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Agile 101 game does what it says on the tin

Agile 101 game does what it says on the tin

Our latest Meetup at PwC's London offices featured Emma Hopkinson-Spark's Agile 101 game.

Emma is co-founder of 101 Ways, a 100 strong consultancy offering coaching and delivery services from offices in London, Manchester and Amsterdam.

Agile 101 is a multi-deck card game packaged with a D20 (a die with twenty sides) and allows a facilitator to take the team on a guided tour of Agile principles and ideas.

Game play

Players pick a card from a green set of role cards. They can be a developer with varying skill points, a delivery manager who turns out to be mostly a score-keeper but seems to also own the bug-count, and a product owner.

There is a large purple deck of features, representing everything you need to launch your own cat video sharing site. Each had a number which was the minimum you had to roll to get the feature developed and released.

Two of these purple cards represent the MVP and you need these to start acquiring users (i.e. points). Most were worth a boost to your user base, along with a penalty if your implementation ended up sucking for some reason (represented by the product owners die roll). Some cards had no points impact and modified the gameplay.

The final red deck represents your regular disturbances and SNAFUs that endanger your release, product, or user base in various ways.

Developers use the D20 to roll for the success of feature development. If you roll too low (after adding your skill points) then you must shelve the feature or accept bugs. Get 5 bugs and you cannot release.

The delivery manager rolls to see if the red incident card gets you. That card is picked every round before release.

The product owner chooses which of the developed features can be released and rolls to see if they get released successfully. If they don't they end up sucking and the site looses users. The PO might also choose which get developed, but some teams made this a team decision instead. It was odd how natural that felt given that it does not normally happen in real life.

Facilitation

Emma was an excellent facilitator, ably assisted by her Head of Consultancy Michael Siepp.

She divided us into three teams and talked us through the above rules. After late comers found seats we played as two teams of 6 and one of 7.

Apparently at random, Emma would stop us and explain that something had happened that represented a risk or opportunity. A team chat company wanted to integrate, as long as we had GIF support. "Sharing week" rewarded teams that had delivered Facebook integration. GDPR knee-capped teams that had not yet delivered the Privacy feature. This really put a rocket under us as we needed to prioritise what we felt were features that would enable us to benefit from these random opportunities, and protect us from random catastrophes.

At the end Emma asked the three delivery managers to stand up in front of the hole group to share their scores. Whether we had been playing competitively or not we now felt the desire to win.

Two teams had delivered around 300,000 users but one team (mine, as it happens) had smashed 600,000 users (610k from features, 30k from bonuses). It also turned out that the winners had played one fewer rounds than the other teams (that is, they had played more slowly).

Why had one team delivered double the others?

Emma now facilitated a discussion. What had you done that you feel lead to winning by such a margin? I think I would give out too many spoilers if I described all the solution here. Suffice to say that the gameplay had successfully rewarded all the technical practices and planning you would expect.

We felt we took a long time over our first round (I'll go ahead and call it a Sprint). This meant we found all those features that were most rewarding and got them done soonest. We sorted the cards by cost so we knew what we were doing, and took the time to find the really valuable feature cards before starting.

We swarmed selectively on items that required high dice rolls in order to bank the biggest rewards early.

We had been given the opportunity, through purple cards, to invest in agile and XP practices and had done so early, others reported doing so late and had not achieved the expected rewards (I suspect they wasted a whole round to make their last round go slightly better - a net loss).

We found that once we completed our productivity investments (by round three) the game had changed shape. We had a lot less risk to plan for and were doing a lot less mental work each round and a lot more dice were rolled. We were on fire.

This game does what it says on the tin

If this sounds a bit like every successful, high performing team you've ever worked on then I think this is not an accident. The genius of the game is that all the content seems to come from bittersweet experience and as someone familiar with agile it feels like the game plays out predictably. As someone unfamiliar with agile, I expect that the game would cause the "ah ha!" and "Oh I see..." moments that you need your teams to experience.

Emma's game is available on Amazon for a mere £50 and £4.49 delivery. It comes in a tin labelled Agile 101.

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