Skip links

What is Poker Planning?

Poker planning, also known as planning poker, is an agile estimating and planning technique that is consensus-based. It is primarily used by agile software development teams to estimate their work, but it can be applied to any domain of work. The technique was popularized by James Grenning in 2002 and later made more widely known by Mike Cohn in the book “Agile Estimating and Planning”.

In poker planning, team members make estimates by playing numbered cards face-down to the table, instead of speaking them aloud. The cards are revealed simultaneously to avoid the influence of the first estimators on the others. This method encourages all participants to think independently and propose their understanding of the task’s complexity, size, or effort required, which can then be discussed.

The numbers on the cards are usually not a direct reference to days or hours but rather represent points in an abstract scale, such as the Fibonacci sequence (0, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, etc.), which reflects the inherent uncertainty in estimating larger items. The sequence encourages consensus on size and difficulty without getting bogged down by the impossibility of predicting exact time requirements.

Theory Behind Poker Planning

The theory behind Planning Poker, or any consensus-based estimation technique, combines several psychological and methodological principles to improve the accuracy and efficiency of team estimates for project tasks, particularly in agile software development contexts. The key theoretical underpinnings include:

Wideband Delphi Technique Adaptation

Planning Poker is a variation of the Delphi Method, specifically the Wideband Delphi technique developed by Barry Boehm and others in the 1970s. The Delphi Method is a structured communication technique, originally developed as a systematic, interactive forecasting method which relies on a panel of experts. The experts answer questionnaires in two or more rounds. After each round, a facilitator provides an anonymous summary of the experts’ forecasts and reasons. The goal is to achieve a converging opinion on forecasts. Planning Poker incorporates this iterative feedback and consensus mechanism but does so in a more interactive and engaging way.

Anchoring Effect Avoidance

In psychology, the anchoring effect is a cognitive bias that describes the tendency for an individual’s decisions to be influenced by a particular reference point or ‘anchor’. In the context of estimation, when one team member vocalizes their estimate before others, it can unduly influence the rest of the team’s estimates. By having team members select their estimates simultaneously and privately, Planning Poker aims to mitigate this bias, encouraging more independent and considered estimation.

Group Consensus

The theory here is based on the idea that collective wisdom surpasses the accuracy of individual judgments. When a team discusses their individual estimates and the rationale behind them, it not only spreads understanding but also leverages the diverse perspectives and knowledge within the team to converge on a more accurate estimate.

Fibonacci Sequence and Non-linear Scaling

The use of the Fibonacci sequence (or other non-linear sequences) for the point values in Planning Poker cards is intentional. It reflects the understanding that the uncertainty and complexity of tasks increase non-linearly as the size or scope of tasks increases. This non-linear scaling helps teams better account for the inherent uncertainty in larger tasks and avoid the pitfalls of linear estimation, where doubling the size of a task is naively assumed to double the required effort.

Engagement and Team Dynamics

The gamified approach of Planning Poker fosters team engagement and participation. It transforms the estimation process from a potentially tedious task into a more dynamic and enjoyable activity. This increased engagement can lead to more thoughtful estimates and a stronger commitment to the resulting consensus.

Iterative Re-Estimation

The process of discussing estimates, especially when there’s a significant spread among them, and then re-estimating allows the team to refine their understanding and converge towards a more accurate estimate. This iterative approach is foundational to agile methodologies, which value adaptation and refinement through feedback.

How to play Poker Planning?

Here’s a detailed overview of how Planning Poker is played, including preconditions, inputs, the step-by-step process, outputs, and post-conditions.


User Stories or Tasks Defined: All items to be estimated should be clearly defined and listed. Typically, these are user stories that describe the functionality from the user’s perspective.

Team Availability: All team members involved in the execution of tasks, including developers, testers, and sometimes designers, should be available to participate.

Knowledge and Understanding: Team members should have a basic understanding of the tasks to be estimated and any potential complexities. uncertainty in estimating larger items.


Backlog Items: A list of all the user stories, features, or tasks that need to be estimated.

Planning Poker Cards: A set of cards per participant, usually featuring a sequence of numbers. The most common sequence follows the Fibonacci series (e.g., 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21) to reflect the inherent uncertainty in estimating larger items.

