Agile Estimation Technique

10 Agile Estimation Techniques

Estimated read time: 7 minutes

Are you interested in knowing the best agile estimation techniques for your software development projects?

Agile development practices are quite common in the software industry. The reason is the timely delivery of software in the market with an exceptional return on investment. 70% of organizations using agile methods reported that they were able to achieve higher time to market.

However, the most important aspect of implementing agile practices and gaining the resulting benefits is an accurate estimation of the product development process.

If estimates are not made or are highly inaccurate, the timeline and expenses of the under-development project can increase exponentially.

So, let’s discuss some of the commonly used agile estimation techniques that you can use in your agile software development project.

Agile Estimation

Agile product development is based on close customer interaction, flexibility in development stages, and frequent market deliveries.

Agile project members employ various frameworks, tools, and techniques to ensure adaptability and timely fulfillment of customer requirements. One important technique that agile teams use is an agile estimation.

Agile estimations help teams estimate the effort required to complete a development task listed in the project product backlog. This effort is usually measured in terms of the time required to deliver value to customers.

Agile development teams usually use the scrum methodology. An accurate agile estimate helps in better sprint planning. Sprint is a software development iteration spanning over a short time interval. 

Scrum teams often perform project estimations with reference to user stories. A number, called story point, is given to a user story depending on the difficulty level and hence the time required to complete it. Previous similar user stories help in the correct assignment of story points.


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Next, let’s see some of the agile estimation techniques you can use to estimate tasks in your project backlog.

Agile Estimation Techniques

Ten of the prominent agile estimation techniques include the following:

Planning Poker

In this agile estimation technique, numbered cards are given to each team member to estimate the complexity of the task. A higher number indicates that a task is difficult and will require more time. 

Each person presents a card with a number according to the complexity and duration of the task in their opinion. In case of difference in voting numbers, discussions are held and voting is continued till a unanimous number from each person is reached.

The planning poker technique is largely used by scrum and XP development teams. It is advised to use for projects with less number of tasks (maximum 10) and members (up to 8). 

Bucket System Estimation

This agile estimation technique is a variation of planning poker and caters to projects with more tasks, up to 500. The estimation process is started by placing a task in a numbered bucket according to its complexity and time requirement.

Subsequently, each task is placed in a relevant numbered bucket with reference to the first one. Team members carry out discussions to estimate how much effort is required for each task with a consensus. 

Team members can also divide a larger number of tasks between themselves, bucket them, and come back again for discussion and review. The process is quite faster as compared to the planning poker estimation.

Dot Voting

Dot voting is usually used to decide on the effort required for a smaller number of tasks. However, the estimation exercise works best with a well-established agile team. 

Each team member gets a number of dot stickers (can also use markers to place dots) to place on the task depending on the member’s idea of task complexity and required effort.

More dots mean a task is quite complex and will require more time for successful completion. Few dots indicate that a task is relatively simpler. The dot voting process gives an instant visual representation of easier and more difficult tasks.

Three Point Agile Estimation Technique

It is a probabilistic approach for agile estimation. The team members give a value for three categories, best-case, worst-case, and most likely. 

Best-case scenario or optimistic value is time or effort estimation in the case when everything goes fine.

The worst-case scenario or pessimistic value indicates the time or effort estimation if everything goes wrong with the worst roadblocks.

The most likely value is the most practical estimate of the time and effort required to complete a task successfully.

Next, the average of the above three values is taken to get a realistic estimate to complete a task. Average can be calculated through triangular or Beta average methods.

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Three-point estimation technique works best for later-stage estimations of highly prioritized tasks in the project backlog. New teams starting with agile estimation techniques also find the three-point method easier to implement.

T-Shirt Size Agile Estimation Technique

It is an informal but creative agile estimation technique to group items in categories labeled as t-shirt sizes; XS, S, M, L, and XL. 

Each member places a task in a labeled category depending on the work they believe is required to complete it. XS shows less work and time required whereas XL means more required time and effort.

