Affinity Estimation and the Back Log! all in 4 simple steps!

I want to write a few blogs on estimating and different techniques that can be used... but I thought I'd write a quick blog all about Affinity Estimation.

I find this technique works well where you have a medium to large sized product back-log... As a very rough rule of thumb anything under 25 items is probably manageable with Planning poker.... beyond this number is where Affinity Estimation can be a really useful tool in the Scrum Master's arsenal!

Before affinity estimation can begin the product owner needs to have a complete list of Product Backlog items.

The scrum team and product owners and any other business representatives than start estimating....

Well the scrum team start estimating the product owners and business are there to observe and answer questions - ideally they should be towards the back of the room and as quiet and invisible as they possibly can be! certainly at the first stage they shouldn't be influencing the team.

Stage 1:

I usually print out two A4 pages, one reads "Small" the other "Large" I blue-tack these to opposite ends of the wall (other sticking materials are available)

The Scrum team then proceeds to pin/stick the back-log items on the wall somewhere between 'Small' and 'Large' - At this point nobody should be influencing or discussing the sizing - where clarity or further information is required the Product Owner/Stake holders are there to assist.

You may want an area on the wall for items which can not be estimated.. where the information is insufficient or not clearly understood.

Stage 2:

This is the stage where it all gets a bit more exciting and animated... get the Scrum team to review the position of the back-log items, talk and debate there positions and shuffle as necessary!

However.... and this is important... before moving items around get the team/individual to explain their thinking - get it debated!

And again - Product Owners and Stakeholders..... stay silent! unless asked a question!

Stage 3:

Now it's time to start shifting tasks into 'Buckets'

Different people have different ideas about this..... I like to stick to the Fibonacci number sequence (or more less) that we used in Agile poker, 1,2,3,5,8,13,20,40,100 some people like T-Shirt sizing, XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL!

Once again I like to stick labels on the wall... at increasing distances and get the team to think about story items and place accordingly!

As always with this sort of estimating... if it's in-between M and L .... it goes into the next bucket size up... Large!

Stage 4:

OK... Product Owners it's your turn at last!

Once the Backlog has been sized on the wall its your turn to start discussing the sizes and dare I say challenging them perhaps!

I usually give the Product Owner and any of their 'gang'  a highlighter pen  to mark items they would like to discuss.

This is also a brilliant time for the Scrum team to take a toilet break, grab a cup of tea and have a break away from the estimating process! Whilst the business puzzles over the decisions they've made!

As Scrum master I find it important to 'coach' the Product Owners and business to challenge the Scrum Team but in a discreet and at all times respectful manner! 

Once the team is back from the toilet / tea / coffee break - The Product Owner and business can discuss the sizing of tasks they've highlighted for discussion.

However - I always leave the final word with the Scrum Team... there the ones who are fully committed as opposed to merely involved!!! 

And that's it! Affinity Estimation and all in under 5 steps!

Some things to consider:

  • The Scrum Master must be ready to do some serious facilitation with the team and business - and to coach both parties as to their responsibilities.

  • Some Product Backlog items may not be understood well enough to estimate! Place these on a space separate wall from the estimating wall.

  • I try and have my bucket labels spaced in a way to reflect their size... making it physical seems to help in the planning process.

  • Always respect the Scrum Team estimates... however be respectful of the challenges from the Product Owner and or business - discuss and re-consider where appropriate.

  • This is a first step only... regular grooming of the Backlog is still required.... using techniques such as planning poker!

As always - good luck with the process and don't be afraid to change the process to make it work with your organisation.

Written by Christian Miles

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