get in touch and speak to one of our awesome human beings.


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