Do You Want to Play a Game?

by Brenda Camille Davis

Nine years ago in the Windy City, at one of the major financial corporations, senior leadership decided we need to make a major change. The business stakeholders were not pleased with the time it took for a project to be delivered to them, which usually ranged from nine to eighteen months. The decision and intentional commitment to begin the Agile transformation came from the top. A leading Agile transformation company was hired, and training and coaches were in place.

I was a project manager at the time, with over ten years of waterfall mindset, when my Agile journey started. I was a sponge and open to learning how our teams could make improvements. To start the process, I registered for class and began googling information on Agile, but there was so much information, I decided to wait for class to get started.

On day one of class, leadership kicked off the day with “Why Agile?” The senior vice-president talked enthusiastically about the Agile benefits. A surprise to me, we were told to pair up with someone at our table and to write on post-it notes, “Why do we have difficulty delivering projects in a timely manner?” We were told to put our post-notes on the white board under the category that they best fit in. A few of us said, “I think we are playing a game.” It was never called this by the coach, but it was “The Learning the 12 Agile Manifesto Principles Game”.

As my Agile journey continued, I loved the improvements I saw with the teams I worked on, and looked for opportunities to learn more about the framework and what other companies were doing that were having successful transformations. I joined local Agile meet-ups and attended meetings and conferences that were focused on Agile.  

During one of the local meet-up group meetings, we were broken into teams and told that for the next five minutes, we should write on post-it notes and add to the board what we do each morning before we leave home to go to work. We were then told to name the tasks we would perform if we only had 15 minutes after waking up and before we had to leave home to go to work, so we worked with our team to eliminate some of the tasks from the board. In the next iteration we only had 10 minutes, then five minutes. Through this game, we learned team building, prioritization, and introducing Kanban to share with our company teams. The Kanban board should all the tasks in the “To Do” initially, then in the 15 minute column, then the 5 minute column; this was our way of showing how WIP (Work in Progress) looks on a Kanban board.

More recently, as a SAFe Scrum Master, at the end of each iteration I facilitate the retrospective with my team. It is important to keep the team innovative, engaged, motivated and encouraged to grow and share. Each iteration we play a game, and yes, there are post-it notes. These retrospective games have included Weather (What were the weather conditions of this iteration?), Your Super Power (What Super Power Did You Demonstrate During This Iteration?), Focus On/Focus Off (productive communication), and Twitter (In 140 words or less write about the iteration). The team says all the time how now they look forward to attending Retrospectives because they are all new and each one challenges their way of thinking of improving and growing as a team. These games and so many others are found in the book Agile Retrospectives Making Good Teams Great by Esther Derby and Diana Larsen and by Googling “retrospective”; there is a great list (40 ideas to spice up your retrospective) on www.agilestrides.com

No matter what game you are playing, if it is promoting the Agile principles, ceremonies, or continuous learning, then this a part of being Agile.