Let the Agile Games Begin!

Dog Poker

I’ve wanted to introduce Agile Games to my teams for some time now and finally pulled the trigger with much success.  It was just before the holidays and like high school students attending their last day of school before the Christmas break, you can imagine that the team’s minds were not as focused as usual.  Yes, the perfect time for an Agile game!

I started off with a quick simple game addressing the effects of multi-tasking, interruptions and thrashing.  This was a game I believe I read about somewhere, but kind of rolled my own with the team.  Anyway – the game went as follows:

I had 4 teams of 3 people.  Each team had a space at the board.  Three columns labeled on the board for each team (“1-10”, “A-J”, “I-X” [the roman numerals]).  The first round I told person 1 from each team to write on the board the numbers 1-10 under the column 1-10 and then do the same for A-J and then the same for I-X.  They raced against each other and I recorded the person with the fastest time.  I then let person 2 of each team do the same and then person 3 do the same while recording fastest time.  We then went through all 3 people again only this time they had to write it in a different order.  They had to write one in the “1-10” column and then go to the next column and write A and then next column and write I and then return to first column and write 2 and so on.  I timed them all again.  At the end of the game, I asked them which took longer for them and obviously it was the second way of writing the symbols.  Why was this?  Because switching focus costs you time.

The game made it so obvious.  If you feel your team is having issues with context switching you could quickly play this game at the beginning of a retrospective.  It won’t take much time and it will spice things up and set the stage well for your retrospective.

The other game that I played with the team is called the “Ball Throw”.  This game supports the theory of Work in Process (WIP).  I had a larger team of about 12 people (you can probably play with 6 to 15 people) and 20 tennis balls.  The object is to capture the amount of time it takes the team to get all the balls in the done bucket.  The rules of the game are:

  • The same person must be the start point and the end point for the balls.
  • The start person can throw a new ball in anytime they wish.
  • The start person yells “IN” every time they take a ball from the start bucket and throw it in.
  • Each person in the team must touch the ball at least once.
  • Every ball toss must have air time (they cannot be handed to the next person).
  • You cannot toss the ball to a person who is right next to you.
  • The end person (same as start person) receives the ball from the last team member, deposits it in the done bucket and yells “OUT”.
  • Any dropped ball is considered a defect where the person dropping yells “DEFECT”, retrieves the ball and continues on.
  • After explaining the rules to the team, they have 2-5 minutes (your choice) to plan and discuss their strategy before they begin the game.
  • At the end of each round, the team has 2-5 minutes to perform a retrospective on how they would like to improve.

This is one of the most popular Agile games.  It is fun and easy to play and enforces the importance of WIP.  I especially like challenging the team in the 2nd round, telling them they can do it faster and then proceeding to put pressure on them to go faster while the round is in action.  This simulates the business pressure they receive in real life.  You’d be surprised how the defects go up in that 2nd round.  Remember after any game to have a discussion on the parallels of the game to the workplace.  We’ve had some good discussions.

If you’re interested in conducting the Ball Throw Game you can use a spreadsheet that I found online and have shared below.


The spreadsheet allows you to track throughput by clicking an “IN” and “OUT” button for the balls.

Some other resources for Agile Games are the book “Gamestorming” by Dave Gray and the website www.tastycupcakes.org.

Playing the games added another valuable channel for Agile education for the teams and organization.

So have fun and … LET THE GAMES BEGIN!

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