Estimation process for agile teams and group dynamics.

We have been working with remote teams since we first built our initial product, which was PlanningWith.Cards; first as a plugin for Google Hangouts (now deprecated) and then Hipchat, which was what gave us the idea to launch Scrum Poker Estimates as an app in Confluence. Most of all, we wanted to create a tool that could help teams gauge and understand the difficulty of tasks.

Estimating tasks can be a challenge for those newly formed teams and also for groups of people that are not in the same office. In this post we will write about some of the best practices for teams to better understand how we estimate in our team and some group dynamics that we apply in order to make the scrum ceremony more appealing.

The main goal, as you are starting your sprint planning, is to have everyone on board, so they can understand what the team is set out to accomplish. A big part of this is to have the stakeholders point of view, so they can provide enough feedback as what are the priorities for the customers and users of the feature/product to be released.

Estimating tasks with scrum poker.

One of the many ways to estimate is using the planning poker or scrum poker technique.There has been a long tradition of scrum masters and we need to give out a shoutout to James Grenning, author of Test Driven Development, who first described it.

It is a simple way of using cards to describe the complexity and difficulty of a task; it is accustomed to use Fibonacci, Working days or hours, T-Shirt Size or Yes/No cards while playing the scrum poker game with your team. The team can decide what the cards represent and start the discussions around each task, story or issue being estimated.

There are a couple of other methods such as No Estimates, Bucket Theory, Story Points and many more. But what each technique focuses on is that the team can agree on how difficult a task is and set expectations on what each team member will be working on to deliver a the project, feature or product on a reasonable time.

But most importantly, it will set the priorities for the issues in the backlog to be worked on, and also avoid putting extra pressure to the development team. When you play Scrum Poker the main objective is to build trust between team members in sizing the effort for each item in the backlog.

If you are doing your sprint planning and kicking off a game of scrum poker for a new team it is important to keep an eye on the following aspects:

● Spend time so that the team can estimate accurately with realistic goals and deadlines.

● An estimate is not a deadline, do not put unnecessary pressure on the team.

● As the team progresses focus on the creating a mindset in driving value to each feature.

● Define the release scope not in terms of stories, but features aligned to business objectives.

● Be adaptive to the product owner requests.

● Understand that plans change and the team needs to adjust to those new requirements.

For teams that are distributed or working remotely, we got some important aspects to consider in your next sprint planning:

● Make sure that the product owner is in the loop when estimating features, you want him to know what the team dynamic is all about.

● It is important that stakeholders define the risk in the complexity of the user stories and communicate so that each remote team member understands it.

Align team values.

For teams doing their sprint planning, it is important that they estimate around the following items:

Scope of the project; many teams just go into preparing their activities without looking deep into the impact their work will be in the clients’ or users’ business.

The solution; each individual team member needs to understand that they are solving a problem for the user and that every innovative way to deliver value can provide sustainability for the product or project.

Risk; every person knows that there are risks involved in every endeavour and software development is not an exception. But it is important that all the team knows what is at stake so they can put all their effort in making the release a success and also to estimate based on decreasing the risk of such.

Complexity; every software development project or product has it’s challenges and that is why we estimate tasks. When you are playing scrum poker you are documenting the complexity of the features being developed, you can create an historical archive of your sprint estimates.

Every scrum master and product owner has developed over time their own way of estimating. Scrum poker is just another technique that helps teams deliver estimates that can be communicated throughout an organization. So managers can document and share knowledge from more experienced developers to more junior members.

When everything is said and done, the goal is to focus on value for the users and customers, to deliver the project based on the windows of opportunity that the organizations has in their roadmap to grow and build a sustainable business.

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Claudio Cossio

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