Project management is incredibly simple until you actually have to do it, which is why books, seminars and other aids abound. I’d heard of T-Shirt Sizing before, where team members are asked to help estimate and prioritize project elements using relative measures, rather than guessing the absolute time or manpower needed. Yvette Francino uncovered another project estimation technique, Project management poker:
Planning Poker is a technique where each team member use cards with a range of numbers to estimate effort. Typically the numbers do not progress incrementally, but are more spread apart, the higher they get. The Fibonacci series (0, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, …) can be used for this. The reasoning behind this is that the larger the numbers get, the more uncertainty there is. Cohn gave us each a deck of cards and had us do an exercise in which we were given several tasks and then work in teams to estimate those tasks using the cards. If we didn’t agree on the first pass, we would explain our reasoning and vote again. In all cases, we were able to reach consensus quickly. Cohn even has made a free planning poker tool available for distributed agile teams.
Yvette has posted some videos that more fully explain why poker planning works, and there’s even a free tool to try it with your team online. While that tool is specific for Agile development teams, I would love to hear if you think, or any other project estimation techniques, are useful in your department when plotting out major projects.