How We Were Looking For Our Perfect Planning Poker Tool

by Helen Chyrva, COO in one of our business units

People like gamification even if these people are serious developers. Planning Poker is a great technique for scrum teams to estimate their efforts for achieving business goals.

Our company is a part of Wisebits Group and it works on an online entertainment streaming service. It consists of several software dev teams that develop different parts of our product. We use Planning poker technique with these teams and as nowadays a lot of tools exist, we like testing different ones to find the perfect match.

I decided to share our feedback about the ones I already tried with our teams, so it would save your time for the research in case you’re looking for an effective tool for your team.

What we need

At first, all our employees were working from the same office, so usually, we arranged our estimation sessions in the meeting room and used ScrumTime app, which is just the set of planning poker cards that you have on your mobile device.

Later we also ordered the Planning Poker cards deck on Amazon.

After we had more and more developers we noticed that even in the same room it’s not convenient to use real cards as not all the people can see well cards of each other. So we decided to try some online tools that can show the result on the screen for the whole team. Later when pandemic times came we managed to adapt very quickly as we already switched to online tools.

During our tools research I paid attention to some points that I consider important for us:

  1. It should be convenient to be used both on desktop and mobile (as sometimes we meet in the same room without our laptops but with mobile devices only).
  2. No ability to update your vote after the cards were revealed (some apps allow it somewhy).
  3. Possibility to reveal the cards by the moderator even if not everyone voted (as a moderator I do not vote; also in case any member of the team has technical problems and has to reconnect, for example, the team should have the possibility to go further).
  4. It should keep the history of the previous sessions.

What we tried

Pointing Poker

Pointing Poker was the first and the simplest tool I tried.

Pros:

  • It’s free and exists for donations.
  • It does not require any registration, you can just create a new session or join an existing one and go.
  • You can customize your scale.
  • You can choose in the settings who can reveal / reset cards (it’s a good thing for us as usually we prefer moderators only to do this, so other team members will not do this by mistake).

Cons:

  • Participants can change their votes even after the cards are revealed. To be honest this fact made me go on looking for something else as it confronts the main idea of scrum poker when everyone votes independently and does not influence the other participants’ sizing.
  • You can’t export the list of stories for the estimation, you can only copy the Story description before each voting round — it’s not convenient and takes additional time during the session.
  • It’s impossible to keep estimations history to come back to it later if needed (in our case it’s really useful as we move all the estimations to JIRA and it helps to check the votes sometimes).

Scrumpoker Online

Scrumpoker Online was the next tool I tried.

Pros:

  • It’s free.
  • There are sets of scales in case you use not Fibonacci but T-Shirts or anything else.

Cons:

  • Only session creators can see the whole picture while the players can only see their vote even after revealing the cards. “It is recommended to display the scrum master view on the big screen (TV or projector) and let everyone else join via smartphone. “ — it is said on their page but it was not convenient for us at all.
  • Session creator can’t vote: for us it was ok but there are some teams for whom it can be not convenient.
  • No history, no possibility to copy-paste the list of Stories in advance as it was with Pointing Poker.

They also provide JIRA/GitLab/GitHub integration but we never used it, as we did not want to open access to our JIRA space for any external tools we’re not 100 % sure of.

There are 2 more free tools that I tested by myself but we never used it with any teams.

Scrumpoker-online.org

Scrumpoker-online.org allows changing votes after the cards are revealed, it does not give ability to paste/import stories list, no history is kept — it was enough for us to pass by.

Pokrex

Pokrex provides a simple UI (it reminded Pointing Poker to me), contains different scales, but allows changing votes after the cards reveal. Moreover, I noticed one more inconvenient thing for us: though you can upload stories list to the tool you can’t change their order during estimations, you should either estimate the story or skip it (then it disappears from the list). For us it’s normal to postpone the story and come back to it during the meeting.

Planning Poker

After testing all these free tools we decided to compare them with paid versions and started a free trial of Planning Poker. They offer different plans based on the number of members (it’s free for up to 5 people — it’s not enough for us but it can be fine for other small teams).

We had a 14-days free trial for up to 10 players per game to decide if it suits our needs.

