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I'm looking for a way to make it easier to perform planning poker on a virtual team (i.e. a team that is not co-located with one another).

Requirements for a successful planning poker:

  • Since we're distributed, how can I do something that works well with a phone conversation?
  • I want to make sure this is easy for everyone, as in Easy to use - get in, get the work done, get out.
  • I don't want to have to track story details. We'll have a discussion going on over the phone.
  • Another challenge we face is people are on multiple platforms, such as (i.e. desktop, mobile, tablet, Windows, Mac, etc.)

The obvious answer here is the tool found at Planning Poker, but this seems a bit heavy for my needs. I don't want to make my team members sign up for an account and entering the stories seems like a bit too much.

We've tried things like holding chat sessions online with everyone, but the process gets a little biased by the fact that other people can see the inputs of others.

What else could I do to hold a successful planning poker session with virtual teams?

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Hi Matt! Welcome to PMSE, a collaborative Q&A site for getting expert answers to project management problems! Questions asking for specific tools or lists of tools are off-topic here due to the fact that they tend to attract spam and low quality answers, but instead of closing, I tried making some small modifications to your question to focus on solutions. Hoping you get some great answers! Good luck, and welcome to PMSE! :) –  jmort253 Nov 2 '12 at 4:27
    
Thanks for the assist and for setting me straight. –  Matt Nov 2 '12 at 11:29
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Our team of devs created this cool app for Google Hangouts. Try it and feel free to let everyone know about it. nearsoft.com/resources/tools/planning-poker –  Nearsoft Feb 13 at 18:12
    
You may also check this online planning poker: hat.jit.su Simple, supports different decks of cards and comes with oriental theme :) –  MaR Feb 28 at 12:09
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5 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Since there doesn't appear to be many specific solutions to this problem, I ended up writing a simple web app that meets my needs. I think that even co-located teams might like to use it. Check it out here:

http://www.pointingpoker.com

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That looks pretty cool, and simple. Just curious, what frameworks did you use to build this? Any plans to add a chat to it or do you see it instead working in conjunction with other existing tools/technologies? –  jmort253 Nov 4 '12 at 8:50
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@jmort253 Thanks, it was pretty easy to build. I used the Twitter Bootstrap for the UI, SignalR for the realtime communication, JQuery for many of the effects, ASP.Net MVC for the backend web technology, and Azure for hosting. I don't think I will add Chat because it's intended to be used with other technologies. I don't think a chat app has the "bandwidth" necessary for a pointing session. –  Matt Nov 5 '12 at 11:50
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Google Hangouts? So the team meeting is virtual, but folks still see each other - so planning poker is almost as effective as it gets when all team members are in a room.

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This isn't a bad idea. The trouble for me is the fact that Google hangout doesn't work on all mobile platforms (specifically Windows Phone). Skype is probably a better option from that perspective since they have a native app on all of the platforms. However, even Skype is a bit heavy since it requires users to signup. Thanks. –  Matt Nov 3 '12 at 12:28
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Some Tips for Distributed Planning

I've done a lot of distributed planning over the years, both with and without formal "planning poker" estimates. Here are some tips that have worked for me.

  1. Have a written backlog of stories.

    It doesn't matter if it's a spreadsheet, on Google Docs, Trello, or a planning poker app--just make sure the backlog is written down somewhere that everyone can access. If all else fails, a single document on a shared screen (e.g. VNC, Google Hangouts, or Mikogo) will suffice in an emergency.

  2. Avoid vote-anchoring by having people message their votes to the Scrum Master privately before the "big reveal."

    Scrum teams should average about seven to nine people plus a Scrum Master, so this isn't onerous. Let the Scrum Master collect the votes, and then share them with the group. Other viable alternatives include:

    • People could enter their votes, and then everyone press "Enter" at the same time to post their votes in the chat room.
    • If using video chat, people hold up their index cards or planning poker cards, and hold them to their foreheads like Carnac the Magnificent. Then they turn them around for the reveal.
  3. If you're stuck using phone-only for your planning session, let people pre-estimate before the meeting, and email their initial estimates to the Scrum Master for the reveal.

    Since additional votes are often about reconciling outlying votes, anchoring is somewhat less important since folks will be openly discussing the story and its estimate at that point anyway. Alternatively, the Scrum Master can put the conference call on hold and call people individually for additional votes. Be creative!

  4. Ask the team. Planning poker is an estimation tool, not a required Scrum artifact or practice. If planning poker as such doesn't work for the team, invite them to brainstorm on a better way--after all, it's about what helps the team estimate, not what is easiest (or most common) for the Scrum Master.

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The simplest thing I can think of is a simple chat room. You set up a server, our just Skype, then the participants log in and when there is the time they enter a number and that's it.

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We've been doing that, the trouble is that as people type their votes in, everyone else can see and it tends to sway others who haven't yet voted. The good thing about doing it in real life is that generally everyone presents their vote at the same time preventing that kind of problem. –  Matt Nov 1 '12 at 16:51
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I think you need to take another look at PlanningPoker.com. It is about as simple as I can imagine--not heavy at all. Only the leader would type in (paste in) the story, but you don't have to even do that--you could refer to stories by number, URL, whatever you want. Also, only one leader has to log in; the participants don't even have to log in.

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