Learning by playing agile games at Novoda

Earlier this week I blogged about playing agile games and embedding learning over at the Novoda blog. Check it out and let me know what you think

Can you learn about agile concepts and have fun in an hour or two?

We played a few games in our Barcelona office to reinforce and explain some agile concepts. It really helped our learning, and was a lot of fun. Why not try them out and see if they help you too? For us it was an effective way of demonstrating the importance of agile values, practices and principles.

Kathleen wearing a black sweatshirt with the slogan 'WHATEVER WORKS' in white block lettering. Four shots of the same outfit with different expressions of playfulness: peering down, looking up over glasses, grinning and pouting

How to play

Most of the games take 15–30 minutes, although there are a couple of five-minute ones too. You can also vary the length if you want to go into more discussion. Playing all the games, including introductions and discussion, took us around two hours. You can reduce that to fit a smaller time slot or increase it for more discussion.

Each game had a starting point for the first round, then we modified one parameter, and played again. So it was good practice for running experiments too.

We played our games with four participants but they could easily be played by up to eight participants plus a facilitator. If you play these games with your team, we’d love to know what you think.

Can you stand alone?

We learned about communication, dependencies and teamwork.

Objective: Stand up

Set up: Everyone gets into pairs and sits together back to back. No equipment required.

Time to play: 5 mins

Round 1

Observation: Everyone puts their hands on the floor and pushes on each other’s backs to stand up, without talking about it.

Round 2

Setup: As round 1, but this time each participant links arms with their partner.

Observation: Participants started to talk to each other in their pairs and organise themselves, e.g. saying “Push back. Move your leg. No, push less.”

There was a lot of laughter, but don’t just take it from me. Juan said,

The collaboration game was not only funny, but also a great way to understand how communication and synergy between team members helps achieve goals and success.

Ideas we explored

When we had to rely on someone else we started talking to each other, because it’s not possible to navigate and negotiate dependencies without engaging with other people.

If we are connected and interdependent, there’s no way we can stand up alone.

Juan and Ferran sitting on the ground back to back, arms linked, they stand up together smiling

Party planners

We learned about the impact of context

Objective: Seat the celebrities at the party

Set up: Each participant has a celebrity name (we used a random celebrity name generator). No equipment required.

Time to play: 20–25 mins, because the conversation was so good.

Round 1

You are having a party and need to plan the seating arrangements for the celebrity guests.

Observation: Participants started to seat the celebrities by known things they have in common. For instance, they sat women together, actors together and so on.

Round 2

Setup: As round 1, but now Carl and Kevin (our CTO and CEO) say we need to bring in some business for Novoda.

Observation: Participants started to change the seating, considering who can make introductions.

Round 3

Setup: As round 1, but now your brother or sister is coming.

Observation: Participants started to change the seating again and explain why, eg I’ll sit this person here because my sister loves Adele.

Ideas we explored

It’s really good to zoom out sometimes to see all the components
Changing the context means we make different decisions and plans

Survive the desert island

We learned about stereotypes and archetypes and the value of being multidisciplinary (T-shaped people) and not having fixed roles.

Objective: Survival

Set up: Sticky notes and pens required

Time to play: 20 mins, probably 30 mins if more players

Round 1

You’re in a plane which crash lands. Everyone suffers amnesia and so no one knows who they are. Everyone else knows who you are, but they don’t remember how to tell you. Instead, each person can only tell you, “Yes, I think you’d be good at doing that task” or “No, I don’t think you’d be right for that.”

This is a role-playing game. Each team member is given a sticky note with a description of who they are (from the below list), which they stick to their head without reading it. So you can’t see who you are, but you can see who everyone else is. The roles are:
60-something comedian
70-something actor
Guitar player
Mr Bean

You have to survive together and there are some items on the island that might help. What will you do? How will you organise?

You have:
Broken radio

The plan that emerged was to make a fire and wait for rescue. Tasks were assigned to each person based on stereotypes:
Guitar player – take some wood to build a refuge and hunt some animals, because you’re strong.
Actor and comedian — organising, cleaning, preparation.
Mr Bean – sit on the beach so as not to mess-up or destroy anything

Round 2

Setup: As round 1, but giving the following additional information:
The comedian is Le Grand Wyoming who is also a medical doctor.
The guitarist is Brian May who also has a PhD in astrophysics.
Mr Bean is played by Rowan Atkinson who also has an IQ of 140 and a degree in electronics.
The actor is Arnold Schwarzenegger who is also a former professional bodybuilder and therefore very strong.

Plan that emerged: Fix radio and use it with positions of stars to save ourselves.

Ideas we explored

How labels like “QA” and “developer” can limit us; when we think someone can only do a few things because of stereotypes/roles, we reduce the capacity of team.
When we don’t limit ourselves in this way, we start to be more creative.
We learned about flow, focus and context switching

Objective: Your name written out first

Setup: One participant takes the role of developer and will be writing on a whiteboard. The others are stakeholders and each has a name given to them. All names are the same length and each has an unexpected spelling, such as those listed below. Whiteboard or flipchart paper and marker required.


For each round, the facilitator keeps a record of:

Length of time from starting to finishing writing each name.
Length of time from starting the first name to finishing the last name.

Time to play: 15 mins

Round 1

Observation: Automatically, participants each start to shout their names. (The squeaky wheel gets the grease.)

Round 2

Setup: As round 1, but participants are instructed to take turns spelling their name but only giving one letter at a time.

Round 3

Setup: As round 1, but participants are instructed to take turns spelling the name, this time the whole name.

Observation: 3rd name in last scenario was completed before 1st name completed in the other scenarios.

Ideas we explored

Impact of limiting work in progress.
Stop starting, start finishing.
Better return on investment for everyone when we finish something before starting something else, including for items at the bottom of the priority list.


We learned about flow, batches and sizing

Objective: Process coins

Batch of 10

Set up: 10 pennies required per participant.

Each participant has to process coins (eg flip each one, throw each one etc). Each person gets to decide how to process their coins and must continue processing in the same way each iteration. Facilitator to measure time.

Time to play: 20–30 mins

Round 1

Batch size 10: The first person processes all the coins, and then the second person processes all the coins and so on until all the coins are processed.

Round 2

Batch size 1: As round 1, but now the second person can start processing their first coin as soon as the first person has processed their first coin. However, each person is located in a different corner of the room and must pass their coin to the next person.

Round 3

Batch size: 5: Setup: As round 1, but increase size of batch up to 5 (the second person can start once the first person has finished processing 5 coins).

3 Cs Pictionary: Card, Conversation, Confirmation

We observed how difficult it is to write a specification and the impact of discussion and feedback on quality.

Objective: Try to describe a figure made up of simple geometric figures by giving a specification to the team and seeing how they draw it

Setup: Paper and pens required.

Time to play: 3 rounds, 6m each, 30 mins including switching between rounds

Round 1

One participant watches someone drawing and then describes to the others (the team) how it should be done, without being able to see what the others are producing.

Round 2

Setup: As round 1, but with one person sitting with the team as they implement it and giving feedback

If you’d like to learn more, or if you have any comments or questions, get in touch with an agile companion. We’d love to hear from you. Tweet Kathleen @gobrightly and Fran @Ripham_78.