Planning Poker or Scrum Poker is a technique used in Scrum for estimating user stories. If you are co-located, you can use a special deck of poker planning cards, but the more handy way for modern programmers can be to use online tools. We needed to find a suitable solution for our scrum team, so I did some research you can read about below.
Planning poker is the tool that has the best SEO out of all the other ones. Probably because it was the first one to appear, and their trademark is reserved.
Naturally, it was the first website I turned to when I was looking for the right tool for my team.
Unfortunately, I had to register, which means that I needed to create one more password-to-forget. Without logging in I couldn’t use it. I shuddered at a thought that I needed to ask all my team members to register first. They were already complaining about having to register for Jira, Screenhero and other tools we were using.
Second thing is that when you create a game, you have to fill out so many fields, like game name, description, team velocity (what for?), sharing options, voting options, and many other things I don’t really care of. The game name is mandatory, other fields are all optional, but when I click “Next”, it says that the story description is mandatory, too.
Now, we don’t really need to fill out the story description in our team. We just need the virtual tool to vote and move on to the next story. Planning Poker seems to be a huge truck offered to somebody who needs a bicycle.
It offers you a history of voting, you can reuse the games you played in the past. It also has an in-built timer. You have numerous settings, specifying whether you’d like to flip cards after the voting ends, or on command, whether you’d like to vote or to be a spectator, whether you’d like to calculate the score, etc. It works in Chrome and Firefox, but not in Safari.
Planning Poker seems to be a good solution if a story sizing is happening for each team member at a different time. A scrum master would enter all the story descriptions, queue them up and give the team the homework to size stories whenever they have time.
In our team we do the story sizing simultaneously while sitting next to each other in the room or being on the call and sharing a screen, so we don’t need to enter story descriptions as we see them directly in a project management tool (we use Jira).
The tool is free for up to 10 players per game. Which is strange, because a scrum team is designed to have less than 10 people. Why would you want to have more than 10 team members sizing?
Conclusion: Planning Poker offers robust functionality, but for a quick simultaneous story estimation it’s pretty much over-engineered.
Pointing Poker requires no registration, which is great. It’s free and supports voluntary donations. It’s simple, gives you as much functionality as you need to size the story, and the story description field is non-intrusive. Sizing timer is also present, though we never use it, as we start voting only when the whole team is ready and the voting is instantaneous.
But it has one “but”. Which, actually, prevented us from using it one single time. Once you vote, you immediately see everyone else’s vote. Which is fine, but you are not simply able to see it, you are able to change your vote and the stats will automatically update.
Planning poker was invented because people needed to find a way to express opinions without being influenced. That’s why we show cards post factum. And it’s not about trust, it’s about psychology. Even smallest hint can influence some people, so that they forget their initial considerations and decide to go with the majority. For some people defending their point of view can be a bit unpleasant and, if they are given a backdoor in a form of a vote change, they would use it. This makes it almost impossible for a scrum master to detect this behaviour.
Conclusion: Pointing Poker is a simple and free tool. However, it has one big “but”: one can change their vote after they saw everybody else’s votes.
This tool looks nice and it’s free. PlanItPoker requires registration, but you can also use your Facebook, Google, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts. This removes some unwanted barriers. Though, I know, many programmers are not really fans of social networks.
There are big two “buts”. As in the previous example, you can change your vote when you see everybody else’s votes. Not good! Next “but” is that you must vote as a moderator. In our team, I am sure, like in many other teams, scrum master doesn’t vote. So, it means that the room needs to be created by a developer and you as a scrum master can’t actually see how your team had voted. Quite a blocker.
Connected to the last issue, you can’t stop the voting if one of your players didn’t vote. This is not very user-friendly, as different things may happen, such as an internet connection may be lost for one player, or their browser can hang, or their VPN client may stop working. It happened for us a couple of times. So, to continue voting, you have to go to the home page, create another room and send a URL to everybody one more time.
Apart from these sad facts, you have a history of your voting on your profile, you have a timer. It’s funny that there is stats on the fastest and slowest player for each of the rooms. I personally don’t like that. There is no need to foster competition about such an low importance matter. It can make slower players feel upset for really no reason.
Conclusion: simple enough to use, but has several usability and functionality “buts”. Two biggest “buts” are that one can change their vote after they saw everyone else’s votes and a it’s mandatory to vote for a moderator.
4. Voting Poker
Voting Poker is the simplest tool out of four and it’s free. It requires no registration, no mandatory filling out of a story name or a story description.
You come to a website, enter your name, send the URL to others, start the voting, optionally vote and stop the voting. Everybody can be a moderator, and a moderator vote is not required. Voting can be stopped at any moment.
Good news is, here you can’t change your vote after you saw the votes of others. Actually, this was the main reason for us to choose it among other poker planning tools.
Downsides of this tool are that you can’t really vote in Safari, it works only in Chrome and Mozilla. Additionally, you are randomly assigned an avatar of a little boy or a girl regardless of your gender. In our team it causes all sorts of funny jokes.
Conclusion: Voting Poker is the simplest planning poker tool, which offers all the needed core functionality and is quite user friendly. The voting process is anonymous up to the moment of revealing the cards. One “but” is that it can’t be used in Safari.
Overall conclusion: If your scrum team is looking for a simple and usable solution for a fast simultaneous voting, Voting Poker would suit you the most. If you are looking for a robust complex tool for asynchronous voting, try out Planning Poker.
Do you guys have similar needs for the scrum poker planning process or do they differ? Let me know in comments.