Tips for More Accurate Estimating Sessions

Tips for More Accurate Estimating Sessions

Estimating how much effort a task will take to be completed can be tricky. It gets near to impossible in the context of an innovation project where brand new features are built from scratch. That might be the reason for teams that skip estimation sessions in favor of doing some 'real work.' In the end, estimations fail, so why doing them anyway?

However, we think that estimating is not senseless when done right, as it can help better plan your sprints. It is also a golden opportunity to consider all collaborators' perspectives on the work items that are part of the sprint backlog. Check out the following ideas and take full advantage of Agile estimations.

Topics to check

  1. Six tips to improve your estimations

  2. Popular estimation techniques
    2-a. Planning poker
    2-b. T-shirt sizes
    2-c. Bucket system

  3. Picking the right tool

  4. Involving the whole team

1. Six tips to improve your estimations

Work discussions are senseless unless there exists an agenda. The same happens with estimating sessions: Before the meeting takes place, people should already be familiar with the tasks they will discuss, the tools they use to keep communication and work flowing, as well as who will be the team members working on each area or phase.

Make sure you always consider the following elements beforehand:

  • Involve the whole team: It's essential for developers and the Scrum Master (SM) to be there. The Product Owner (PO) isn't required to assist, but doing so can add value, as the PO may clarify doubts related to any story.

  • Pick a communication platform: May sound obvious, but you have to make sure there happen as little interruptions as possible. This includes using a video chat software that can support all attendees.

  • Consolidate your Sprint Backlog: As soon as this artifact is ready, your team can start to get familiar with it. They might even have the chance to do some research in advance.

  • Allow only Ops to cast votes: While defining how hard can the completion of an item be, it's important to keep the PO, SM or any non-developer out of the voting process. If only the people that will perform the tasks can estimate, accountability will be enhanced.

  • If no consensus, pick the largest estimation: Sessions cannot go on forever. In the case of dissenting, the best choice is to be as realistic as possible, meaning to choose the largest estimation. Maybe it turns out to be easier while being worked on.

  • Keep a record of estimates: Knowing how many story points can a team complete during a sprint (or work cycle) is key to improve planning for the next iterations. Keeping track of these aspects is essential.

Learn more about using story points and calculating Velocity.

The Scrum Master or Project Manager should already have checked the list of user stories and sub-tasks for the sprint. These sets of items are selected during a Backlog Grooming process, where the PO and SM discuss and define the work to deliver in a specified period based on relevance and potential added value.

A good way to define a solid backlog is with the support of Scrum Poker, an intuitive app that helps you set engaging estimating discussion sessions. This nifty app can also import Jira and Confluence issues to assess your story points on them. It is simple to use and saves time.

2. Popular Estimation techniques

Voting is a central part of the estimation session, where the team decides how many points a story will have. Story points are a relative measure of how much effort a story can take to be delivered, and there are several techniques to aid you in the process.

But what happens when you face a task that cannot be compared to anything done in the past? It can be almost impossible to estimate its related effort.

We think these three techniques can get you through any estimation session and get real value from it:

2-a. Planning poker - Ideal for backlogs with few items.
  • Uses a point system usually based on Fibonacci sequence, helping to differentiate
  • Teammates put a score to each user story.
  • High and low estimates propitiate discussion to better understand dependencies.
  • After consensus, the team can put a new score, refining the estimate.
2-b. T-shirt sizes - Ideal for medium-sized backlogs.
  • Its classification system is divided in four bins: Small, Medium, Large and Extra Large.
  • User stories sizes relate to complexity: The bigger, the harder it can be to accomplish.
  • Instead of comparing tasks, they get gathered in groups.
  • It can be very intuitive for Agile newcomers.
2-c. Bucket system - Ideal for large-sized backlogs.
  • Its scale is based on Fibonacci sequence.
  • The tasks are related to numbers in the scale, which represents grade of complexity.
  • High and low estimates cause discussion.
  • After consensus, the team can relate a new number to each user story.

Learn more about these Agile estimation techniques and the usage of the Fibonacci sequence.

3. Picking the right tool

Physical whiteboards and post-it notes are a thing of the past if you consider the growing trends of remote and hybrid work. You need state-of-the-art tools that help you reduce issues, such as group thinking and context shifting, that harm productivity.

That said, Atlassian develops great platforms for Agile management, such as Jira or Confluence, where you can handle any project with a broad arsenal of features.

Scrum Poker for Jira or Confluence already has everything you need for running engaging and practical estimation sessions with accuracy, so you can plug and play with it. Check how it works in the following video:

4. Involving the whole team

If you want to get accurate estimates, you must reach a consensus, so naturally, discussion plays a vital role during the session.

We have also written about discussions being pivotal for remote teams before, if you'd like to dig deeper.

By analyzing all possible scenarios related to a user story, your estimates can be more accurate. But only the people working on the story should vote. Remember: Participation is excellent, but time is precious.

Another potential issue to prevent is letting Scrum Masters or managers vote or influence others' voices. Since managers are responsible for the release dates of the product, this fixation on time can cause them to vote with low estimations, putting the project at risk.

The Scrum Master main responsibility is to be a facilitator, incentivizing discussion and collaboration within the team, clearing the path towards success.

It is also helpful to record your estimates and enable anyone in your team to check on them quickly. Scrum Poker is designed to help you keep track of all your estimates for further consideration, empowering you to keep improving your planning from sprint to sprint.

Those are the most valuable tips we think will help you pull out better estimations on your stories. Remember that planning is key to success and Agile estimating sessions are a great way to dig deeper on it, considering all kinds of contexts, so your projects are always delivered on budget.

Feel free to share these insights with your collaborators and friends to help them level up!

More about Estimations:

Are you adopting or looking to improve your Agile practices? Is your team remote? If your answer to any of these questions is ‘yes’, you should check out our products for distributed teams. We focus on making communication more effective and easier for remote teams.

Check out our tools:

Follow us on our networks:

And subscribe to our blog below!