Onboarding an Organization to Agile Practices with the Agile Fluency Game

Photo by Allison Pollard

Photo by Allison Pollard

I have seen great results in using a board game to onboard teams, leaders, and even new agile coaches to agile practices. Running the Agile Fluency Game™ with teams and managers has enabled clearer understanding of new ways of working and sparked rich conversations about adopting new agile practices.

Recently I’ve been working in an organization undergoing an “Agile 2.0 transformation”—they’ve had Scrum teams for a long time and are seeking the next level of agility. By learning and adopting DevOps, Extreme Programming, and lean product management practices, teams can achieve the release at will capabilities that the organization desires. A few teams have transformed already, and I’ve witnessed as an agile coach how overwhelming it can be for teams at first with so much to learn.

To help educate teams and reduce anxiety about new practices, I’ve facilitated the Agile Fluency Game with teams right before they start working with an agile coach. Playing the game creates clarity and insight on what the team might learn from the coach and the benefits of new practices. One team’s members had a wide range of agile experience—from folks who were brand new to agile all the way to seasoned practitioners who had been in high performing XP teams. Playing the game as a team, they read the agile practice cards, asked questions, and made tradeoff decisions about where to invest their effort. They learned from one another about agile ways of working and what they each value when it comes to quality, communication, and delighting customers. The team bonded as they played and realized there will be a cost to learning in their work; they gained confidence in how they will handle real-life tradeoff conversations as a team.

In another case, a group of IT managers played the game as a team, and we ran longer than scheduled because the game was going so well. They achieved the highest score I’ve seen yet! After celebrating their wise decisions and “win,” they wished that their leadership would play the game. Conversation centered around the challenges their teams face—right away the managers recognized the differences between the greenfield starting point of the game versus the legacy code and maintenance their teams encounter today. They noted how different the game would be if it started with a setup closer to their teams’ current reality—and agreed that their decisions about which practices to focus on and when would be quite different.

Initially I ran the game with a group of new internal agile coaches. They lost their first game quickly. Surprise! Balancing agile practices and feature delivery was harder than they thought. Their agile experience hadn’t yet exposed them to many of the technical and quality practices. Playing the game a second time allowed them to better comprehend the connections between the practices and see how they can work together. I gained a lot as their agile coach-mentor in observing how they interacted with one another and facilitating the game debrief conversations. We found a meaningful shared experience and model that we could reference in coaching discussions.

After facilitating the Agile Fluency Game with so many different groups, I’ve grown to appreciate how agile beginners and seasoned practitioners alike feel better prepared to engage with an agile coach and learn new ways of working after 90 minutes of fun and discussion. Onboarding an organization to agile through a board game—it’s like magic.

Agile Fluency is a trademark of James Shore and Diana Larsen

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

Game to Try - Change!

Photo by David Holt

Photo by David Holt

I used a game that I learned from Don McGreal in my lightning talk at Agile Dev West, and I wanted to share it. It’s simple to run and can be done in 5 minutes, which was precisely why I chose it.

This game can be used with groups of any size and is best used when people have been sitting comfortably in their chairs as participants will be asked to change where they are sitting.

Facilitator instructions:

  • Ask group to notice who is sitting to their left and right.  They cannot sit next to those individuals.
  • People must move at least 2 seats/1 row/1 table (choose based on your setup) away from where they are currently

Possible discussion questions:

  • What was it like to change seats?
  • Who did not change seats? Why not?
  • What made it easy to change?
  • What would make it better if we were going to do this activity again later?

Moving to a different seat is a simple change, and yet this activity helps provide insights from the experience into the feelings and emotions of change. The beauty of this game to me is that the debrief can be taken in different directions by the facilitator to highlight the needs of individuals for change, share ideas for group change efforts, and reinforce the change capability of a group.

Try it with your teams and let me know how it goes in the comments.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

Games for Learning - Paint the Story Point

Photo by Andrea Passoni

Photo by Andrea Passoni

Relative sizing is a common agile practice—and often misunderstood. I facilitated a short workshop for team that was confused about story point estimation and velocity and used a game to illustrate how they work.

The game materials are simple—flip chart paper and markers. I love games that don’t require special equipment!

The game is paint the story point. It’s an easy game to lead, and the team had fun playing it. The game allowed us to talk about how story points can be used to indicate relative size, track velocity, and forecast completion. We met our learning objectives. What was really cool were the unexpected learnings:

  • One team member commented that relative sizing their backlog items can be challenging because the requirements are unclear—it’s like not being able to tell if a shape is a square or a star. In our discussion, the team realized that defining acceptance criteria better would help them.
  • For the activity, the team worked in two different groups, which brought up discussion about comparing teams based on velocity. We talked about the downsides of doing so and the troubles that come from comparing teams.
  • The team brought up that they have many dependencies on another team in their project, which impacts their velocity. We compared it to sharing markers across the two groups, and they recognized that they could explore how to better collaborate with the other team.

Thanks to my colleague Nirmal for suggesting this game to me. And a tip from him if you’re going to play it: be careful not to provide thick markers to the team because they’ll color the shapes too quickly.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

Games and Exercises - Dev/QA Pairing

Photo by ion-bogdan dumitrescu

Photo by ion-bogdan dumitrescu

As part of my project kickoff/agile chartering workshops for teams, I like to include a game or activity to reinforce the agile values and principles.  I was talking to a Scrum Master who was preparing to lead one of these workshops, and we decided that an exercise to encourage pairing between developers and QA would be beneficial for her team.  So I tweeted this:

I was pleasantly surprised by the responses, and I wanted to share the suggestions I received.  

If you have more suggestions or try some of these, I'd love to hear.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

Using Games in Retrospectives

Photo by David Maddison

Photo by David Maddison

Retrospectives have been a hot topic amongst my Scrum Masters recently as they focus on their facilitation skills and helping their teams improve.  They're channeling the true purpose of sprint retrospectives and experimenting with different activities.  It's amazing to see this group learn from each other and watch the excitement spread to their teams.  Activities from Innovation Games and Agile Retrospectives are being used; one Scrum Master tried the Non Musical Chairs game from Tasty Cupcakes and shared feedback via email with me:

It was  HUGE hit and very successful!!

I think they loved being ‘not just sat there, writing or talking’ as it as an active retrospective, which involves moving, thinking quickly and working as a team.

I’m very happy with the retro method and so is the team.

Only problem now is to find something better to do for the next one!! A great problem to have!

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.