Agile estimation techniques to know about

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Agile estimation techniques can be useful for every team. Estimation & planning are one of the most important activities in any project. Agile methodologies make planning more valuable, its accuracy is increased, and hence the predictability of the project. In Agile, planning is carried out at several levels: project planning, release, iteration. 

Agile estimation & planning allow team to truly participate in project planning. It strengthens and motivates the team to achieve common goals. A lot of interesting practices and approaches are used for planning in Agile: Planning Poker, User Stories, Story Points, Story Mapping and others. They all serve to make planning as effective as possible without sacrificing the time spent. I believe that one of those 7 techniques for different circumstances mentioned in the article may be more than just helpful for you. Try a new one during next Sprint.


Agile estimation techniques to try


Planning Poker

This is one is one of the most popular agile estimation techniques. Originally, it was introduced and popularised by Mike Cohn. Every developer will get a deck of planning poker cards with Fibonacci numbers and use them to vote for an estimate of an item.Each participant receives a deck of cards with numerical values for evaluation, an image of “?” (request for clarification of the task) and “a cup of coffee” (a break request). Product Owner makes a short announcement of the next user history and answers the team’s questions on this task.
Participants in “poker” choose a card with an appropriate rating in their opinion and put them face down (not to influence the choice of each other). After all team members have chosen their card ratings are simultaneously turned over. Participants with the lowest and highest ratings make brief comments explaining their choice of assessment. As a result of the discussion process, the team comes to a single decision and then goes on to the next user story. Planning Poker is one of the most accurate assessment techniques but is suitable for a relatively small number of tasks. During the hour session in this way, you can estimate 4-10 stories.

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The Bucket System

This method uses a principle similar to Planning Poker – tasks are evaluated and placed from a bucket with the appropriate size. To specify the size, you can also use Fibonacci numbers. However, these methods have a fundamental difference – in the Bucket System after the initial scaling of tasks, the task process is divided among the participants for evaluation.

All the stories that need to be evaluated are written out on cards.
On the table or board, a sequence of “buckets” is built for tasks of different sizes.
The team chooses in turn 3-5 random cards with tasks and evaluates them in an open discussion comparing and building them relative to each other.
The tasks are placed in the appropriate “buckets” setting the overall scale and benchmarks for subsequent assessments.
Then all the remaining tasks are equally divided among all participants and evaluated by them independently, taking into account the received measurement scale.
If one of the members of the team finds it difficult to assess a story, then it transfers it to another.
This method (unlike Planning Poker) can be used to quickly evaluate a very large number of tasks (from 50) and with a large number of participants.



This method is similar to the Bucket System technique, the main difference is that in this case only 3 buckets are used: large size, small size, undefined task size.
Evaluation process starts with all evaluated stories discussed by participants and placed in one of three categories Big / Small / Uncertain. First, the group conducts a group discussion of several first problems (3-5), determining the scale and guidelines for each category. Then, like the Bucket System, the remaining stories are distributed among the participants and evaluated independently, which greatly speeds up the process. This is one of the fastest assessment techniques. It allows you to evaluate in a single session a large number of stories (from 50) and allows you to attract a lot of participants at the same time.

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Dot Voting

This method involves the use of special “points” that show the voices of the participants \ scores assigned to a particular task. As such “points” can be used: stickers, stickers, magnets, dots \ strokes affixed by markers. All evaluated User Stories are issued on separate cards and placed on a table / board. To perform the assessment, each participant receives the same number of “points”. Each member of the team distributes his “points” between tasks as he sees fit, taking into account that the more “points”, the more complex the task and the more time it takes. After each participant has made his assessment and distributed all his “points”, the total number of points set for each user history is counted. As a result, all tasks are ranked among themselves by the number of “points”. This method is very simple and fast, it will work effectively to assess a small number of stories (up to 8-10).


T-Shirt Sizes

Items are categorized into t-shirt sizes: XS, S, M, L, XL.  The sizes can, if needed, be given numerical values after the estimation is done.  This is a very informal technique and can be used quickly with a large number of items.  Usually, the decisions about the size are based on open, collaborative discussion, possibly with the occasional vote to break a stalemate.  There is a brief description of T-Shirt Sizes here.


Ordering rule

This method is a step-by-step game, the goal of which is to build all tasks relative to each other on a single scale of size. First, all the evaluated stories are written out on the cards. Cards with tasks are randomly placed on a table or a board with a scale on the boundaries of which the “small size” and “large size” are indicated. Each participant, in turn, makes his “move” evaluation. This “move” includes one of the following possible actions: move any story on a scale by one division (ie change the rating to a lower or higher one), discuss the story with colleagues, skip your “move.”
As a result of “moves” of employees, tasks can move around the board, their assessment relative to each other is specified. When all participants miss their “move”, the evaluation process is completed. All tasks are distributed on a scale between the values “small size” and “large size”.

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This method is quite effective for estimating a small number of tasks (5-15). Participants are involved in a common gaming process and changing the story positions relative to each other achieve a high accuracy of the assessment.


Divide until Maximum Size or Less

And the last one on the list of agile estimation techniques is “Divide until Maximum Size or Less”. The group decides on a maximum size for items (e.g. 1 person-day of effort).  Each item is discussed to determine if it is already that size or less.  If the item is larger than the maximum size, then the group breaks the item into sub-items and repeats the process with the sub-items.  This continues until all items are in the allowed size range.


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