Category Archives: games

Agile Games at Agile Open Southern California

Our very own Laura Powers recently participated in Agile Open Southern California, where she was interviewed by Scott Dunn. Laura talks about the power of games to help executives understand the changes they need to make in order for their organizations to become more agile.

The video was put together by Cliff Rosa of Rosa Media Productions.

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Dixit Sprint Retrospective Game

Dixit Game BoxI was inspired to create a retrospective game for agile teams, based on the game Dixit. Dixit is a game that makes use of picture cards. Each of these cards has an unusual drawing on it. The Agile Learning Labs team used it recently in one of our sprint retrospectives and it worked well. Give it a try with your team and leave a comment to let me know how it works for you.

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How to play the Team Estimation Game


Since this article was first published, The Team Estimation Game has evolved into something even better: Easy Estimation With Story Points. If you are looking for a fast and effective way to estimate, we recommend going straight to that article. If want to know where Easy Estimation With Story Points came from, keep reading.


The Team Estimation Game plays like a game, but it accomplishes valuable work: assigning story point estimates to user stories.

Teams using this technique are typically able to estimate 20 to 60 stories in an hour. The game was invented by our friend and colleague, Steve Bockman. Here is how one team plays the game:
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Can agile games save the world?

One of the sessions I regret missing at Agile Open Northwest is one that was titled simply Agile Congress, the session notes for which begin with, “You have just been appointed the first scrum master of the United States House of Representatives…” Well, why not? As it turns out, the City of San Jose is all over that very idea.
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Self-Organizing Ball Game at Agile Open Northwest

The Self-Orgainizing Ball Game at AONW 2011 Agile Open Northwest kicked off this morning, and the whole Agile Learning Labs crew is here. Chris hosted a session called “An Experiential Intro to Agile” in the first time slot. Sixteen folks new to agile gathered and we quickly discovered a common theme: participants were about to join agile teams, but didn’t know what to expect. Out came the rubber balls and we dove into the Self-Organizing Ball game.

The topics that this surfaced included:

  • The value of short iterations to to allow productive “trial and error”
  • How effective retrospectives generate continuous improvement
  • Time-boxing can push a group towards productive chaos, while protecting it from prolonged unproductive chaos.
  • The way a shared goal can unite a team, and focus the energy and self-organization

It was a lot of fun, and a good start to one of my favorite conferences.

Cheers,

Chris

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What Does Your Team Need? Girl Power!

By Hillary Johnson

Last weekend, Chris and I attended a marvelous event called Dare 2B Digital, aimed at addressing the gender gap in computer science careers, and at which 7th through 10th grade girls got to play at writing code, crafting business plans, and other techie things.

We held a session called "Teamstorming," leading a group of enthusiastic students in a series of the same learning games we use to teach teams of software developers on big, important enterprise projects to work together collaboratively.

We were completely blown away. The girls weren't just good: they were great. This was the most quick-witted, productive, outgoing and naturally cooperative group of individuals we've ever had the pleasure of teaching, by a significant margin. Chris and I have both mentioned to several people now our experience of finding the teenaged girls smarter, stronger, faster and sharper than their elders of any gender, and have heard a few theories about why this might be, the top three being:

They are unspoiled.
They are female.
They are female and unspoiled.

We laughed, too. But each of these notions has some merit. First, there is the unsullied youth theory: It seems patently obvious that many adults have a great deal of wariness, and weariness, to overcome before they are open to participating freely in a game-based exercise. Our teaching style is based entirely around games and simulations, and the younger a student is, the closer she is to the memory of learning almost entirely though play. It is not, however, particularly true that children are born collaborators, as any parent whose pre-school has a biter enrolled can tell you.

As for the gender question: Are females, by nature or nurture, better collaborators and problem solvers than males? To whatever extent our temperaments are deterministic, my hunch is that girls would respond better to the collaborative exercises, and the boys to the competitive ones. There is research-based evidence that there are gender-based differences in learning styles, but the same research indicates that the variation between individuals is greater than the variation between the genders.

So yes, the girls may benefit from being both female and unspoiled, but this doesn't mean they are superior to the male and the spoiled, it just means they're naturally suited to collaboration and have nothing to unlearn as they encounter collaborative situations.

But by adulthood, we are all engaged in activities that may or may not speak to our true natures. Girls don't tend to play with toy cars, but they grow up to drive real cars in the same numbers as men. And if you believe insurance companies' actuarial tables, they grow up to be the better drivers. On the flip side, I think this means that boys can grow up to be fine collaborators, as good as or better than their female counterparts, despite their greater inclination toward competitive styles.

