You can use various methods to estimate work items in Agile processes. One of the most popular methods is Planning Poker®, which has proven to be an easy-to-use tool. James Grenning developed it and Mike Cohn of Mountain Goat Software has popularized it. You can read more about alternative estimation tools in “9 Agile Estimation Techniques.”
The best version of the tool is one that allows the whole team to gather around a table, pass out physical card decks, put on your poker faces, and start. But it’s likely that today’s Agile teams are distributed, so physical poker decks can be of limited use. If everyone on the team, including remote teams, has their own poker deck, you still can play with the remote folks by showing their cards on camera. However, the fun of being there gets lost. If remote participants don’t have their own decks, and they have to show the number of estimation with their hands, it can get messy.
Luckily, some companies have tackled this problem by creating online estimation tools to use with remote teams. You can use these same tools even if all team members are in the same room and have their computers or phones with them. But the main benefit is realized by remote teams.
Below is an overview of some of the popular estimation tools that can be used with remote teams. However, there are more people out there trying to solve the problem.
Pointing Poker is a free tool (if you like it, you can and should donate money to the developer). It also offers a rudimentary service for holding retrospectives online.
The tool is easy and straightforward to use. Simply start a session, type your name, and select whether you are someone who is voting or just an observer. To involve other participants, just share the link via any communication tool, and that’s it. No limitations to the account, seats, or function — registration is not even required. The only downside: The user interface looks a bit old-fashioned and simplistic. But if that doesn’t matter to you, this is probably your tool.
PlanITPoker is also free to use. You can start a quick session without registering. You can also create a permanent account to store your sessions.
In PlanITPoker, you can add user stories prior to the estimation session so that you have all the information in a central place, which means no jumping between the estimation tool and your ticket system. The interface looks nice and modern. It also works on mobile devices, so no need to bring your big machine to the session. Also, if you want to use scales or methods for the estimations other than the usual Scrum scale used in classical Planning Poker, you can choose among five different scales.
If you want to prepare user stories up front and store the sessions, this might be your tool.
Mike Cohn, the founder of Mountain Goat Software, is the popularizer of the Planning Poker® method. Compared to Pointing Poker, this is the original. The tool is free to up to 10 participants. However, if you want to store your sessions, add user stories and acceptance criteria, export, integrate, use alternative scales, and include more seats, it will cost you around $25 to $50 a month. But like all good SaaS tools, it comes with a two-month trial period in which you can easily determine whether it is right for you.
If you need integrations, many seats, and the guarantee that it’s the original, this is the tool for you.
All three tools are useful for every Scrum team. Depending on your needs and the level of sophistication you want, they represent a nice spectrum of choice. They are either free or reasonably priced, especially when you consider the value they can bring to your process. So if you are working with remote team members regularly (or even from time to time), definitely give these tools a try to find out how they can help make your process easier.