Story Spines

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Simon Bennett generously introduced us to this game during the Scrum Trainers Retreat in Amsterdam in 2010. It is a common improv game

Timing:

15 minutes

Materials:

6 Chairs

Pre-prepared index cards with story element structures (See below)

Instructions:

Preparation

  1. Set out 6 chairs in a row from left to right
  2. On chair 1 place an index card with the following words: “Once upon a time there was…”
  3. On chair 2 place an index card with the following words: “And every day…”
  4. On chair 3 place an index card with the following words: “Until one day…”
  5. On chair 4 place an index card with the following words: “And then because of that…”
  6. On chair 5 place an index card with the following words: “And then because of that…”
  7. On chair 6 place an index card with the following words: “And ever since that day…”
  8. Explain to the team that their task is to create a story but in a slightly different way

How the technique works:

1. One person will start the story by walking to the first chair and completing the sentence (for example “Once upon a time there was a blue chicken”)

2. Someone will then finish the story by walking the sixth chair and completing the sentence (for example “And ever since that day pigs and chickens have been the best of friends”

3. The story, so far, is repeated in full

4. The next person will fill seat 3 and create the problem that needs to be overcome (for example “until one day a volcano erupted in Iceland and the air was filled with volcanic ash”)

5. The story, so far, is repeated in full

6. The remaining seats (2, 4 and 5) can now be filled in any order with the story, so far, being repeated in full after each seat is filled

7. The team need to make the story make sense and can iterate, gather feedback from the audience etc until they are happy with it

Learning Points: 

  • This exercise is analogous to how user stories get created and developed. The start and end is often defined and then a problem is introduced that the team need to collaborate around to make it make sense
  • A great way to get the team thinking creatively before tackling a tricky problem
  • Teams contributing to a solution that no one person can take credit for (collaboration)
  • The concept of accepting change within the context of a specific goal

Variations: 

  1. Try different story part structures e.g. “and the funny thing was…” or “and the moral of the story is…” or “but to everyone’s surprise…”
  2. Make the story longer by adding extra chairs
  3. Throw in a random character, place or activity that the team need to incorporate into the story
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