Agile Games

Delegation Poker

Delegation Poker Collage 2

I’ve been using Delegation Poker with the organizations and teams I work with. I also share it at meetups and other community events.  I have found the Management 3.0 tool to be valuable in the collaboration and facilitation of discussions surrounding the efficacy of delegation.

First, we need to understand that delegation is not a binary switch where we either delegate something or we don’t.  I remember when my son was a young boy and he wanted me to allow him to cross the street by himself. I didn’t just one day delegate the self-responsibility to him and say, “Fine, you can cross the street yourself now”.  There were levels of trust that needed to be cultivated until I was secure with him handling it by himself. So first I instructed him on what to look for and then asked him to cross. I then graduated to having him look and tell me when he thought he would cross before I would let him cross.  Eventually, I felt comfortable enough to allow him to make his own decision.  

Jurgen Appelo and Management 3.0 have created a tool called Delegation Poker which can help us with the delegation process.  They employ seven cards representing the different levels of delegation. As a team, we can list activities that require a decision (ex: new hire, product release, etc.).  We can then use these cards in planning the delegation level (planning poker style).

There are many different ways to leverage Delegation Poker, but most of my experience relates to assistance growing organizations on their agile journey.  Hopefully my examples will assist you in getting started and provide inspiration to also experiment with your own uses.

A lot of the organizations in the beginning of their agile journey are command and control. They strive to be agile, but their existing processes are predominantly command and control.  They start to recognize that they want to be more autonomous at the team level.  As they mature, they question their existing processes in discussion and retrospectives.  This is one of the times where I leverage delegation poker.

I usually leverage a retrospective or schedule separate time with the team.  I have the teams list current activities requiring decisions.  I have them quickly prioritize them in order of importance to address.  We timebox and go through the items in priority order.  For the first item, I have everyone flip their representative card at once for what they thought the current level of delegation was.  As in planning poker, we would discuss everyone’s opinion and come to a collective decision to the current delegation level for that item and record it.  We would then flip the cards again as to the delegation level they felt we should be using forward and discuss.  As usual, the value is in the discussion.  As a facilitator, I find it useful to capture some quotes from the discussion and read them back to the team when they are done.

  • C’mon – can we just make a decision already!
  • That requires to much time!
  • Person 1: Please be patient!  Person 2: Patience is a waste of time!
  • Well, I don’t trust that it will get done correctly.  
  • We don’t have the expertise.
  • You’re killing me with this re-voting.
  • Cool – that definitely works.
  • Why don’t we ask them?
  • Great point – do you all agree with that?
  • If we take the “approval” step out, they won’t do it right.

I try to allocate extra time to discuss the quotes I captured because sometimes they are quick statements that are overlooked and can provide value in further discussion towards root issues.  Many times it also provides some comic relief.

After we determine the aspired delegation level, we then discuss a plan to move from the current level of delegation to the aspired delegation level, recording action items along the way.

In addition to using Delegation Poker actively with teams, it is also useful for learning agile principles.  I have used it several times in organizations just starting their agile journey.  I conduct mini 90 minute workshops which go through an exercise where the participants split up into teams and make boxes (see picture above).  I first give them a box making process to follow and ask them to use delegation poker to identify the level of delegation for the current process activities.  I then also ask them to use delegation poker to identify the delegation levels they aspire to be at for those activities.

Once that is done, I tell them that they can now create their own process to making the boxes.  They create their new process and proceed to build the boxes following their new process.  When they are done, I ask them to use delegation poker to assess the delegation level of the new process’ activities.

We compare the original, updated and aspired delegation levels and discuss delegation state relationships and experiences.  You would be surprised how many times the teams do not reach their aspired delegation level with their own newly created process.

I have several stories from these workshops, but one is my particular favorite.  Teams started getting into a discussion about their updated processes.  The conversation between me (facilitator), Team 1 and Team 2 went as follows:

  • Facilitator:  Why did you decide to have a quality control person examining and signing approval for the box at the end?
  • Team 1:  Well, we need to make sure it is a quality product?
  • Facilitator:  So did the quality control person find any boxes that weren’t acceptable?
  • Team 1:  Well, no – not these times.
  • Facilitator:  So why not experiment and eliminate the quality control check and use the quality control person to build more boxes?
  • Team 1:  Because if we did that and took away the quality control person then people would definitely not make good boxes.
  • Team 2:  We didn’t have a quality control person and our boxes look pretty much like yours.
  • Team 1:  Ha Ha Ha!

