Created by Bee Sharwood (LinkedIn) (Twitter)

Affinity Estimation (a specific use of Affinity Mapping) is a great way to quickly size a large number of backlog stories. A team can quickly estimate stories that are well-understood and agreed upon, and highlight stories that need a bit more detail and discussion. It is a useful facilitation technique for a first pass at a backlog, such as if the team is changing estimation type, or at the beginning of a project when a large number of new stories have been created.

Running this exercise remotely was particularly successful for my team. It does require a decent amount of preparation work – I manually copied over links to our Jira stories – but results in an extremely effective Backlog Refinement session in which everyone is engaged, and a record number of stories can be estimated. We got through 45 stories in 40 minutes!

How To Run

To run Remote Affinity Estimation, you will need:

  • A collaborative whiteboarding tool (such as Miro, Mural, or Google Slides)
  • A list of stories (preferably with links to their original location on your backlog)
  • A bucket for each estimate size (we used Fibonacci story points, but this will work for other size estimation methods)
  • Buckets for “? – Uncertain”, “X – Discarded”, and “* – Needs Discussion”
  • Some way to indicate turn order
  • The Rules


  1. Pick a story from the backlog. Give a quick description and put it in a bucket OR,
  2. If you disagree with where a story is, pick it up, explain your reasoning, and move it. Indicate that the card has been moved. (I used a * at the beginning of the story name, but you could also change the colour of the card; it should just be visible to everyone.)

– No talking during someone else’s turn.

– If a story has 2 *s and there is still disagreement, it will move into the * bucket to be discussed in more detail later.

Here is an example Miro Board:

Screenshot 2021-03-23 at 16.35.43.png

Why Remote Worked … Better??

  • Details available:by including links, team members were able to quickly open up and scope out the actual stories on Jira, including any comments and attachments. This let them quickly get context on what the story would entail.
  • Equal access: When running this in person, story cards are usually either stuck to a wall or placed on the floor. This means that some people will be further away and struggle to read, or even be trying to read upside down. When accessing a virtual whiteboard, everyone has equal access, can see clearly, and multiple people can be examining a card at the same time.
  • Barrier to talking: Remote facilitators will know that there is a higher barrier to start talking in a remote session, which can lead to awkward silences and quieter sessions. This common side effect of being on a remote call actually turns out to be very beneficial in the context of affinity mapping & other exercises meant to be done in collaborative silence – the temptation to have debates about each story is lessened, resulting in things moving along smoothly.