Step by Step Process

  1. The facilitator (often the Scrum Master or project manager) introduces the item to be estimated.
  2. The team discusses the item to ensure everyone understands what is being estimated. Clarifications are made here, but detailed discussions are avoided to keep the process efficient.
  3. Each participant selects a card representing their estimate for the item’s complexity, effort, or size. The selection is made silently to avoid influencing others.
  4. On a signal from the facilitator, all participants reveal their cards simultaneously.
  5. If there is a significant variance in the estimates, the members with the highest and lowest estimates explain their reasoning. The goal is not to convince others but to share perspectives.
  6. After the discussion, another round of estimation occurs. Steps 3 to 5 are repeated until the team reaches a consensus or the facilitator decides to converge towards an estimate that seems most reasonable.
  7. Once consensus is reached, the estimate is recorded, and the team moves on to the next item.


Estimated Items: Each item discussed has an agreed-upon estimate that the team commits to.

Shared Understanding: The process ensures that all team members have a similar understanding of the scope and complexity of the tasks.

Post Conditions

Prioritization: With all items estimated, the product owner or project manager can prioritize the backlog more effectively, taking into account the effort involved.

Planning: The estimates are used in sprint planning or project planning to determine what can be accomplished in the upcoming work period.

Reflection and Adjustment: Teams may reflect on the accuracy of their estimates during retrospectives and adjust their estimation process based on what they’ve learned.

Variations and Alternatives to Poker Planning

There are variations to the traditional Planning Poker approach, as well as several feasible alternatives for agile estimation and planning. These variations and alternatives cater to different team dynamics, project complexities, and preferences, offering flexibility in how teams can approach the estimation process.

Types of Poker Planning

Online Planning Poker: With the rise of distributed teams, online tools and apps have become popular for conducting Planning Poker sessions remotely. These digital platforms often provide additional features such as automatic averaging of estimates, timers, and integration with agile project management tools.

T-Shirt Sizes: Instead of using numerical values, teams use T-shirt sizes (XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL) to estimate the relative size or complexity of tasks. This method is less granular and suited for early-stage estimations or when a quick, intuitive assessment is needed.

Dot Voting: Though not strictly a form of Planning Poker, dot voting can be used in a similar consensus-building manner. Team members use a limited number of “dots” to vote on items or features, indicating priority or complexity. This method is more about gauging collective opinion than estimating effort.

Alternatives to Poker Planning in Agile

Affinity Estimating: Sometimes called “Silent Grouping,” this technique involves team members grouping items into categories (often based on complexity or effort) without initially discussing them. Discussion and adjustments follow once all items have been placed. This method is useful for quickly sorting a large number of items into a rough order of magnitude.

The Bucket System: This is a fast, large-scale estimation technique where tasks are sorted into predefined “buckets” or categories based on their estimated size. Each bucket represents a different level of effort or complexity. It’s a useful method for handling a large backlog in a relatively short time.

Wideband Delphi: An iterative approach that involves a series of rounds where team members individually provide estimates, then discuss the estimates as a group. After discussion, estimates are again provided individually, with the process repeating until a consensus is reached. This method emphasizes expert opinion and structured feedback.

The Delphi Method: Similar to Wideband Delphi but often conducted anonymously, this method involves rounds of estimation and feedback, managed by a facilitator. It’s particularly useful for complex or uncertain tasks where expert opinion is valued over collective team input.

Comparative Estimation: Instead of estimating tasks in isolation, this approach involves comparing new tasks with previously completed ones to assess relative complexity or effort. It leverages historical data to inform estimates, which can be particularly effective in mature teams with a well-documented project history.

Each of these methods has its advantages and can be more or less suitable depending on the project’s requirements, the team’s composition, and the specific challenges faced during estimation. Agile teams often experiment with different methods to find the one that best suits their current needs, sometimes even combining elements from multiple methods to create a custom approach that maximizes efficiency and accuracy in their estimates.

Poker Planning and Leader/Managers Interpretations

Interpreting the results of Planning Poker and acting on them appropriately is crucial for leaders and managers in fostering a productive, transparent, and collaborative environment.

What They Should Do

Understand the Estimates: Recognize that estimates are the team’s best guess based on current understanding. Leaders should seek to understand the reasoning behind the numbers, especially for items with high variability or uncertainty.

Facilitate Discussion: If estimates vary widely, encourage a healthy discussion to uncover the reasons behind different perspectives. This can lead to valuable insights about potential risks, dependencies, or misunderstandings about the scope.

