Determining value using value poker

Categories Agile
Value poker

The product owner is responsible for making sure the product backlog is ordered in a way that maximises value. The goal is to enable the team to deliver as much value as possible, as early as possible.

However, this can be easier said than done. How do we determine what is more valuable than something else? Often, we will be comparing apples and pears. What is more important: simplifying the checkout process or adding the possibility to subscribe to newsletters?

This week, in three short blog post, I will be looking at different ways to try to determine this value.

Still, after 10 years as a Scrum Master, I know of no perfect way of doing this. Nevertheless, it is incredibly important that we give it our best shot. Nothing will improve our effectiveness as much as building what’s valuable and not what’s not.

Let’s get started with the subject of this first post, value poker.

What is value poker?

Very similar to planning poker, value poker is a “game” where each participant vote by showing a number out of a deck of cards. The difference from planning poker being that we’re estimating relative value rather than relative effort.

Why use this method?

Value poker is a quick and even rather fun way to estimate the value of features. It allows all the relevant stakeholders to get involved, while avoiding lengthy discussions. The main idea is that estimating the relative value between features is much easier than trying to estimate value in absolute numbers.

The value poker method can be particularly useful when the Product Owner has several different stakeholders to manage, each with their own priorities.

How to use it

Choose an appropriate timebox (2 hours?) to give enough time to spend just a few minutes on each item. You can use an egg timer to keep time for each item if necessary.

Invite all the relevant stakeholders. For a bit of extra fun, you can make the seating arrangement resemble the BBC programme Dragons Den, with the stakeholders sat in chairs next to each other at the front of the room.

Some use special estimation cards for value poker, with numbers 100, 200, 300, 500, 800, 1200, 2000 and 3000. The only purpose of the bigger numbers, compared to normal story point estimation cards is, it seems, to make the stakeholders feel more important! Normal story point planning poker cards (1, 2, 3, 5, 8 etc) should work just as well.

A value poker session

Typically, the product owner facilitates the session and the format is as follows:

  1. Establish a baseline for the value estimates by using a well-understood feature as reference and declaring, for example, that this feature is worth 300.
  2. Present the first feature and explain how it contributes to the product’s objectives. Typically, the Product Owner would present each item but in cases where ideas come from different people, people could present “their own” features. Take care not to mention any estimates of required effort; this session is purely focused on value.
  3. Answer any questions the participants have.
  4. On the count of 3, all participants simultaneously reveal their value estimates, compared to the reference feature. The more value they think the feature is, the bigger the number. If all participants are showing the same number, this is your value estimate.
  5. If there are differences in numbers, let the people with the highest and lowest numbers explain why they chose the numbers they did. Then let everyone re-estimate based on this information.
  6. If still no consensus, either rinse and repeat until there is, or simply calculate the average. In the latter case, the number doesn’t necessarily have to be one that’s available in the deck of cards. Just make sure to agree what rules apply before starting the game!

Final thoughts

The value poker method can be a good way to ensure the value for each feature is based on the perspective of the business. However, we must not forget that the Product Owner is always ultimately responsible for, and therefore has the final say about, the ordering of the backlog.

Have you tried value poker? Did you find it useful? Please share your experiences in the comments below!



Magnus Dahlgren – Scrum Master (CSP) and Agile Coach

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