Agile Games

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!