A Cool Free Tool to Make Agile Estimating Easier and Better

Most agile teams are relatively appreciative. This means that they value items compared to other items. For example, I do not know how long it will take to develop this user story, but I think it will take twice as long as that of the other user story. At home, I think pruning the trees in my yard will take twice as much as mowing the lawn.

Suppose item B in the figure below is valued twice as much as the effort of item A. Then item C is valued twice as much as that of B. This means, of course, that C is four times greater than A.

The team should consider this ratio and ask themselves, “Does it look like C will take four times the effort from A?”

It would be ideal for a team to compare each valued item to all previous items. But that means the team’s 100th item will be compared to all 99 items previously valued.

It’s not too effective to be taken seriously.


A more effective strategy is to compare a valued item to two previous estimates. This technique is known as triangular.

Do not randomly select the two items used in comparisons. Instead, team members should choose one estimate that is slightly smaller than considered and one that is slightly larger.

For example, if a team thinks of valuing an item as 5 story points, team members should compare it to items previously rated as 3 and 8, if using a Fibonacci scale. It is also a good idea to occasionally compare with an item that is considered the same size and not one lower or higher. So when considering an estimate of 5 points, team members may compare to items valued at 3 and 5 or 5 and 8.

When I do this on, say, a 5-point item, I ask the team members, “So, if we estimate it as 5 points, we say it’s about 50% larger than this three-point section. Does that seem right? “

If so, I will ask a similar question in comparison between the item and one with a larger estimate, eight in this case. I would say, “And we say it’s about half the size of this item with 8 points. Does everyone agree?”

Build a good list of good comparisons

It is important to choose good items for comparison. If your team feels like a particular item has been incorrectly evaluated, do not use that item in future triangulations. This will lead to erroneous comparisons that will lead to bad news evaluations.

What I found most useful is compiling a list of good items to use for comparisons. I can then refer to this list whenever I need to find a good comparison item in any size.

While compiling this list of good aggregate items to compare with, I find two important criteria:

  • Team members still agree with the assessment after the item is developed
  • Most team members understand the item

The first point eliminates anything that was poorly valued, like a 5-point item that team members now think should have been valued at 13 points.

The second point does not include esoteric items understood only by a small subset of the team. For example, a story may be well valued (the first criterion) but if it works and is only understood by two team members, it is not a good item to add to the list.

The correct number of comparison items

A good list of favorite comparisons will contain 15-30 items accrued by approximate products. Less than that and you will have a hard time finding suitable comparisons and you will have to reuse the same items over and over again. This is dangerous because if one of the selected items is not rated well, every small error is reinforced by making frequent comparisons against it.

You can not contain too many items in your comparison list. But most people go back to using their favorite favorites over and over again. In a manual selection of items for comparison, you will most likely choose from those 15-30.

Age of old items off the list

You should remove items from the list as they age. A three-year-old item might have been well appreciated and understood by most team members back then. But by age three, the team may have many new members with no understanding of the old item. Even those who remain on the team will not remember the item with sufficient clarity so that it will still be a good comparison item.

So remove old items from your comparison list as they age.

Introducing an automatic triangle in poker design ™

I’m excited to let you know that we’ve just tripled your estimates with our automated triangulation beta feature within the Agile Mentors Community Planning poker tool. And until January 11, 2022, we make Planning Poker and this new feature completely free for anyone to use.

How an automatic triangle works

Here’s how it works: When a team makes an estimate, anyone on the team can press the auto-triangle button. This will usually be done by a Scrum Master, Coach, or the person hosting the Poker Poker session.

Whoever clicks on an automatic triangle will ask the number he wants to make a triangle around it. After entering a value, the system will automatically and randomly select items with the following low and high values. So if, as in our example above, I want to perform an automatic triangle around 5, the system will display previously evaluated items at 3 and 8 points.

Your Poker Design Favorites

The items displayed as comparisons are randomly selected from a group of items previously marked by a player as “Favorites”.

At Agil Mentors Planning Poker, you can easily identify an item as one that you want to use for future comparisons. To do this, simply click on the star displayed in the upper right corner of each valued current item, as shown in the following image. A yellow star indicates that the item is marked as a beloved. Items not selected as favorites are displayed with a blank star outline.

You can see a list of all selected favorites by clicking the items button in the upper right corner of the window. This will display the Items window with the Favorites tab showing the selected favorites as you can see in the following image. From this shelf you can remove any item you no longer want to be preferred for use in automatic triangulation.

How comparisons are selected

When someone clicks on an automatic triangle, Planning Poker asks him for the value he wants to arrange around him. Next, Planning Poker will select the closest item below that value and the closest item above it. If several items have the same value, one of them is randomly selected. To see how it works, suppose you have selected the following items as a favorite:

item Appreciate
A 1
B 5
third 5
D 8
God 13

If you tell the system to make an automatic triangle around 8 points, Planning Poker will randomly choose to display one of the two items valued at 5 points. And it will feature E, the only favorite rated as 13th.

If you instead ask for automatic triangulation around 5 points, the estimators will be shown the story of 1 point and the story of 8 points. This group apparently used a Fibonacci sequence, but no item rated at 2 or 3 points was preferred. Thus, Planning Poker chooses the next lowest number, which is 1 in this case.

Your favorites are drawn between sessions, of course, so you can put together a list of great aggregation items to compare against.

Try it for free as a gift from us at this Black Friday

I would love it if you could try this new beta triangle feature, and by January 11, 2022 we are turning Planning Poker for free into a trial.

In fact, to celebrate Black Friday, we offer you a free trial of the entire community of nimble mentors.

Sign up for a free trial account before Friday, December 3, 21:00 Pacific, and get full membership access, including my resource library, my entire weekly tips archive, a thriving forum where you can ask questions and network, and much more until January 11, 2022.

To learn more about the free trial period and sign up, Click here.




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