Here is the list of settings you can choose before each session with your team:

Pros:

  • Many custom settings that you can choose once and save as default ones.
  • Though it looks like they tried to implement as many features in this tool as possible, so it contains some settings we do not need at all (e.g. time limit for each story or option to show the velocity to the players).
  • JIRA integration support. It’s also possible to import the file with Stories list or just copy and paste them manually as we usually do.
  • It keeps all the sessions history, so you can come back to the previous results at any time or export them as .csv.
  • Even during the game at any time moderator can switch from “Spectator” to “Active” mode or back and join voting or skip it.

Cons:

  • It’s the only paid tool among the all ones I tested, and from my point of view it does not contain any killer features in comparison to others.
  • Looks a bit overloaded with the features and multiple settings.

What we chose

Chpokify

The latest online tool we used with the teams is Chpokify. It fits all our requirements and provides some unique functionality that we did not meet in other tools.

Pros:

  • Ability to create different spaces for different teams and set access preferences for different accounts (you can keep history for several sub-projects in separate spaces and you can switch between them easily).
  • It allows creating several teams for the space and assigning members to it that makes our life much easier: most of our dev teams are cross functional and contain frontend devs, backend devs and QA engineers, so with Front/Back/QA sub-teams we can estimate simultaneously and see estimations for each sub-team.
  • Simple and transparent UI: usually when I prepare for the estimation sessions, it takes me just 2 minutes to create a new session, import all the Stories by copy-pasting, and assign the necessary teams to the session.
  • It supports smart links, so you can switch easily to your task tracker to see more details about the Story.
  • As a moderator you can start voting by “Vote all” button for all the teams, in case there are some disagreements in one of the sub-teams, it’s easy to activate revoting for this team only.
  • There is a timer for each Story, so you can monitor and moderate how long the discussion lasts, also time spent for each session is available in the stats afterwards.
  • There are no difficulties while using this tool on mobile devices, we use it both on iOS and Android platforms.
  • Clear view both for the moderator and players — it’s easy to manage the session, reassign members between the teams during the session, ability to see votes for all the teams from players’ side.
  • Ability to see total score for each of the team at the moment: you can compare it with the team velocity and see when you have enough Stories from the top of Backlog for the next Sprint.
  • You get all this functionality for free, but you always can contribute to development by donating.

Cons (not really):

  • Registration is required for the first time. I know that some teams prefer joining without any additional steps such as signing up via email, but in our case accounts creation is good for security reasons — you can distribute teams/projects between the Spaces, so each team will have access to its Space only. And after being signed up once they can join every session easily by the shared link.
  • There is no ability to choose different custom scales (e.g. T-Shirts). It’s not a disadvantage for us, as we use Fibonacci scale only with all our teams.

Since we have started using this tool we stopped testing other ones, as now we’re happy with what it provides. Moreover they’re planning to add Retrospective support as well, so it would be convenient to use the same tool for all scrum rituals (now for retrospectives we use Miro or Retrium among others, maybe later I will make an overview for such tools as well).

What we also use

For the cases when we need to estimate a few more stories between our planning sessions, we use Poker Planner for Slack, as Slack is our main tool for communication in the company. It’s super easy to use — you can choose default or put a new card set, tag players and decide who can reveal the cards.

We also heard about plugin Planning Poker for JIRA but we have not tried it yet, as for now we have everything we need. Maybe later we will experiment with it as well and share some feedback.

How to make a choice?

Planning poker is a rather popular technique that is used by many teams all over the world and it’s worth to say that by not only IT companies: I have seen successful cases of using this tool in Marketing, Design, Analyst teams.

Even while using the same frameworks and methodologies all the teams have their own culture, approaches and habits, so there are enough tools with different range of features in the market nowadays.

If you do not have any special expectations and your only need is to have the cards set, vote and go further — choose the simplest free tool such as Pointing Poker or similar ones.

In case you would like to keep previous sessions history, integration with any other systems and other needs, there is no better way than check out some tools I mentioned above with your team or just by yourself. As our experience shows, it’s enough to have just one estimation round to find out if you have found your perfect match.

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