Respect the Team’s Expertise: Acknowledge that the team members doing the work are the best ones to estimate the effort required. Leaders should trust the team’s judgment and support their decisions, fostering a sense of ownership and accountability.

Use Estimates for Planning, Not Targeting: Estimates should guide planning and help prioritize work. They should not be used as strict targets or deadlines, as this can lead to rushed work, technical debt, and decreased morale.

Adjust Based on Feedback and Outcomes: Use completed work as a benchmark to refine future estimates. If tasks consistently take more or less time than estimated, explore why and adjust planning processes accordingly.

Provide Support and Resources: If estimates indicate that tasks are more complex or time-consuming than initially thought, leaders should consider providing additional resources, adjusting timelines, or reprioritizing work.

What They Should Not Do

Don’t Dismiss Estimates: Leaders should avoid dismissing or arbitrarily reducing estimates. This can undermine trust and suggests a lack of respect for the team’s expertise.

Avoid Using Estimates as Performance Metrics: Estimates are planning tools, not measures of individual performance. Using them as such can encourage underestimation and discourage honesty.

Don’t Ignore Discrepancies: Significant discrepancies in estimates can indicate a lack of understanding or differing perspectives on a task’s complexity. Ignoring these differences misses an opportunity for clarification and team alignment.

Don’t Pressure for Lower Estimates: Pressuring the team to lower estimates to fit preconceived schedules or budgets can lead to unrealistic planning, quality issues, and burnout.

Avoid Neglecting the Process: The process of estimation is as important as the outcome. It’s a chance for team engagement, understanding the scope, and risk identification. Leaders should not rush the process or treat it as a mere formality.

The Role of Scrum Master or Agile Coach at Poker Planning

Scrum Masters or Agile Coaches play a pivotal role in facilitating Planning Poker sessions, ensuring that the process is smooth, inclusive, and effective. The Scrum Master or Agile Coach must balance facilitating a structured process with maintaining an open and collaborative team environment. By being vigilant about these aspects, they can help the team produce more accurate estimates and foster a positive, productive atmosphere conducive to agile project success.


Watch for signs that the team might be conforming to the loudest or most senior members’ estimates without sufficient discussion. Encourage independent thinking and ensure all voices are heard. Facilitate an environment where dissenting opinions are valued and explored. Use anonymous voting if necessary to reduce bias.


Be aware of the tendency for the team to anchor to the first estimate provided. This can skew the estimation process. Encourage team members to think independently before revealing their estimates simultaneously to avoid anchoring.


Recognize when the team is spending too much time discussing a single user story or task, leading to analysis paralysis. Set time limits for discussion on each item. If consensus is hard to reach, suggest breaking the item down further or setting it aside for additional information.

Dominating Participants

Notice if certain team members dominate the conversation, potentially influencing the estimates unduly. Ensure balanced participation by inviting quieter team members to share their thoughts and by moderating dominant voices.

Fatigue and Boredom

Be mindful of the team’s energy levels, especially during long estimation sessions, which can lead to rushed or careless estimating. Keep sessions engaging and paced appropriately. Consider breaking long sessions into shorter ones to maintain focus and energy.

Estimation Variability

Pay attention to significant discrepancies in estimates, as they can indicate a misunderstanding of the task’s scope or complexity. Facilitate discussion to uncover the reasoning behind divergent estimates, helping the team reach a better understanding or identify missing information.

Underestimation of Complexity

Be cautious of consistently low estimates that may indicate an underestimation of complexity or overlook potential risks. Encourage the team to consider and discuss potential risks and unknowns for each task. Use historical data or reference tasks to guide estimation.


Look out for signs of disengagement or lack of participation from team members, which can affect the quality of the estimation process. Engage all team members by asking direct questions, rotating the facilitation role, or using engaging tools and techniques to make the process more interactive.

Consistency in Estimation

Monitor for inconsistencies in how team members understand and apply estimation units (e.g., story points or ideal days). Inconsistencies can lead to confusion and unreliable estimates. Regularly calibrate and remind the team of the meaning behind the estimation units being used. Use reference stories or establish baseline estimates to ensure a common understanding.

Feedback Loops

Be aware of the importance of feedback on completed work to refine and improve the estimation process. Facilitate retrospective discussions on the accuracy of estimates and the realities of task completion. Use this feedback to adjust future estimation sessions and improve accuracy over time.

