planning-id-01

Intro

Are you happy with the app you use to do feature estimation in your Scrum process? We weren’t either. How about the way you collect feedback after a sprint is done? We’ve got you covered.

Introducing Planning Poker: the tool to manage Scrum pointing sessions AND retrospectives in the same place, under an Open Source license, for free! How sweet is that? In this post, we’ll tell you why we built this app, and what were we looking for (spoiler alert: you will see those expectations fulfilled in our app). Then, we’ll show you how it actually works, on a step-by-step tutorial to master the main features. Finally, we’ll refer to the technical stack and the reasons behind choosing those specific technologies. We want to open up a line of communication to receive comments and suggestions for improvement. In the end, this is Open Source, right?

More specifically, in this post we’ll cover the following topics:

  1. Why we built this app
  2. How it works
    1. Pointing sessions
      • Creating a pointing session
      • Setting point values
      • Joining a pointing session
      • Pointing stories
      • Statistics
      • Leaving a pointing session
    2. Retrospective meetings
      • Creating a session
      • Joining a session
      • Adding entries
      • Editing entries
      • Deleting entries
      • Revealing entries
      • Reviewing entries
      • Leaving a session
  3. The technical stack we used to build it.

 

Let’s get started.

Why did we build this app?

Planning Poker was born out of the need to have a fast, simple, and fun tool for the process of estimating the complexity of a feature. At the same time, we needed something to help us manage retrospective meetings. In Planning Poker, the estimation sessions and the retrospectives are carried out in accordance with the Scrum methodology in a distributed environment. We needed an application that kept these processes simple yet flexible, allowing for the addition of custom values if needed. Since we couldn’t find an application that had this exact set of features, we set forth to do it ourselves.

We also wanted to give something back to the community. During our run as a web dev company, we’ve made use of great open source software, and are grateful to the the people who wrote that software. We thought that if we came up with something worth sharing, we would release it under an open source license and return the favor. It was about time that we built and offered something that could make the lives of Scrum teams easier.

So, how does it actually work?

There are two types of users in our application:

Player: These types of users are only allowed to vote, add and modify all of their entries in retrospective sessions. In this way, moderators can have control of the meetings and lead them without interruptions.

Moderator: This is a role commonly used by Scrum Masters. They are allowed to change the description of the story that is being estimated, and clear values to start a new estimation. In retrospective sessions, they are allowed to reveal entries when users finish entering them so that the team can review entries together.

Creating a pointing session:

In order to start pointing you have to create a session, go to the application’s homepage and:

  1. Enter your username
  2. Select your user type
  3. Click “Start”
  4. Optional: modify the names of the pointing values.
  5. Click “Go”!

 

PointingLogin

Creating new pointing session

Setting point values:

You will notice that you can modify the description (names) for points. We included this functionality to give users the freedom to choose the scale and the names for the corresponding elements that works best for them. However, we have also included the most popular pointing range, the Fibonacci series, which is set as default. So, if you don’t need to change anything on the scale, you can move on to the next step of the process without delay. Finally, we added two more features to allow players to express that they are not sure about the estimation of a certain story, or that they need to take a break.

It is important to note that the application doesn’t store those values in memory. They are refreshed when a new session is created, and the only person who can modify them is the creator of the session.

SettingPointValues

Customize point values and labels view

 Joining a pointing session:

Once a user creates a session, she can invite the rest of the team by sharing the link or session ID with them. All users will be prompted to choose a username and user type.

To join with a link:
  1. Click link.
  2. Fill username and user type in prompt.
  3. Click “OK”.

 

EnterUsername

Enter username modal joining session

To join with a session ID:
  1. Go to our home page.
  2. Fill username.
  3. Enter session ID in the corresponding field.
  4. Choose user type.
  5. Click “Join”.

 

JoinSession

Joining a session with an Id

Pointing:

We provide an input to define the description of the story in order to keep all members on the same page. Since the voting process shouldn’t be affected by teammates influencing each other, your vote is secret and you are not allowed to see other teammates’ votes. Accordingly, they won’t see yours until all players are finished voting.

Pointing

Pointing view

Statistics:

The application displays statistics right after all users have finished voting.  Yo’ll be informed of how many players voted the same value. If there was consensus you’ll be notified as well. Votes can’t be changed afterwards.

