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    Sequence! An Agile Integration Game

    June 14th, 2018

    Overview

    Many organizations are implementing agile at scale, often through SAFe . Within these frameworks, agile teams are expected to coordinate and work with each other to efficiently deliver an integrated product. This can be a difficult task, especially for teams used to the autonomy of being a single independent unit. The following game was designed to help transition autonomous teams into a scaled agile framework or help existing teams that need a refresher on when and why cross team collaboration is necessary.

    Timing 

    30min

    Number of participants 

    This game scales well, up to a max of 8 or so. For the example, I’ll use a team of five.

    Materials 

    • Large whiteboard or drawing surface
    • Pens and whiteboard markers
    • Scrap paper
    • 5 slips of paper, one with each the following number sets. This is for the first stage of the activity.
      • 121 147 103 137 127 131 103 104 107 187 103 147 114 162 160
      • 231 281 262 239 299 280 248 217 257 228 209 204 300 230 209
      • 321 367 338 327 382 371 343 335 370 340 375 381 324 366 359
      • 481 443 481 488 493 426 442 499 482 457 438 439 489 441 412
      • 586 580 522 581 575 539 523 583 582 556 520 531 503 598 594
    • 5 slips of paper, one with each of the following number sets. This is for the second stage.
      • 119 135 146 215 240 249 310 321 400 445 466 467 486 511 595
      • 161 171 179 187 195 269 288 295 331 354 389 414 453 490 584
      • 115 153 223 256 291 294 314 355 366 369 385 405 414 513 514
      • 108 150 151 153 409 427 449 464 475 494 525 538 548 558 583
      • 165 175 181 183 190 214 218 287 357 361 405 408 475 491 573

    Instructions

    Phase One

    Introduce the game as a race to sequence numbers. Tell each player they will be given a slip of random numbers, which they must rewrite in ascending order as quickly as possible. First person to get them all ordered correctly is the winner. Pass out the slips of paper, 15 random numbers per person, face down in front of each player. On you signal, the game begins.

    Once everyone is finished and the winner is congratulated, you can move on to the next phase.

    Phase Two

    With the newly order data sets before them, tell the team they need to integrate their work. To do this, they need to work together and order their datasets into one long list on the white board. This will result in a list of 75 ordered numbers ranging from 100 up to 600. Alert the team that they are being timed, so they should try to do this task as quickly as possible.

    Once the final ordering is complete, mark down the time on the white board and do a very quick debrief. People will most likely mention that task was easy because there was no overlap between the number sets.

    Phase Three

    Hand out the last five slips of paper, one to each person. Each of the slips contains 15 ordered numbers ranging from 100 to 600. Tell the team that they should repeat the steps from Phase Two, trying to beat their old record.

    It will quickly become evident that this task is much harder than the last, and they will not beat their previous time. Once people have stopped having fun, jump in and transition right to the debrief.

    Debrief

    Each individual in the group represented an agile team. The race to sequence their own work was an iteration, and the final sequencing of all the work represented the integrated product. The Phase Two task was easy because there was no interplay between the teams, each person could just stack their number set on top of the others. However, Phase Three was much harder, and generally a better picture of what it looks like to deliver integrated product in a scaled agile environment.

    A couple specific questions to ask:

    • Why was Phase Three harder?
    • In what ways is our team able to independently when it comes to our daily work?
    • What ways do we have to work with other teams?
    • What are our current (or anticipated) pain points for team collaboration in the scaled agile framework?

    Conclusion

    The goal of this game is to introduce the concept of cross-team collaboration, and what it means to work together on an integrated product. For new teams, this should serve as an informative session, and help them transition into the scaled agile environment with the right expectations. For existing teams, the debrief should draw out where current pain points are, and how they can be improved moving forward.

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    To Plan or Not To Plan

    September 12th, 2016

    Overview

    The game is organized around two activities, drawing a picture and telling a story. In both of these activities, the group will be split into separate teams, with one team given specific time and instructions to plan ahead. After both activities have been completed, the facilitator assesses and leads discussion around the team’s work, and the teams will have a chance to compare their experiences.

