Planning Poker for Visual Team Capacity Estimation

agile planning poker featured image

Estimating the team’s capacity is best done through visualization. Planning poker and excellent visual technique to estimate the team’s capacity. Find out how planning poker contributes to visualizing workflow.

What is Planning Poker?

Planning poker is an easy-to-use visualization technique that helps visualize task size and better distribute workload. It is a reliable Agile technique for assessing the complexity of a user story. It’s a visual, fun, and easy way to understand your team’s capacity before setting the project’s scope.

The brain-child of James Grenning, planning poker or Scrum poker, was devised in 2002. The idea was to facilitate communication among team members when estimating work and projects and give everyone a voice.

Although it uses props resembling cards, planning poker is not a game. It’s a reliable Agile technique for estimating your team’s capacity, making communication easier among team members, and allowing everyone to share their opinions and explain their points of view.

Elements of Planning Poker

The key elements of planning poker are used to determine the team’s capacity when planning a new project. The necessary elements are planning poker cards, user stories, and team members to play it.

Planning Poker Cards

Planning poker cards use a sequence of numbers, but it could also use a Fibonacci sequence or a modified Fibonacci sequence. Usually, cards 0, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 40, and 100 - are used. The cards are distributed to all team members before presenting them with a user story from the backlog.

The team then uses these cards to vote on the user story's complexity simultaneously. The number represents the complexity of the user story. If the story is easy to do, it’s marked as a 0. The more complex the user story is, the higher the number it gets. Sometimes, planning poker points represents effort, number of days, or complexity, given how the team agrees the story points are to be used.

User Stories

User stories are Agile building blocks that provide a way to formulate and describe a feature from the user’s point of view. In Agile, each user request for a feature can be formulated as a user story using the following formula: As a (user), I want (something) so that I can do (something).

A typical user story should include a title, that briefly describes the story; a description, written in the standard format, which describes the story in detail; acceptance criteria, which contain specific conditions and criteria that must be met for the story to be completed; and story points, which adequately assess the amount of effort put into completing a user story, taking complexity and effort into consideration.

Team Members

All team members who work on developing a product participate in planning poker: programmers, Q&A testers, designers, and everyone involved in the production process. Simultaneous voting ensures everyone can share their unbiased point of view, which is further discussed later in the session.

Due to their roles, experience, and expertise, some team members might take a different approach or view the same items from different perspectives. Sharing their perspectives is key to objectively assessing the story points as a team.


If the team agrees on the number of story points given to the user story, they can assess the next user story. However, if the team has different views on the complexity of the user story, it is further discussed among team members until everyone agrees.

In some cases, multiple rounds are necessary for the team to reach a consensus. Consensus ensures an accurate estimation. Until a consensus on the number of story points is reached, the team discusses and breaks down the reasons for giving a certain number of points. Stories that are too complex are usually broken down into smaller items. Slicing is used to divide the user story into manageable chunks.

How To Play Planning Poker?

Planning poker is played using specially designed planning poker cards, which are distributed to the entire team. The team then votes on the complexity of a user story presented by the Scrum Master or Project Manager until it reaches a consensus.

From the first planning poker meeting to the user story presentation and capacity estimation, the team tries to reach a consensus and finally record the estimation.

Planning Poker Meeting

Schedule a planning poker meeting and gather everyone participating in the project. Planning poker meetings usually last from 2 to 4 hours. Giving sufficient time to your team ensures they have the time to discuss all the important points.

Participants are all team members involved in the project. They use planning poker cards to vote on user stories presented to them by the Scrum Master or Project Manager. For planning poker, teams can choose to use planning poker cards or digital equivalents that allow them to share their votes simultaneously.

Present the User Story

The Scrum Master, or Project Leader, takes an active role in planning poker. They take user stories from the backlog and present them to the team members participating in the meeting. User stories are essential for planning poker sessions. They are further divided into smaller stories using slicing.