I am not a big fan of determinism. Things do come out in the wash, and in the long run, even unlearning can be a productive process. As Chris will tell you, part of the reason he values Agile so much is that teamwork and collaboration do not always come naturally to him–he was once a boy who played with cars, after all. He has enjoyed being in a traditional leadership role, and can remember exactly what it was like to resist the urge to "help" a team, instead letting them solve their own problems through self-organization. Which is why he is good at teaching Agile techniques, especially to people who have a lot of un-learning of traditional top-down management styles to do.

The clear outcome, to me, is that the gender bias in the field of software development that persists today is entirely bogus. If boys have an edge when it comes to math–hence their delight in code–and girls have an edge when it comes to collaboration, then it seems stupefyingly clear to me that you're most likely to have a high-functioning team if you have both styles well represented, with plenty of room allowed for something even more important: individuality.

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Fun & Games & Aha moments at the Bay APLN

A couple of weeks ago, Chris was the guest speaker at the Bay Area Agile Project Leadership Network's monthly meeting. It was an evening of game-playing and simulations. One of the most popular is a simple game that takes under five minutes to play, but always blows the tops of people's heads off by demonstrating concretely and irrevocably just how deeply multitasking cuts into productivity and even quality. This particular exercise led to some insightful conversations and aha moments, including:

  • The majority of aviation accidents that are caused by human error are the result of unexpected context switching
  • Multitasking exercise can make the case for "office hours"

Other highlights from the debriefs around the games included these observations, captured on Post-Its:

  • It's a turnoff to be "worked on"
  • The team has better visibility into a problem than an outsider
  • It's quicker to get into a tangle than it is to get out of one
  • Boundaries are movable, depending on your assumptions
  • The team can iterate faster and better than the manager

The BayAPLN meetings are open to all, so please join us for the next one on August 18, when the inimitable and entertaining David Chilcott will show you how to have a meeting that doesn't suck (hint: "What if you managed your meeting like a sprint?") . And if you want to play games with us, check our hompeage for upcoming classes and other free events where Chris will be speaking. Or turn up for Agile Open California, where there will be lots and lots of games and even more ahas.

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Fun & Games: Some upcoming events in SF & the North Bay

Children learn best by playing games, and guess what? Adults do too. No reason your agile practice should be a plodding, dreary affair with all the elan of a queue at the parking violations bureau. Lighten up and have some fun–it'll make you smarter.

Chris will be leading a raucous meeting of the BayAPLN in San Francisco on July 21st, on Agile Games & Simulations, so come out to play, won't you?

Chris will also be leading a session of the Great Agile Requirements Showdown at the North Bay Agile Meetup on Tuesday, July 28, in Rohnert Park. This is the gathering hosted by our friends Steve Bockman and Rob Myers, both of whom are accomplished gamesmasters themselves, so it should be a fun time. What's it all about? Here's the teaser: 

Agile evangelists claim that extensive requirements can be dispensed with in favor of lighter-weight 'stories'. It sounds easier, certainly, but can it really be as good?

Come find out!

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Dogs learn agility with tennis balls; so do we

The very first exercise of our two day Agile Project Management class on Monday taught me a few things about optimization. It's a ball passing game, where the group is tasked with devising a system for passing balls around such that every ball is touched by each person, and has "air time" in between–ie, it's tossed, not passed.

On their first try, this group passed a whole mess o' balls without error. In their second iteration, they did even better–better than any prior group, and we'd run this game a lot. Could they improve on what I percieved as perfection?

They could. Chris tasked them with achieving "revolutionary process improvement," which proved the spur–and as the product owner, he "invested" an extra two minutes in iteration planning. They doubled their productivity in the third and final iteration. Still no errors, I might add. If anyone is looking to hire a crack ball-passing team, I've got one for you.

What did they do so right?
They didn't mess with what worked. "Let's stay in our positions, as we're used to the behavior of the person we've already been passing to." 

At the same time, they did not settle for incremental improvement, but looked for the leap–"Can we keep our process the same, but pass two at a time instead of one?"

During their planning phase, they did more than they talked, trying things out. "Talk is cheap," one of them said.

When they did talk, it was to inquire. "What are the questions we should be asking," another said at the outset of the third planning round.

The debrief elicited a lot of good stuff, too:

"Since we had no drops, I wonder if we weren't being too risk-averse. We might have had more productivity if we'd allowed more error."

"Haven't we all been in places where a lot of attention was given to optimizing writing code, when people spend 5-10% of their time writing code, and the rest looking for bugs."

"It's exhausting to work on a project when your sense of owner is greater than the owner's."

"We all spend a lot of time grousing about what the people upstream are doing, and seldom give any thought to the people downstream from us."

"Is there such a thing as too much optimization?"

Sound fun? Come play on August 3 & 4, when we'll be running the same class at the Alliance Francaise in San Francisco–vous etes tres agile, non?

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