Lean Workflow Design Game

A few weeks ago I was supposed to give a Scrum Basics workshop in France for a bunch of people who partly already knew the ballpojnt game and asked for another exercise instead. Fortunately I knew another way of demonstrating Scrum which I could use as a replacement: The Lean Workflow Design Game by Nancy Van Schooenderwoert. Nancy introduced and facilitated this interesting exercise at the Play4Agile 2011 Conference in Rückersbach, Germany. The goal of this exercise is to create and improve a workflow using some of the well known agile techniques like Sprint Planning, Timeboxing, Retrospectives. I got the ‘official’ rules from Nancy and will link to them here as soon as they’re available online. Due to some time restrictions I needed to slightly modify the original version from Nancy and will describe the modified version in this blogpost. During the workshop the participants had a lot of fun and were able to actively use the stuff I told the in the hours before.

Here’s the setup

You need

  • two card decks of 52 cards that have identical backs (same colour, same pattern, etc.)
  • space for the team to gather (e.g. some tables or some space on the floor)
  • a  stop watch
  • a table on a flipchart or whiteboard with the following columns:
    • estimated time
    • actual raw time
    • number of errors
    • actual time with penalties
  • 10 to 15 players
  • 1 or 2 observers (if applicable)

The Game

The goal for the team is ordering the 104 cards as follows:

  • 8 stacks of cards sorted by the respective suits
  • The Ace needs to be on the bottom and the King on top
  • The intervening cards need to be in rank order

Start a round by giving 2 minutes for discussing the strategy (“planning”). After this time

  • ask for an estimate for achieving the goal (“How long will it take?”). In the first round you might not get a quick answer, just go ahead and start anyway.
  • ask for a single person to give you the stop sign. You’re not supposed to listen to anyone else but this person.

When you got the above answers

  • drop the shuffled stack of cards face down on the table or the floor and start the time
  • watch the participants use their strategy but don’t interfere

As soon as the dedicated person tells you to do so

  • stop the time and write it on the flipchart
  • check the resulting stacks for mistakes (“review”). Each mistake in the ranking will result in a penalty of 5 seconds. Add these seconds to the time on the flipchart

Get the team talking (“retrospective”) about how their approach worked by asking a couple of open questions like

  • How did it work?
  • Can you improve it? How?
  • Do all of you see it the same way?

After that give the team 2 minutes for planning, ask for a new estimate and start the next round. Play the game for 3 to 5 rounds as long as the team thinks there’s improvement possbile (or you reach the end of your timebox).

My experience

Round 1

My team at this workshop consisted of 12 people and I took the role as facilitator. Unfortunately the team wasn’t able to agree on a common time in the first round. The proposals varied from 1 minute to 10 minutes. Finally they followed my proposal to start without an estimate. I started the time when dropping the shuffled stack of cards face down on the floor (we were playing on the floor). After 1:47 minutes the team finished the round. I checked the result and found one mistake in the ranking, which resulted in a penalty of 5 seconds, so the actual time for this round was 1:52 minutes. Next I made the team talk about what happened by asking some open questions (“How could you have done better?”, “What would you change to improve the time?”, …).

Round 2

After a few minutes of retrospective I gave the team another 2 minutes for planning the next round. This time I got an estimate of 1:30 minutes at the end of planning. I shuffled the cards and started the second round exactly as the first one by dropping the cards on the same spot. This time they finished in 1:23 minutes with no errors. They were quite proud of it and thought there was no need to change since they considered themselves well organized. I then gave them the world record of 26 seconds (according to Nancy), achieved by a group of 12 and suddenly they started discussing again: “Well, there’s for sure a random factor in it”, “But is this random factor good for 57 additional seconds?”, “Come on, let’s try it as well!”.

Round 3

Again I gave them 2 minutes for planning and got an estimate of 1:00 minute afterwards. But this time my evil alter ego mixed the four jokers between the shuffled cards and the team needed 1:43 minutes with no errors this time. This was not caused by the jokers alone, but also by some internal misunderstandings. The team lost at least 5 seconds in the beginning because they were still discussing after I dropped the cards and started the time. They were not used to timeboxes yet 🙂 During the retrospective the team agreed that the jokers were just a minor impediment but that they themselves were responsible for the last result and opted for another round.

Round 4

This time I got an estimate of 1:07 minutes and the result was 1:49 minutes without penalties. Obviously there was no further improvement possible (at least with this team) and since this was the last exercise after a full day of Scrum training and all of us were tired we stopped the exercise here.

Advanced setup

The setup above describes the basic rules of the exercise (except for the jokers). As long as there’s energy in the team you can try several other impediments:

  • Use up to 5 trick cards (e.g. red clubs, black diamonds…) with the same backs as the other cards
  • Start talking to someone who’s involved in the workflow
  • Darken the room
  • Play loud music

If you like and try this exercise with your teams I would love to hear about your experience.

This blogpost is also available in german.

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