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How to Make Agile Estimating Easy for Remote Teams

Marta Małkowska

Marta Małkowska

How can you estimate your Product Backlog if you are in a remote team? It doesn’t have to be a nightmare! This simple method will make your estimation process effective, quick and convenient.

In our last blog post The Best Way of Estimating Your Product Backlog Effectively and Quickly, we introduced you to the Team Estimation Game, which from our experience we find is the most proven way of estimating the Product Backlog items (PBIs) effectively and quickly. Now, we will focus on providing you with a very simple method, that still makes estimations engaging and convenient, when it comes to remote teams as well.

LACK OF TOOLS? IT’S NOT A PROBLEM ANYMORE!

So far, nobody has come up with an online tool that can help remote teams to conveniently get engaged in the refinement sessions. You can imagine how hard it might be to participate in an estimation meeting, without having a chance to see, with your own eyes, what is currently happening on the table at the office, especially with all those story cards being compared and moved around in terms of their relative size.

Let’s Keep It Simple

The idea we have come up with doesn’t fall under a category of rocket science. Since we believe that the simplest solutions are always the best, we decided to use the following easy, accessible and quick tools to maintain contact:

  • Trello – for the Team Estimation Game, this allows cards positioning (or any other board tool where you can add and drag cards).
  • Zoom.us / Hangouts / Screenhero or any other preferred online conference tool, where a screen sharing feature is supported.

Trello set up

  1. Setup the new team on Trello and send out the invitations.
  2. Create a specific board for each refinement stage. These boards will be accessible for all team members.
  3. Create a Backlog column where you will be adding story cards.
  4. Create Story cards and put them under the “Backlog” column. Cards in the Backlog column should be ordered according to Product Backlog priorities.

TIP

You can decide for yourself which information you’d like to add to the Story Cards in Trello. If you keep your Product Backlog elsewhere – e.g. in JIRA – and you don’t want to copy all the details, we find it’s enough to just copy the task number and story title, together with a link to the corresponding JIRA task. For greater clarity, we also mark stories with different labels and colors, in correlation to epics.
You can also take advantage of lots of Trello’s additional features and add the acceptance criteria or even take screenshots.

  1. If you are getting ready for the first refinement with your team, add 7 columns with an ‘SP Value’ title, but do not write the amount on the title yet (keep it blank for the team to decide).

FIRST REFINEMENT WITH THE REMOTE TEAM

When you have your refinement board set up in Trello, you’re ready to run an online refinement meeting. Make sure that you use a proper online conference tool which supports screen sharing with all participants.  

The same rules used for non-remote teams for the Team Estimation Game apply here. You can read all about it in our previous blog post The Best Way of Estimating Your Product Backlog Effectively and Quickly.

  1. The first Development Team member takes the story card from the top of the Backlog column, discusses it and places it in the middle column in Trello.
  2. Next, another person takes the next story card and, after reviewing it, places it either in one of the columns on the left (if it’s smaller) or on the right (if it’s bigger).
  3. The game continues until all stories are assigned in reference to each other, placed within the proper columns, and everyone in the Development Team is happy with the order.

NEXT REFINEMENT WITH THE REMOTE TEAM

If you decide to keep using the Team Estimation Game for your next refinement sessions and your team has already defined the reference points, then you need to make a small adjustment in your Trello board.

You will need to add the 7 columns in Trello board, together with the actual Story Points values, and add referential story cards to the appropriate columns.

TIP

Referential cards can be labeled in a different color than the story cards, which you plan to refine with the team in order to have them easily distinguishable from each other.

Afterward, during the next refinement meeting, the Development Team should simply compare further Product Backlog items to the already estimated story cards presented in Trello.

WRAP UP

We hope that our suggested solution, thanks to being quick and easy to set up, might come in handy. Of course, we would be very happy if you check it out and discover, for yourself, just how much more convenient and engaging this process makes estimations for remote teams. And who knows – maybe it will even inspire you and your team members to experiment with other tools and nail down the best approach for remote estimation sessions. Happy backlog refining!

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