Play this estimation game with your team at the start of your next planning session.
Estimation Games are great for getting conversation started, and honing and tuning estimations before an estimation session. This exercise really helps a team to get into the right mindset for estimating and planning for the sprint.
Get everyone to estimate making a cup of tea and then ask them the where, who, what questions. What did they make? Where were they? Who did they make it for?
What assumptions did they make?
Recognise the similarities and differences, consider how this might apply to your own scenario and the estimations you are about to make, or review.
Use it to get everyone talking about estimation for the solution you are planning.
Use it to help ensure the team have a shared and clear understanding of the measures, points, ranges, sizes, categories or definitions by which you will estimate and prioritise tasks.
Conversation is key to effective communication!
Watch the video to play the estimation game.
The Cup of Tea estimation game is a variation of a game known as Planning Poker I call Snap Estimation. The game aims to help teams to reach agreed estimates working collaboratively.
Initially we agree our metric for estimating, we often use points and then give each point a measure. In the cup of tea exercise it was 1 point = 1 minute.
As in the Cup of Tea exercise, in the game we all estimate privately and then share our results at the same time.
This ensures that we are not influenced by others estimates before sharing our own. For example if I had shared my estimate of 15 minutes before I asked you to estimate the task you would have been influenced by my estimate.
The key outcome of the exercise is to create conversation amongst the team about the task, ensure it is clearly understood and reach a shared view of the task and its size. For example, clarity over whether we have the resources readily available, how complex the task is, what the task does include, and does not include, and the options available to choose from.
Planning poker uses a deck of cards with a variety of numbers for estimation or responses players can choose from, such as ? – if they have a question, * wildcard/joker for an alternative suggestion, or an infinity or + symbol for when the task is too big and unknown to accurately estimate. Online apps are also available to play with variations of this game.
One challenge of this game is that it looks to add an exact number to a task, which is often difficult to do when we don’t know exactly what it entails, or how we will complete the task yet. T-Shirt Sizing is another estimation tool that works to give ranges rather than exact estimates for tasks.
As we found in the Cup of Tea exercise, estimation even for simple tasks across a team can be varied and are often accompanied by assumptions based on their own experiences, knowledge and skill.
In the cup of tea exercise for example, given the low estimates across the group its likely everyone assumed that they had all the resources and tools needed at hand to make tea, such as water, electric, kettle, teabags, milk, sugar etc. Otherwise estimates would have been higher to account for time to go to the shop. The values we use can also influence our estimates, if I had asked you to estimate in hours, you may have been quicker to question the task to estimate, whether all resources were available, why you would need hours rather than minutes to complete the task.
So, if accurate estimation is difficult even when we do know what we are doing and how we are going to do it, what should we do, when we are far from agreement on what we are doing, and far from certainty how.
Agile uses a number of simple tools to help us to estimate our tasks and regularly review and refactor them based on progress and experience.
We need to be conscious that definitions and assumptions maybe different, across the team, the customer, stakeholders, all may view things differently. Agile practices and tools such as estimation games help us to reach a shared understanding across stakeholders and provide effective ways to measure, manage and monitor options and solutions.
What we anticipate to be simple and straight forward, maybe more complicated or complex than we first thought as we learn more about what is required and how we will progress.
Things may become more complex or chaotic due to internal or external changes causing impact.
Agile Estimation Games help us to consistently review our estimates and priorities, adjust them or revise them based on learning, gain awareness and consensus across stakeholders, and keep everyone informed.
Check out our guide to Retrospective Sailing a great team game for reflection and improvement
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