Cultural and Remote Work Challenges

Recognize that cultural differences and remote work environments can impact communication and engagement during Planning Poker sessions. Adopt tools and practices that support clear communication and engagement across diverse teams. Ensure that remote team members have equal opportunities to participate and are fully integrated into the session.

Training and Education

Understand that new team members or those unfamiliar with agile practices may struggle with the concept and purpose of Planning Poker. Provide training and education on the value and process of Planning Poker. Ensure that all team members understand how to participate effectively and why it’s beneficial.

Avoiding Burnout

Planning Poker sessions, especially if lengthy or frequent, can contribute to team fatigue and burnout. Schedule estimation sessions judiciously and ensure they are as efficient as possible. Allow for breaks and keep the sessions engaging to minimize fatigue.

Tool and Technique Appropriateness

Be conscious that Planning Poker might not be the best fit for every team or every type of estimation. Assess whether Planning Poker is the most effective method for your team. Be open to adapting the process or exploring alternative methods that might better suit the team’s needs or project’s complexity.

Emotional Intelligence

The facilitator must be sensitive to the team’s dynamics, moods, and energy levels, recognizing when to push forward, when to take a break, and when to address any underlying issues. Use emotional intelligence to manage the session effectively, ensuring that it remains productive, respectful, and inclusive. Address any signs of frustration or conflict promptly and constructively.

Relationship Between Poker Planning and Sprint Planning

Planning Poker and Sprint Planning are two distinct but interconnected elements within Agile and Scrum methodologies, each serving a specific purpose in the planning and execution of work in agile teams.

Sequential: Typically, Planning Poker occurs before Sprint Planning. The estimations generated from Planning Poker are used during Sprint Planning to make informed decisions about what the team can commit to completing in the upcoming sprint.

Informative: The effort estimations from Planning Poker provide critical information that informs the sprint planning process. Without these estimations, it would be challenging for the team to make realistic commitments for the sprint.

Collaborative Enhancement: Both Planning Poker and Sprint Planning are collaborative processes that involve the whole team. Planning Poker ensures that estimations reflect a consensus, incorporating diverse perspectives and expertise, which leads to more accurate planning during the Sprint Planning session.

Relationship Between Poker Planning and MVP, MMF

The relationship between Planning Poker, MVP, and MMF is characterized by their mutual emphasis on delivering value efficiently and effectively. Planning Poker provides a structured approach to estimating and prioritizing work, which is crucial for defining and refining MVPs and MMFs. This synergy supports agile teams in their goal of rapid, iterative development, allowing them to respond to user needs and market demands with flexibility and precision.

Prioritization and Estimation: Planning Poker directly supports the development of MVPs and MMFs by providing a mechanism to estimate the effort required for each feature or story. This estimation helps in prioritizing which features should be developed first based on their value and the effort required, enabling teams to focus on delivering the MVP or MMF efficiently.

Resource Allocation: By estimating the complexity and effort needed for different features, Planning Poker helps teams make informed decisions about resource allocation. This ensures that the development of an MVP or MMF is feasible within the given constraints and timelines.

Feedback Loop: The iterative nature of developing MVPs and MMFs requires constant feedback and adjustment. Planning Poker estimations can be refined over time as the team gains more understanding of the work required and the user feedback on the MVP or MMF. This ongoing refinement process helps in adapting to changes quickly and effectively.

Incremental Delivery: Both Planning Poker and the concepts of MVP and MMF emphasize incremental delivery. Planning Poker facilitates the breakdown of development tasks into manageable chunks that can be estimated and prioritized, aligning with the incremental approach of delivering an MVP or MMF.

Poker Planning and Cultural Change

The effective use of Planning Poker can act as a catalyst for cultural change within organizations by embedding Agile principles into daily practices. It shifts the focus from individual achievements to team collaboration, from command-and-control to collective decision-making, and from fixed plans to adaptive processes. Over time, these shifts can transform an organization’s culture, making it more agile, resilient, and aligned with delivering value to customers.

Promotes Collaboration and Team Cohesion

Planning Poker requires team members to discuss their perspectives on work items openly. This collaborative decision-making process helps break down silos and encourages a culture of shared responsibility. Over time, teams develop stronger bonds and a deeper understanding of each other’s strengths and weaknesses, promoting a more cohesive and collaborative work environment.

Encourages Transparency and Trust

By engaging in Planning Poker, team members make their thought processes and concerns visible to others. This openness fosters an environment where feedback is valued and where it’s safe to express differing opinions. Such transparency builds trust among team members, with trust being a cornerstone of a positive organizational culture. It reassures everyone that decisions are made collectively and that individual viewpoints are respected.

