18 August 2015

Challenge, Estimate or Override (CEO) Game for Effective Estimations

You don't want to spend so much time with your team on estimating user stories, I totally understand that. However, the only way you know to do that is through planning poker.

True, planning poker is a great way of bringing up the conversation for user stories but it's not the most effective way to estimate those. I can assure you that if the originators of Planning Poker idea had more time spending on that, they wouldn't even introduce the concept. Or they will introduce it only as an introductory estimation activity.

What I am going to share with you is what I tried and I believe is really effective. I am calling it "Challenge, Estimate or Override" or for short the CEO game.

Using the CEO game you can reduce the amount of user story estimation activity in fourth or even less. Isn't that the point of being human and suck at estimations? To have less time spent on estimation and more on collaboration?

The rules are as followings:
  1. Printed out user stories as cards. I call them the pile. 
  2. Everyone stands next to one preferably long table. 
  3. The bottom of the table shows the stories that are estimated the smallest, and the top of the table the stories that are estimated the biggest.
  4. Each person on the team takes a turn to do one of the following
    1. Read a card from the pile and estimate it by placing it on the table. The lower the card is placed the smaller it is. (Estimate)
    2. Take one card that is already on the table and move it on the table. (Override)
    3. Take a card and challenge the person who put it on the table on their estimate (Challenge). It is then his/her (the person who is challenged) responsibility to argue on his/her estimate and then correct his/her estimate. 
  5. Team members take turn following the instructions above until there is no card to place on the table.
  6. When there is no card in the pile, team members get one last chance to play the game if they want. 
Note 1*: The play can only use Challenge option once every two turns. This action is most useful when a player doesn't agree with the estimation and he/she doesn't know where exactly it belongs to.

Note 2: You want to ask your team members to stand for the whole exercise. Otherwise, they tend to lean and be passive on passing the pile. Think about it, who could have fun sitting down!

Note 3: At the end of this exercise you can assign Fibonacci numbers to the user stories if you need to. Fibonacci numbers begin with 1 and 2. The next number in the series would be the sum of the two previous numbers: 1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34,55 [3=2+1, 5=3+2, 8=5+3 and so on]

*Note 4: A good alternative to the first rule is the following: Team members can only Challenge or Override twice (not every two turns) so that people can't get carried away (and they pick their battles). (Cheers to Nima Honarmandan)

That's it! Now you have a list of user stories estimated in a fraction of the time you used to play poker. I suggest using a projector if you are using an electronic board, in case team members disagree on the terms of user stories and you want to refer to them. Then, any question regarding a user story can be clarified by discussing it in more details. 

The following pictures show the progress of estimation over the time (45 minutes) to get all the user stories (around 70).

Initial round
Next round
Final round - [I used Fibonacci numbers to quantify complexity]

You can use this method to print out user stories as cards if you are using JIRA.

Update: It seems that JIRA has taken down the page linked line above. You can take a look at the Google cached version here (PDF version embedded below as well).

As an alternative solution, you can use Agile Cards for JIRA plugin and print out the user stories as cards.

Update 2: It seems that I wasn't the first person to think of such a game, duh!. A similar game to what I introduced was introduced by Steve Bockman at 2008 called The Estimation Game.


  1. When I try to access the link at the bottom to learn how to print out the cards from Jira, it tells me there are page level restrictions and I can't access it. Can you repost?

    1. @Brian, it seems that JIRA has taken down the page. You can take a look at the cached version of the page here:
      I will update the game with an alternative solution to print story cards.