    Timing

    30min – 45min

    Number of participants

    Ideal 6 – 8, enough for two teams of engaged participants.

    Materials

    • Drawing surface
    • Red, green, and blue markers
    • x1 printed text of “The Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll, large enough for the entire team to read. (you could also display it on a tv or projector)
    • x2 printed booklets of instructions. This booklet should have the following instructions printed one per page, in the following order.
    1.  Draw a red square
    2. Draw two green squares and a green rectangle inside the red square
    3. Draw a dog
    4. Draw a triangle
    5. The triangle should be on top of the red square
    6. The dog should be blue
    7. Draw a flagpole
    8. The two green squares should look like windows
    9. The green rectangle should like a door
    10. Draw seven birds
    11. The triangle should be red
    12. Draw some grass
    13. The flagpole should be flying a banner with the 23rd line of the “Jabberwocky” on it

    Instructions

    Split the group into two teams, Team 1 and Team 2. Tell them they will be participating in some group exercises, where one team will be given time to plan, and the other will not.

    Activity One – Draw Me a Picture!

    Tell the teams they will be given a booklet of instructions for drawing a picture. Ask Team 1 to leave the room, and start the activity with Team 2.

    Team 2

    1. Tell them they will be given one minute to review the instructions in the booklet, and four minutes to draw the picture.
    2. Hand them the booklet and start the clock on the planning minute. Do not allow them to begin drawing. Observe how they plan and divide up labor. See if they are able to identify that they are drawing a house before they start.
    3. Once the planning minute is over, start a clock for four minutes and instruct them to draw the picture.

    After the drawing time is complete, allow the team to step back and discuss their work for a moment or two. Then cover the picture, ask them to leave the room and invite in Team 1. For Team 1, follow these steps:

    1. Tell them they will not be given planning time, but that they will get a bonus minute at the end to make up for it.
    2. Hand them the booklet and start the five minute clock on the drawing time. See if the team naturally plans, or simply barrels right into drawing shapes. Observe if labor is being shared, and if they are having to do rework.

    After the drawing time is complete, allow everyone a brief time to catch their breath, and then cover the drawing, invite the other team back, and begin the next activity.

    Activity Two – Tell Me a Story!

    Tell the two teams they will be doing a five minute literary analysis on a famous poem. This time, ask Team 2 to leave the room, and start with Team 1.

    1. Tell them they will be given one minute to plan a presentation that identifies the hero, villain, and plot of the piece. Start the clock off. Allow them to use whatever material is at hand, including laptops.
    2. After the planning minute, display the Jabberwocky poem and start the timer for four minutes. Do not allow people to use their phones or laptops to look up answers to the questions.
    3. Once the four minutes are up, have the group give you their presentation on the hero, villain, and plot of the poem. In addition to the correct answers, pay attention to the other details the group adds in.

    Hide the poem, invite Team 2 in, and repeat the process, this time with no explicit planning time at the beginning but with a five minute clock.

    Variations

    • You may need to play around with the amount of time the teams get to complete their activity. You want enough time for the planning group to be able to complete their task fairly well, but without going back and refining their work.
    • If you want to make things extra tricky on the picture drawing activity, remove the blue marker from the room. When the team finds out they need a blue marker, either watch them improvise or tell them “blue markers are on backorder,” and deliver them the blue marker a minute after they asked you for one.

    Debriefing

    You should notice a difference in the two different activities and how the teams handle them. The drawing activity is specifically designed to be trip up people if they don’t read all the instructions first, whereas the story activity is more straightforward. Just like in software projects, sometimes planning is important and sometimes it only provides minor gains, and the team should reflect on these things if possible.

    A couple specific questions to ask

    •  What kind of obstacles did you run in to?
    • If a team didn’t plan, ask them why.
    • Did you fully understanding the picture instructions before you started drawing?
    • Did you have to do any rework?
    • Where there any differences between the two activities? Did one require more planning?
    • Does planning lead to better outcomes? Compare the two pictures, and recount the presentations.
    • Can you relate this to an instance in your day-to-day work? Where is planning effective, and where can we roll through things at face value?
    • What kinds of things are causing us delays or rework in our development? How can we better plan for them?
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