In this specific exercise, there was no convincing Team 1 that taking away the quality control person could result in the same good quality and was worth a try.  It was so different than their understanding and the way they worked all theses years.  Even when there was proof of another team’s success doing it, they could only laugh (like “no” that couldn’t be – they’re tricking us).  Change is a tough thing and this was one lesson (like many) that was going to need follow-ups.

There are different ways to use Delegation Poker, but this is the way I tend to use it most.  We can be most effective if we can conduct the decision making with the people that have the information.  Just like my son wanting to cross the street though, this requires competency from the doers and trust from the management involved. Conscious steps can be taken to get to the best delegation level for that item in your team.

So whether you’re a startup or an established team at a large company, take a look at Delegation Poker to facilitate the right level of delegation growth for you.

Delegation Poker

Moving Motivators: Get to Know What Motivates Your Teammates


It is sometimes surprising what we don’t know about our co-workers.  Favorite movie? Favorite food? In the past, people said keep your personal life and preferences to yourself because this is the workplace. We now realize that knowing and empathizing with teammates is a catalyst for high performing teams.  We’re not saying to expose your deepest darkest secrets, but a friendly relationship, understanding and caring for your co-workers creates a much better working environment. 

What may especially help you as a manager or a teammate, is to learn what motivates your colleagues.  A very useful free tool/exercise developed by Jurgen Appelo of Management 3.0 is Moving Motivators. I have employed this tool in the organizations and teams I work with and have received very positive feedback. 

Motivation can be intrinsic or extrinsic.  Extrinsic motivation is rewarded by an external and most times tangible reward (ex: salary increase, bonus, etc.) whereas intrinsic motivation comes from within and is personally rewarding. So, extrinsic motivation arises from outside of the individual while intrinsic motivation arises from within. 

Moving Motivators concentrates on intrinsic motivation. Management 3.0 has created 10 cards of intrinsic motivators. Each person is asked to place the intrinsic motivator cards in order of importance to them.  I’ve used the tool in workshops for different organizations and many teams, and as you might expect the “gems” are found in the ensuing conversations. People discuss the order of their cards and why they ordered them that way, along with related stories as to why they feel that way.  Much insight is gained through the tool and exercise. Not only can you learn about your teammates, but you can also note popular motivators across the team and thereby team motivators.

Once the team has gone through that exercise, they can also look at their cards and move their cards above or below existing cards depending on how they are feeling the intrinsic motivator is being met.  As an example, if you don’t have the opportunity to investigate different things then your “curiousity” card would be moved lower below the existing horizontal card line. Again, a priceless discussion ensues and depending on the level of trust and transparency, this can be very enlightening.

So, take a look at Moving Motivators and understand what motivates your teammates.

Liven Up Retrospectives With a Game!

dixit card 3

Having fun at work – guilty as charged!  I’m always looking for different ways to energize my teams and to have fun at work, especially during Sprint and Agile events.  Here’s a great new game, derived from Chris Sims‘ session at the Global Scrum Gathering, that you can play when conducting your Retrospectives.  My teams loved it!

This Retrospective game uses cards from the board game DiXit (which you’ll need to purchase) and proceeds as follows:

  1. Write all the team members names on the whiteboard to keep score.
  2. Spread all the cards out so the team can see them.
  3. Instruct team members to think of the most important retrospective item that they would like to discuss.
  4. Tell all team members to then take one of the cards which they feel best represents their retrospective item (crazy fun pictures on DiXit cards if you’ve never seen them before).
  5. Collect unused cards.
  6. Tell them to now write a description of their retrospective item on a sticky.
  7. Select one person to start.
  8. Person selected puts their card where the whole team can see it (card presenter).
  9. The other team members look at the card and write on a sticky a description of the retrospective item they feel the card presenter is conveying through the picture.
  10. When all are finished step above (may need to time box and disqualify people who cannot come up with anything if taking too long), in round-robin fashion each person guesses what retrospective item/topic the card represents.
  11. When all team members (beside card presenter) have voiced their guess then the card presenter tells everyone what their retrospective item was.
  12. Team members who guessed correctly score a point on the board.
  13. That retrospective item and any other retrospective items that were guessed are put on the board.
  14. Steps 8 – 13 proceed for each team member until done.
  15. The team is now asked to group like retrospective items and prioritize discussion order of items (maybe by dot voting).
  16. The team then discusses the retrospective items in priority order and records action items when necessary.

This game was well-received by the teams and a lot of laughter was generated on the art selection of fellow teammates.  What better way to work then to have fun doing it!

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

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

So have fun and … LET THE GAMES BEGIN!