Facilitates Continuous Improvement

The iterative nature of Planning Poker, combined with Agile retrospectives, allows teams to reflect on their estimation accuracy and process efficiency continually. This reflection is an opportunity to identify areas for improvement. A culture that values continuous improvement is one that is adaptive and resilient. Teams become more efficient and effective over time, driving organizational success.

Democratizes Decision-Making

Planning Poker involves all relevant team members in the estimation process, giving each person a voice regardless of their role or seniority. This democratization of decision-making empowers individuals and ensures diverse perspectives are considered. When team members feel their input is valued, they are more engaged and motivated. This can lead to a cultural shift towards greater inclusivity and empowerment across the organization.

Enhances Focus on Customer Value

The discussions around estimations often involve considerations of user needs and how effectively a feature or task meets those needs. This keeps the focus on delivering customer value. Cultivating a customer-centric culture ensures that the organization remains aligned with its users’ evolving needs, fostering long-term success and adaptability in a competitive market.

Supports Risk Management and Adaptability

Planning Poker helps teams identify tasks that are complex or poorly understood, which may pose risks to the project. By acknowledging these risks early, teams can adapt their plans or seek further clarification. An organizational culture that is proactive about risk management and adaptable to change is better positioned to navigate uncertainties and capitalize on new opportunities.

Poker Planning and CXO Suite

Integrating Planning Poker within the CXO Suite (Chief Experience Officers and other C-level executives) can significantly enhance decision-making processes, strategic planning, and resource allocation. Here’s how and when Planning Poker can be used effectively at the executive level:

When to Use Planning Poker in the CXO Suite

Strategic Planning and Prioritization: When setting strategic priorities and goals, Planning Poker can be used to assess the relative importance and resource requirements of various initiatives. This collaborative approach ensures that executive decisions are well-informed and consensus-driven.

Budget Allocation: During budget planning sessions, Planning Poker can help in evaluating the effort and resources needed for different departments or projects. This aids in allocating the budget more effectively, ensuring that funds are directed towards initiatives that offer the highest value.

Innovation and Product Development: When deciding on new products, services, or innovation initiatives, Planning Poker can facilitate discussions on the potential impact and effort required. This helps in prioritizing projects that align with the organization’s strategic goals and customer needs.

Risk Management: In sessions focused on identifying and mitigating risks, Planning Poker can be employed to gauge the severity and likelihood of potential risks, helping executives to prioritize risk management efforts and allocate resources to critical areas.

Where Planning Poker Can Increase Effectiveness and Efficiency

Cross-functional Alignment: By involving leaders from different functions in Planning Poker sessions, organizations can ensure alignment across departments. This alignment is crucial for executing strategic initiatives efficiently and effectively.

Resource Optimization: Planning Poker helps in making informed decisions about where to allocate human and financial resources, optimizing their use to achieve strategic objectives. This is particularly useful in environments where resources are limited, and the impact must be maximized.

Accelerating Decision-Making: The structured yet flexible nature of Planning Poker can streamline the decision-making process at the executive level, reducing the time spent in meetings and accelerating the pace at which strategic decisions are made.

Enhancing Strategic Agility: By regularly using Planning Poker to reassess priorities and resource allocations, CXO teams can respond more agilely to market changes, competitive pressures, or internal shifts, ensuring that the organization remains on track to achieve its strategic goals.

Implementation Considerations

While traditionally used for estimating work in Agile development teams, Planning Poker should be adapted for strategic use in the CXO Suite. This might involve customizing the methodology to focus on strategic initiatives rather than development tasks.

Having a skilled facilitator (such as an Agile Coach) can help guide the process, ensuring that discussions remain productive and that the unique perspectives of all executives are considered.

Integrating Planning Poker into high-level decision-making processes requires a cultural shift towards transparency, collaboration, and agility within the leadership team. This shift may take time and requires commitment from all members of the CXO Suite.

By leveraging Planning Poker in these contexts, executive teams can enhance their effectiveness and efficiency, making more informed decisions that are aligned with organizational goals and maximizing the value delivered from their strategic initiatives.


Planning poker is a fun, interactive way to engage team members in the estimation process, ensuring that all voices are heard and considered. This method helps in building a shared understanding of the work and its complexity among the team members.