Games For Training Agile & Scrum

When it comes to training groups of people about empiricism and the mechanisms of self-organizing teams, it helps to include simulations and games. I mean, it’s difficult lecturing folks on how to self-organize. They gotta just do it.

Pro Tip: print the rules onto a letter-sized page sheet of paper and give each participant a copy, which they can wad up to make a “ball”.

Making do with BPG

One of the most popular exercises is the Ball Point Game, credited to Boris Gloger and used to teach Scrum concepts. Most Scrum trainers I ask say they’ve used it at least once to demonstrate concepts such as self-organization, inspect & adapt, and estimation. If you’ve taken a Scrum class or two, you’re likely to have played it. 

Here’s a link to a video I recorded in 2012 of a large team (~40) playing the Ball Point game.

When playing the Ball Point Game (BPG), a team will organize themselves around the goal of getting as many balls as possible passed through the system within a defined period of time. There are a few specific rules / constraints, and groups will typically undergo three to five iterations while tracking their progress. It’s a fun, lively activity that introduces empirical processes and lays the groundwork for a more tangible exploration of Scrum.

This wonderful scoreboard is by Bob Sarni.

Personally, I was getting bored with this activity. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the game and the takeaways that participants discover, but I sometimes find it limiting or counter to what I’m trying to teach. For example, many trainers facilitate the BPG with all participants forming one team – for some classes, this can be over 40 people shouting across a large space. Some trainers will break the group into multiple teams, but I find it difficult enough to monitor one team to make sure they don’t cheat or ignore defects (and therefore miss critical learning).

Seeking an Alternative to BPG

In late 2018 I started looking for alternatives, and it wasn’t long before I came across the Lean Workflow Design Game by Nancy Van Schooenderwoert and introduced at the Play4Agile conference in 2011. I haven’t spoken much with Nancy or anyone else who’s played Lean Workflow Design Game (and I’ve only found a few references to it online including a nice write up by Sven Röpstorff and a video by Nancy herself), but I found the game to be useful and fun.

While I might still use the Ball Point Game with small classes (under 10), I like the more complex Lean Workflow Design Game (LWDG). In addition, I feel that by extending the game to introduce more complexity in subsequent rounds, the lessons of empiricism and self-organizing teams become more apparent. I hope that you agree.

To help “sell” the game to a roomful of participants, I came up with the name CardZinga! as an extension of the LWDG.

Update – as of March 2020, CardZinga! has been adapted for virtual delivery.