TFS consists of a very sophisticated version control system (TFVC) and Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) which provide work item tracking (requirements/bugs/etc.), agile planning tools, a build engine and much more.

Team Foundation Service is a TFS hosted in Azure, which is really easy to use, with no installation required. It is also free for MSDN subscribers and small teams of up to 5 members.

For teams using agile methodology like Scrum, TFS provides great support with its set of agile planning tools like Product Backlogs, Sprint Backlogs and capacity planning, Task board with burndown charts as well as Kanban Boards.

One of the important parts of any sprint planning process is the estimation. At Merit Solutions we use the Scrum methodology with 3 week sprint cycles. At the beginning of each sprint, the whole team gets together and we go over the highest priority PBIs (Product Backlog Items) and estimate their complexity. We use a Planning Poker game to reach a consensus during the estimation process.

Planning Poker is actually a very easy game to play during Sprint planning. Each participant gets a deck of cards representing a sequence of numbers in Fibonacci sequence (1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, etc.). The team is informed about each user story (PBI) and any questions team members might have are answered. Each team member then selects a card which represents his/her estimate of the user story complexity and when everybody is ready, all cards are presented simultaneously. If there is consensus on complexity, user story points are added to the PBI and the team moves to the next PBI. When there is a disagreement, the high and low estimators defend their estimates to the rest of the team and a new round of estimation begins. This process repeats until a consensus is made.

Some of the advantages of using planning poker are that it:

  • Raises a level of collaboration by engaging the whole team

  • Creates consensus estimate rather than having a single person driving the estimate

  • Exposes issues early through discussion of each PBI

If you’re a part of a distributed or co-located team, there are a number of tools available to help with the estimation process. Mike Douglas recently publish a Win 8 app which works great with both Team Foundation Service and TFS on-premise.

Team Planning Poker

Features include:

  • Estimate effort for product backlogs

  • Communicates with TF Service and on-premises TFS Server

  • Supports multiple connections

  • Works with Agile and Scrum templates

  • Invite other users by email

You can get the TFS Agile Poker from the Windows 8 Store

More info about agile planning using Team foundation service can be found here and in MSDN magazine.