Picture of Stephan van Rooden

Stephan van Rooden

Magic Estimation Matrix – estimating effort and value in 15 minutes!


The best way to negotiate is with torsos angled, often at 90 degrees to one another. This avoids the face-to-face confrontational element whilst also allow looking at the other person’s face. This position enables having an open conversation. What we thought, would this approach also work with large group estimations on effort and value? But without the time-consuming conversations.

Technique for quick estimation

Usually there is a (un)healthy tension between those who are passionate about the value of features on a product backlog. And those who have a slight idea on the effort involved in creating this feature. One of the techniques frequently used to create an initial estimation on the effort for an entire product backlog is Magic Estimation.

Using this technique, you get a quick feel on the perceived effort of the items on the product backlog. In a nutshell this works as follows: Get a Scrum team together. And have the Product Owner print each product backlog item on a separate sheet. The Developers do the estimation.  Without talking or non-verbal communication. And they have 15 minutes to estimate the entire product backlog.

Stakeholder collaboration

We have often used this technique also for stakeholders. To collaboratively create an initial insight in the priority of product backlog items. Since stakeholders tend to like talking even more (most of the time it’s what they are paid for). This technique has proven to be great for filtering those items they all agree upon. This saves tremendous amounts of time.

Together with Ron Eringa, we thought if it would be possible to do this exercise simultaneously? Why not?

Follow these steps for estimation

This is how you would do this:


  • Product backlog items, each on a separate post-it or page in hard copy.
  • Plenty of space to move around and place items on the floor.
  • A sheet with the sequence of numbers inspired by the Fibonacci sequence for effort. For value, add an extra zero, just to make it look important (see the image below what this could look like).


  • Briefly explain the rules of the game.
    • Stakeholders and development team plays, PO watches.
    • Spaced out estimation cards one axis for effort other for value
    • The Development team members each get a set of PBI’s
    • Rule 1: No talking
    • Rule 2: No non-verbal communication
    • Each participant’s estimates by placing item @ points. The Development team starts and as soon as there are about three items estimated the stakeholders will plan on value
    • Each participant checks estimate and if necessary re-estimates
    • Product Owner marks fall-outs
    • Discuss fall-outs until agreement is reached

This way you have a great initial estimation of your product backlog on both value and effort. And as a by-product stakeholders and Developers get to know and understand each other a little better.

More to explore

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