Planning poker uses the three Cs: Cards, Conversation, and Confirmation.

Cards are used to present the user story, and they contain all the relevant info, such as details and cost, but do not go into specific details of the user story. Through the Conversation, the team members in the meeting look at the user story from all angles before assessing it.

During the confirmation, the acceptance criteria are written down, which helps the team know when a task is finished and prevents tasks from piling up.

Capacity Estimation

The team moves on to estimate the user story. At the same time, the team votes on the user story’s complexity, showing their cards. Once the consensus is reached, they move on to the next user story. If the consensus is not reached, the voting must be repeated after exchanging opinions.

Each user has all the cards and picks the one they think is appropriate. Depending on their experience and expertise, users might have different points of view and different understandings of how complex the user story is. Sharing opinions helps prevent obstacles and gain objectivity when assigning story points.

Reach Consensus

Sometimes, teams assess the user story with the same number of points right from the start, and other times, the voting is repeated. This is often due to differences in the points of view. Some team members might anticipate or perceive obstacles ahead that they can spot due to their position, experience, or role. Communication is key during planning poker, as the team exchanges opinions and reaches a consensus. Discrepancies in estimation result in repeated estimation rounds until a consensus is reached.

Record the Estimation

Some teams choose not to record the estimation. However, it’s a great idea to make a record of the meeting and how the decision-making took place. This will give a deeper insight into the process and benefit the team for future meetings and estimations. Especially when working on a brand new project, you need to gather experience for future similar projects.

Documenting the agreed-upon story points before moving on to the next user story and repeating the voting process.

Benefits of Planning Poker for Estimating Team’s Capacity

Planning poker brings many benefits to the team. Here are the most important benefits of planning poker.

  • Improved estimation accuracy - the team uses planning poker to estimate better the team’s capacity, allowing the team to organize their work better
  • Enhanced collaboration - planning poker includes all team members, providing a platform for collaboration when estimating the team’s capacity
  • Making better decisions - different team members can share their unique points of view when assessing tasks in order to make better-informed decisions when estimating the team’s capacity
  • Setting realistic targets - the team can adequately estimate their capacity and set targets that are achievable by accurately estimating user stories
  • Understanding the team’s capacity - by playing planning poker, the team learns how to cooperate when making estimations and learns to understand better the team’s capacity
  • Team’s planning abilities - by using planning poker, the team learns how to collaborate together to plan activities and adequately assess their workload

Importance of Poker Planning in Team Capacity Estimation

Establishing the team’s capacity gives an insight into how much workload the team can take on during one sprint. In the team, changes can happen, leading to fluctuations, but monitoring and understanding the team’s capacity is important, which brings a good basis for planning sprints and projects ahead.

Planning poker helps estimate the team’s capacity since it allows the team to self-assess their abilities, examine the same user story from their own unique perspectives, and share their point of view with the rest of the team. User stories are given story points, which is done to evaluate how many story points the team can handle, considering the most crucial resource—the team’s capacity.

Other tools for visualizing team capacity

Visual tools such as burn-down and burn-up charts, Kanban boards, Gantt charts, story maps, and velocity charts can help visualize the team’s capacity. Project management tools such as ActiveCollab can also visualize the team's capacity.

ActiveCollab gathers a team and all your work in one place, giving the team full insight into their workflow and progress. Workload allows users to distribute evenly across team members all the work. Every change is updated in real-time, ensuring transparency to users when working together on projects.

ActiveCollab is perfect for teams working remotely and those working together in an office. It provides a platform to document all work processes and track progress using reporting tools. To facilitate communication, it also comes fully equipped with a chat and offers essential functions such as leaving a comment. ActiveCollab is perfect for teams of all sizes and can be used across various devices.

