Distributing SCRUM Planning Poker via Google Docs

Ever had to do planning poker with remote team-members?

via Scrum Shortcuts

Wait, not that remote.  As in, another time zone kind of remote.

Planning poker cards obviously don't work unless you've got a nice video conference setup.  Going person-by-person isn't terrible, but it removes one of the biggest benefits of pointing.

Why Must Everyone Reveal Simultaneously Anyway?

Revealing points simultaneously levels the playing field.  It provides an unbiased insight into what every team member is thinking.  More than that it forces everyone to actively think about the problem from their own perspective without yielding to louder, more experienced, or more domain knowledgeable team members.  This problem can be compounded when a team is distributed.

A simultaneous reveal says we care about every perspective on the team no matter how inexperienced, introverted, or physically far away a person is.

Distributed, Free, Simultaneous Reveals

I really love the collaborative features of Google Docs.  If you haven't tried them yet, you will too.  What you may not have considered is how nicely it works for a SCRUM planning sessions:

In the screenshot we've got a spreadsheet with some conditional formatting to quickly show how far off everyone's estimates are.  We've got a place to chat and a place where anyone can quickly throw up and collaborate on the new user stories that always result from planning sessions.  Someone can go back later and move those into the official repository.

But more importantly for simultaneous reveals, the points aren't sent across the wire until team members hit enter.  In other words the current user in the screenshot has an estimate in A2 that isn't visible to everyone.  Instead it appears to everyone else gray, just like B2.  Once everyone's cell has turned gray someone counts to three over the phone, everyone hits enter, values become visible, the conditional formatting kicks in, and if the estimates are off enough, then discussion ensues.

It works so well I'm half tempted to use it on my next project even if team members aren't distributed. Incidentally I can't take credit for this idea.  The original idea came from Jeff Kunkle and we refined it as a team into what you see above.


Having remote team members can be challenging.  Hopefully the technique described here can make distributed development just a little easier.  Feel free to post in the comments on what techniques you use to help with distributed development.


Unknown said…
I was wondering if you had a template for this as would like to use it in my next planning meeting. I'm going to have a play now anyway. I agree it's a great idea.