Steering Away from Time: Vehicle Analogy in Agile Estimation

Project estimation is a critical component of Agile project management, and it often takes the form of a game—Planning Poker. This consensus-based technique has been widely used to estimate the effort, complexity, and risk associated with completing tasks or stories. Yet, it can inadvertently anchor a team's mindset to time, which isn't always the most critical dimension to measure. To shift the focus towards complexity and risk, let's introduce a vehicle-based analogy into our Planning Poker sessions.

Shifting Gears to Complexity and Risk

In the fast-paced world of software development, when it comes to estimation, developers’ minds often race straight to the ticking clock. It’s a natural reflex—how long will it take? Yet, seasoned practitioners know that this one-dimensional approach can lead to pitstops and detours. The key to a more effective estimation process is not to clock the time but to map out the terrain of complexity, gauge the weight of risk, and measure the breadth of size. It’s about estimating the task itself, not the time it will consume.

Why this change in route? Because time, while easily quantifiable, often fails to account for the intricacies and uncertainties that are part and parcel of software development. By focusing on the nature of the task—its complexity, the risks involved, and its overall size—we lay the groundwork for more accurate planning. This shift in mindset is crucial, steering away from a fixation on hours and towards a comprehensive understanding of what the task entails.

In this article, we will drive through the Agile methodology’s Planning Poker technique, but with a creative twist. Instead of playing with numbers that echo minutes and hours, we’ll introduce a lineup of vehicles as symbols for the tasks at hand. Each vehicle, from a skateboard to a space shuttle, represents a different level of complexity and risk, providing a visual and intuitive method for your team to estimate work items without falling into the time trap.

Let’s buckle up and navigate through the process of effective estimation by understanding the tasks in front of us, rather than racing against the clock.

Imagine an assortment of vehicles, each representing a different level of complexity and risk, much like a deck of cards in a poker game. In this modified game, vehicles replace traditional numbers to provide a tangible reference for estimation.

The Skateboard: Effortless Tasks (0 Points)

The skateboard glides effortlessly on smooth surfaces, akin to those tasks in a project that are so straightforward they require no additional resources or preparation. These tasks are the quick tasks, the ones that can be tackled immediately with no risk, like fixing a typo or updating a header on a webpage.

The Tricycle: Simple yet Structured (1 Point)

A tricycle provides a stable, three-wheeled structure, which requires a bit more effort than a skateboard but remains simple. Tasks equated to the tricycle are those with clear requirements and minimal risk, like adding a pre-designed button to a user interface.

The Bicycle: Balancing Complexity (2 Points)

Riding a bicycle requires balance and coordination, much like tasks that have moderate complexity. These are the tasks that require a good understanding of the project’s components, such as creating a new function in a codebase that interacts with existing modules. There is some risk if not executed correctly, but it’s generally manageable.

The Scooter: Agile with Increased Risk (3 Points)

A scooter, with its motorized assistance, brings more speed and requires an agile response to navigate. Tasks in this category are those that introduce a degree of automation or complexity, such as configuring a new software tool within an existing workflow, which could introduce risk if not integrated smoothly.

The Car: Multifaceted and Risk-Prone (5 Points)

A car, complex in its functionality with multiple systems working together, is akin to tasks that combine several complex components. Implementing a new feature that spans multiple systems, requiring careful coordination and testing, is a car-like task. The risk is higher due to the potential for unforeseen issues in integration.

The Bus: Collective Effort (8 Points)

A bus carries many passengers, similar to tasks that require the coordinated effort of an entire team, such as launching a marketing campaign that involves design, copywriting, and strategy. These tasks are complex and carry risks related to team dynamics and dependencies.

The Truck: Heavy and Cumbersome (13 Points)

The truck, capable of hauling heavy loads, represents tasks that are weighty with complexity and carry significant risk. These could be large-scale database migrations or major architectural changes that require careful planning and execution.

The Train: Long-Distance Commitment (20 Points)

Trains travel long distances on predefined tracks, much like tasks that have a long-term commitment with a linear progression but are complex, such as developing a full-fledged authentication system. These tasks have risks associated with prolonged engagement and dependencies.

The Aeroplane: High Altitude Tasks (40 Points)

An aeroplane, traversing continents, represents tasks of high complexity that carry significant risks, perhaps due to external factors, such as compliance with international standards or coordinating across different time zones and teams.

The Space Shuttle: Monumental Undertakings (100 Points)

The space shuttle, embodying the pinnacle of human ingenuity, represents the most complex and risky tasks imaginable. These are the projects that push the boundaries of a team’s capabilities, like creating a novel algorithm for machine learning. The risks are as high as they come, with substantial investments in time and resources, and the potential for groundbreaking success or significant setbacks.


Incorporating the vehicle analogy into Planning Poker brings a fresh perspective to project estimation, one that naturally diverts the focus from time to the size, complexity, and risk of tasks. It offers a shared language that is easily understandable, facilitating better communication and alignment among team members.

As you adopt this method, remember that each vehicle, like each card in Planning Poker, serves as a metaphorical tool to gauge the relative effort and risk. It’s not about how long a task will take, but about the characteristics of the journey itself. So, the next time you’re estimating with your team, park the clock and bring out the vehicles—it’s time to drive your project forward with precision and shared understanding.

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