Thursday, November 20, 2008

What a difference a sand timer makes....!

Planning Games can be a problem. Especially with large teams where it is difficult to get consensus, and also far too easy to descend into lengthy discussions where different people are in fact violently agreeing with each other (at least in terms of what size something is). What should be a simple one hour maximum meeting to scope out the relative sizing of specific business stories can turn into a Dilbert-esque four hour meeting from hell.

Classic Planning Poker rules suggest using a timer to try and avoid these kinds of situations. Anyone can start a two minute timer, and at the end of the time the team must estimate. Limiting the amount of time gives a degree of pressure and focus to the discussions especially when there is disagreement. Also it limits otherwise lengthy discussions where in fact everyone now agrees on the estimate.

I the past I have tried using this technique with some teams that had a tendency to get bogged down but with limited success. I have tried using a mobile phone, but people found it too complicated to set up quickly and easily. It was also too "personal". A stopwatch did not achieve the right results either - it was simply ignored probably because it counts up an not down. And I have never found a decent egg timer that is easily and accurately settable to two minutes (same problem as the phone). Then I stumbled across a kids 2 minute sand timer....

(Yes, it really is that pink!)

What a difference the low-tech solution has made! It's easy to start (!), obvious when it's running and/or running out and does not disrupt the flow of conversations. Everyone I have spoken to has agreed that it has saved time. It has not always worked, but in general the signs are positive so far. I have even seen the timer being used in other entirely unrelated meetings.