The Train Game

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Timing: 20 mins


  • 2 equal sets of wooden train track with some complexities (bridges, tunnels, etc)
  • Create a set of requirements and put a score on each (Different degrees of complexity and value are important)
  • Test the event yourself to get a sense of time


  • Split into at least two groups
  • Split the groups into the “big release” and “iterative” groups
  • Tell them that their customer is a parent who want to “buy” a product to keep their child entertained
  • Explain that you are willing to pay higher amounts for more requirements being met, for example:
    • A train track with no dead ends is worth $25
    • Bridges that go over track (instead of nothing) are worth $10 each
    • Track that isn’t tense and has some wiggle in it is worth $5 (keeps it from being forced and broken)
    • If every piece can be reached without lifting the train, that is $25
    • If every piece can be reached and crossed in both directions without lifting the train, that is $25
  • Tell the “big release” group that they will go until they decide to ship their product
  • Tell the iterative group that they should strive to ship a product at the end of every minute (you tell them when they have 10 sec to go)
  • Go!
  • Every minute, take a snapshot and determine how much money the iterative group would make if they shipped their product at that moment
  • When the “big release” group meets all the requirements or calls it quits, stop the game.
    • In theory the iterative group will have banked money over each iteration and made multiple times the amount of money the big bang group would have made. Talk about how long it will take the iterative group before they have to match the other group’s requirements. Talk about how this would play out in real life if each minute was equal to a week of work.

Learning Points:

  • Understand how sprints affect delivery
  • Delivering business value sooner is more profitable
    • Have a shippable product each sprint to do so
  • You can retain customers by giving them something simpler and working to the “real” goal over time
    • would the customer have waited for the “big bang” group to deliver the full product or appeased the crying child with the iterative groups earlier solution (remember… minutes equaled weeks of dev. time)

CREDIT: Kevin Schlabach

Posted by Mike

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2 Responses to "The Train Game"
  • Lodewijk Bergmans December 14, 2009 at 3:52 pm

    I do not quite understand this; does the iterative team get money for the entire track every minute??
    that would not be a fair comparison! normally one would assume that a team is only paid once: for their final delivery..
    (or otherwise they may collect their money in steps; but if the final product is doing less than the “big release” group; it does not make sense if they get much more money..)

    now it is questionable whether the iterative team will actually build a ‘more valuable’ final product in this game.. (any experience?)

    Why not set a fixed time (and be very strict about it), and then see if the big release team can handle that? –> makes also for an excellent social skills training, although that can actually ruin the real goals of the exercise..

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    Rating: 3.0/5 (2 votes cast)
  • Kevin E. Schlabach December 14, 2009 at 6:20 pm

    This game was played in an organization that provides software on a monthly billing cycle. Each one minute iteration represents a one month billing cycle. This is why the iterative team gets paid every time.

    It illustrates how an earlier delivery leads to earlier value and billing from the customer. It also surprises people how quickly this “revenue” adds up and helps the project “break even” long before the big bang development.

    Because the metaphor is a tangible product, I see where your question comes from. I hope this helps clarify the game and its application!

    Also, every time I’ve run this game, the iterative team gets much further in their “value” simply because they learn/adapt quicker. The big release team almost always tries to do BDUF (big design up front) and falls behind.

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    Rating: 5.0/5 (1 vote cast)
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