The team conducts discussions in the case of differences of opinions and the exercise is concluded once unanimous estimations are achieved for all the tasks.

At the end of the t-shirt sizes estimation, tasks with a similar requirement of time and effort are in the same size category.

This technique is usually adopted by newer agile teams for a rough estimate of early-stage tasks.

Ordering Estimation

The ordering estimation process is also known as random distribution. All the project tasks are placed randomly on a scale ranging from low to high values. 

Each member of the team is asked to change the position of the task on their turn by moving it a step higher, a step lower, or leaving it as it is. The estimation process is completed when no member wants to change the position of the task.

Ordering estimation helps in finding out the relative complexity and relative effort required for completing various tasks of a project.

Affinity Mapping

This agile estimation technique groups tasks based on their relative similarities based on work/time requirements. 

Affinity mapping usually works best with fewer backlog tasks and smaller teams. Group members place items with similar scope and requirements in one group. Discussions are held between members for a better understanding of each other’s viewpoints.

The estimations of group items are then further refined by placing each item at a proper place relative to others. Different techniques, including t-shirt sizing, Fibonacci sequence, etc., can be used to estimate the correct value for each item.

After a mutual understanding, the product owner saves the final estimate for each task in the project backlog management tool.

1 Sprint Agile Estimation Technique

1 sprint estimation technique places the development task in one of the three categories of Too F-ing big, No F-ing Clue, and specific size of 1. 1 Sprint limits the maximum size of the task to be 1 development iteration or sprint.

The agile team selects as much work from the product backlog as is possible to complete in 1 sprint.

You ask the following “Is it possible to achieve all this in 1 sprint? Or is it too big for 1 sprint? Or do we have no idea if we can complete all this in 1 sprint?”

The technique is fast and you can estimate a lot of tasks in a small amount of time.

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Big/Small/Uncertain Agile Estimation Technique

It is a fast agile estimation technique that groups items into three broad categories big, small, and uncertain. 

Group members are asked to place each item in three categories first for loose categorization. Next, each group item can be further discussed and categorized by using techniques like bucket system estimation.


Analogy estimation estimates tasks or user stories by comparing them with similar user stories. User stories are considered similar if they have the same intent. 

So, if a user story A was previously estimated to be 4 weeks long, another user story B, double in size of A but similar in intent, will be assigned double the time of A. Relevant sizing helps in making accurate user story estimations.

Analogy estimation is used by agile teams that are experienced in agile development and conduct retrospective meetings in routine. 

Planning to Use Agile Estimation Techniques?

The nature of agile projects is based on varying project requirements that have their own levels of complexity and challenges. 

Estimation techniques do not eliminate risks altogether. However, the right agile estimation techniques help you efficiently plan your project tasks while increasing collaboration and participation within the team and improving the decision-making process. This eventually leads to better risk management. 

Product owners, scrum masters, project managers, and product developers, including software developers, quality assurance engineers, and designers participate in agile project estimation meetings.

You have to make sure that your agile development team members have adequate skills for project estimation, sprint planning, and product development. Read our blog for more details on a successful software development team.

If you, as a CEO or CTO, are looking for competent software developers and project managers for your next agile development project, DevTeam.Space can help you via its field-expert software developers community.

These dev teams have developed a range of software solutions based on cutting-edge technologies for multiple industries. You can also partner with them for your project by sending us your project specifications

One of our account managers will get in touch with you to discuss more details on how our developers can assist you.

FAQs on Agile Estimation Techniques

1. What are different estimation techniques?

Different agile estimation techniques include poker planning, bucket system estimation, affinity mapping, ordering protocol estimation method, etc.

2. What are agile estimation stages?

The three levels of agile estimation include proposal/project level, release level, and sprint level. 

3. Why do we do agile estimation?

Agile estimation help in proper planning and management of efforts for completing tasks in the project backlog and delivering value to customers.


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