Burn-Down and Burn-Up Charts

Burn charts are the perfect solution for tracking your team’s progress and establishing their capacity. You can track how much work has been done and how much work remains. A burn-down chart visually represents how much work remains, whereas a burn-up chart shows how much work has been done so far. Both are easy to use and equally effective in showing the team's progress. They can also be used as a reference for estimating the team’s capacity for future projects.

Kanban Boards

Placing everything on a board helps the team visualize their work and progress. Kanban boards are easy to use. Project managers and teams can use the Kanban methodology to manage projects better and stay on top of the production process. Most importantly, they’re easy to upgrade for advanced use.

Placing all items on a Kanban board allows the team to track and update their work as changes happen. A Kanban board is an effective way of visualizing the workflow, as cards used to represent tasks move through different columns representing workflow stages. Visualizing workflow with the help of a Kanban board makes it possible to see and check the status of each task and see how the work flows through the team.

Gantt Chart

A Gantt chart can be used to visualize the project’s schedule. It displays tasks horizontally with respect to time and helps understand the duration and overlaps of different tasks. It’s an effective way of showing the tasks on a project timeline as it shows their dependencies.

ActiveCollab’s timeline view helps teams view their tasks on a timeline and create dependencies between tasks that should be completed before another task. Gantt charts are perfect for making planning and managing capacity easier on teams, as they help teams gain a thorough insight into the project.

Story Maps

Creating story maps as visual representations of user stories and features will help organize and prioritize the work. Story maps are also an effective way of providing an overview of the product backlog and can help teams place the stories in an order that makes sense for pushing the production forward.

Velocity Charts

Understanding the team’s velocity helps track the work completed in each sprint. Velocity charts visualize the team’s velocity over time and can help teams understand how their capacity changes across sprints. Tracking the velocity of each sprint is key to understanding your team’s capacity.

Facilitate Planning Poker with project management software

ActiveCollab is the project management software for teams needing help planning, navigating, and completing their projects. It’s an intuitive and easy-to-use software that can be accessed on multiple devices. ActiveCollab’s reliable notification system and built-in chat feature facilitate communication between team members and clients.

Integrate Planning Poker within the Tool

We’ll show you how planning poker can be integrated into ActiveCollab. Create a new project for the specific sprint or development cycle. Tasks you create in ActiveCollab represent user stories or use a task list that you can further divide into separate tasks if the user story needs to be further split into segments. The users then write detailed descriptions for each task in the task description and track progress using comments under the tasks. Once the user story points are assigned and the team agrees on the complexity of each user story, you can use that estimate to set the number of days necessary to finish a task, add a specific label, and assign the person in charge.

Manage User stories and facilitate collaboration

Create a new discussion thread in ActiveCollab for each user story to help facilitate collaboration and manage user stories. Use an external video conferencing tool alongside ActiveCollab for real-time communication during the Planning Poker session. As the team agrees on the number of story points, new tasks, discussions, or task lists can be promptly created in ActiveCollab.

Estimate story points

Planning poker helps determine the number of story points. Physical cards can be used for planning poker, or the team can use an online Planning Poker tool with ActiveCollab to determine the points for each user story.

Document the Estimations

Once the team reaches a consensus, the estimations must be noted. You can use custom fields to record the story points for each task and user story. The best part is that the team can see the estimations alongside user stories, which helps them set priorities when working on tasks and projects.

Track Progress and Time

Tracking time and progress is key to determining the team’s capacity. ActiveCollab allows you to keep records of both important aspects and helps you make decisions regarding future projects based on the tracked data.

Reports and visualization

ActiveCollab does not have built-in burn-down charts, but it does come fully equipped with reports that you can generate to show the progress of a sprint or project. You can also export data and use tools like Excel or Google Sheets to visualize progress.

Review and Retrospective

The reporting tools in ActiveCollab come in handy when gathering data before a retrospective discussion or review session. During these meetings, the team can discuss and share ideas on what went well in the past and what could be improved for the future. Keep your processes flowing in the right direction by making informed decisions based on past achievements and learning from your past mistakes.