Monday, October 12, 2015

CMMI-TV: Is Planning Poker for Scrum Teams Only?

Hey, CMMI Appraiser, can Planning Poker be used by a company that uses CMMI, or is it for Scrum teams only? ~ NY-SPIN Attendee

Dear Readers,

Today’s episode of CMMI-TV was filmed at an NY-SPIN event in New York City, where I was asked what I thought about Planning Poker for estimating for a company that uses the CMMI. Below is a video clip with my answer, followed by a synopsis of my response. Enjoy!


To embrace Agile in a way that makes sense for the organization, we need to strengthen it with tools like the CMMI to create an "Agile Resiliency Architecture,” which keeps us focused on what's most important to our business and our process, and ultimately, our product.

When organizations are out of alignment with the "Agile Resiliency Architecture,” everything starts to go wrong.


Teams say, “We play Planning Poker.  We don’t actually have the cards, but we play Planning Poker.”  I say, “How do you do that?”  They say, “We don’t have any cards, so we all talk about what number we were thinking of.”

But that’s missing the point! Planning Poker is an agile technique designed to eliminate the overbearing voice in team meetings. Playing the game isn’t the point. The point is eliciting proper behavior.

For example, if Bill is really loud, and Joanne isn’t, that doesn’t mean Bill has the right answer. But in a traditional estimating environment, Bill wins because he dominates the room.


With Planning Poker, estimating is very different.  Teammates sit quietly at a table, holding numbered cards they’ll use to rank or estimate a project’s difficulty.  When everyone is ready, they flip the cards over, and the number in front of each teammate has equal volume, weight and importance.  They say, “OK, let’s talk about it.”  And they play again: 1-2-3 … flip!


Planning Poker is an estimating tool that is designed to eliminate the bullying that goes on in some companies.  When used correctly, it becomes directly tied to our organizational values, such as being collaborative or a fun place to work or having a focus on people, or whatever your values may be.


Planning Poker is a technique, and like all techniques and methods, it has to be aligned with the organizational values to be effective.

This is true across the entire company.  What we do (our techniques) must be tied to why we’re doing it (our values) and the way we’re doing it (our methods).  If we are using agile techniques like Planning Poker, but we don’t embrace agile values like failing fast, being iterative and incremental and improving continuously, then we’re not aligned vertically, and we will fail.

To understand the Agile Resiliency Architecture, you need to look at the company vertically, not horizontally:

  • Tier I – Values = Guiding the work (fail fast, iterative and incremental, etc.)
  • Tier II – Methods = Managing the work (Scrum, XP, Kanban, Spiral, Crystal, etc.) 
  • Tier III- Techniques = Doing the work (Planning Poker, Daily Standups, Sprint Demos, Retrospectives, etc.)

Yes, Planning Poker can be a fun, collaborative tool that is highly useful, but it's a horizontal technique, and can be a waste of time if not aligned with your values. The real question is, do you know why you are using it?


To learn how to transform your company to agile, and strengthen agile within your company, sign up for our upcoming webinars:

Sign up for “Agile Transformation” on Tuesday, October 13th at noon EST

Sign up for “Agile Resiliency” on Thursday, October 15th at noon EST

Like this blog? Forward to your nearest engineering or software exec!

Jeff Dalton is a Certified SCAMPI Lead Appraiser, Certified CMMI Instructor, ScrumMaster, author, and consultant with years of real-world experience with the CMMI in all types of organizations. Jeff pioneered agileCMMI, the leading methodology for incremental and iterative process improvement. He has taught thousands of students in CMMI trainings and has received an aggregate satisfaction score of 4.97 out of 5 from his students.

Visit for more information about engineering strategy, performance innovation, software process improvement and running a successful CMMI program.

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