Statistics

Pointing Statistics

 

Leaving  a session:

Once your team is finished, you can clear the voting area in order to start pointing a different story. Alternatively, if you have finished your sprint planning, you can just close the browser and the session will be deleted.

Creating a Retrospective session:

This process is very similar to the one for creating a pointing session, except that this time we have to select that we are creating a retrospective session instead.

  1. Enter your username.
  2. Select your user type.
  3. Select retrospective from the session type dropdown menu.
  4. Click “Start”.

 

CreateRetrospective

Create retrospective session as Moderator

 

Joining a retrospective session:

Same as if pointing a session: once you create a session, you can invite the rest of the team by sharing the link or session ID with them. All users will be prompted to choose a username and user type as well.

To join with a link:

  1. Click link.
  2. Fill username and user type in prompt.
  3. Click “OK”

 

To join with a session ID

  1. Go to join session section in the home page.
  2. Fill username and user type in prompt.
  3. Enter session Id.
  4. Click “Join”.

 

Adding entries:

Once you enter a session you can see three columns like these:

Retrospective

Retrospective view

 

  1. Click the “+” button on any column.
  2. Write your entry in the box.
  3. Press Enter.

 

EnterMoreOf

More of column in add entry mode

 

WritingMoreOf

Writing an entry for More of column

 

AddedMoreOf

Added entry in More of Column

 

Editing Entries:

Once you add an entry you are allowed to edit it by clicking on the pencil icon.

  1. Click edit icon.
  2. Modify entry.
  3. Click “OK”.

 

 

EditingEntry

Editing an entry modal

 

Deleting Entries:

You are allowed to delete your entries too, just on the trash icon next to the entry.

RetrospectiveEntry

Revealing entries:

Only moderators are allowed to reveal entries, this will show the content of the entries to all users. You can do it by clicking on the “Reveal” button.

Reviewing entries:
ReviewEntry

Preview entry in review mode

 

Once you reveal entries you will be allowed to click on them. That will open a pop up with the text of the entry so you can read the complete entry. There’s an option to mark them as ready or go to the next/previous button.

MarkedAsRead

More of entry marked as read

 

If you are a moderator, you have the option of showing where you are with the rest of the users in the session. With that, you can make sure that all users are looking at the same thing, reading the same entry.

Show for others option

Show for others option

 

Leaving  a session:

This works exactly the same as pointing sessions. When you finish your retrospective meeting, you can just close the browser and the session will be deleted.

How is it built?

We chose Node.js as the main backend platform for this project. We did this because of its “Event Loop” feature and because it does asynchronous operations, which makes our I/O operations fast. But that’s not all, it also features socket support. As you probably know, websockets are two-way communications between the server and the client via TCP instead of HTTP. This means that you can create powerful real-time applications that can push changes immediately. In our case, this came in handy when displaying user votes.

Using Node.js helped us reduce the number of issues that commonly occur when working with multiple languages. Since we had JavaScript already running on the server and the browser, it just made our lives easier. We also used Angular.js. We chose it mostly because of the ‘data-binding’ benefit. Since we were building an application with real-time output, we needed to keep the UI updated, and Angular.js is perfect for that. We’ve been working with this framework for a while, and it makes our development process faster. Plus:

  • It’s maintained by a very friendly and highly-skilled community.
  • It allows for the extension of HTML.
  • It allows for dependency injection.

 

We needed to chose a Javascript library to handle websockets, so we went for Socket.io. We did this for these reasons:

  • It handles browser inconsistencies and varying support levels.
  • It includes additional features like rooms, which allows for work in different teams/rooms/sessions/channels.
  • We think it’s the most reliable real-time engine for Node.js so far.
  • It’s easy to use.

 

And finally, we included Express.js too. We know there are a lot of new frameworks for Node.js out there, but since reliability is of the highest priorities for us, we had to go for Express.js. It has been available for a couple years now and its community and creators are very active. Besides that, this framework is simple and very flexible, and allowed for scalability.

We hope that you found this post interesting. If you have any questions or comments feel free to leave them on the comments section below. Here’s the link to the project on Github. Have a suggestion or found a bug? Send a pull request and we’ll be happy to take a look. We at TangoSource are constantly looking for new and interesting projects that empower our clients and keep the end-user happy. Have something in mind? Send us an email at info@tangosource.com, we’d love to talk 🙂

Thanks for reading!

J.