Based in Sydney, Australia, Ilan is currently performing the role of Agile Solutions Manager at Reed Elsevier, the largest global B2B media company.
He has recently finalized a book contract with Addison-Wesley to publish his first book as part of the Mike Cohn Signature Series based on Ilan’s popular blog, ‘Scrum Shortcuts without Cutting Corners’.
When the global Agile Tour made it’s 2011 stop in Sydney, little did we know that a new Agile game was about to be born. The Sydney leg of the tour was a fantastic couple of days full of wholehearted interaction and efficient, self-organizing groups. The opportunity to create a new Agile game was presented to us in a notable session facilitated by Sarah Brown from ThoughtWorks. It really caught the imagination of the group and the resulting game is what I’d like to share in this post.
To kick-start the activity, everyone was given a few minutes to independently come up with a simple concept to form the basis of a game. Generating a concept like this in a time-crunch pretty much relies on blind luck – it either comes to you or it doesn’t; organically contriving something is very difficult, particularly in such a short timeframe. Luckily for me, I did happen to be blessed by the ‘game gods’ on this particular day and below is what I scribbled down in a couple of minutes (yes, I was possibly a doctor in a previous incarnation with such terrible handwriting).
For those unable to read, translate and extrapolate this properly (I certainly don’t blame you) this is what my scrawl is trying to communicate:
So, after presenting our individual ideas to the other team members, we voted for the concept that we as a group wanted to collaboratively develop. Low and behold, my scribbled concept that I nicknamed, ‘Artful Agile’ was chosen. What came next was really cool as we rapidly iterated on the idea (in true Agile fashion) to generate a more comprehensive approach to playing this soon-to-be game. Below is the next ‘version’ of the game description (the handwriting is a little better – clearly it’s not mine).
From this point, we decided to give ‘Artful Agile’ a shot in the real-world and you know what? It was super successful! As such, I have taken some extra time to formally detail the game so that others can also have as much fun playing it as we did.
Instruct the team to collectively draw a picture based on a real photo, initially through the direction of a ‘so called project manager’ (who is the only one who has seen the photo) and secondly under the direction of no single team member but as a self-organizing group who have all seen the photo.
- Butcher’s paper.
- Magic markers – multi-colours.
- Two photos of similar ‘complexity’, one for each round (can be used for multiple groups).
- Large tables – one for each team.
- Flip board to document rules and observations.
- Assign a project manager randomly (sadly this often seems the way that many business assign managers).
- Ensure that in this round, only the project manager is shown the photo (this simulates the type of project manager who likes to maintain total control and chooses to issue directives on a need-to-know basis). The team is not allowed to see the image.
- The project manager may come back to the facilitator at any time to view the photo.
- Only the project manager is allowed to issue instructions.
- If there is contention, the project manager must resolve it.
- It’s the project manager’s responsibility to get the team to re-create the image he/she is looking at, by instructing the team.
- End the round in 10 minutes.
- In this round, ensure that all team members have seen the new photo (in contrast to ‘round one’, this simulates a sprint planning session where the product owner presents the concept to the entire team using an open, transparent process).
- The team has to re-create the image on their own.
- If there is contention, the team can resolve it themselves.
- End the round in 10 minutes.
‘Artful Agile’ Retrospective
Q: Which round was more fun?
A: The team gave a resounding thumbs up for the second round
Q: Which round was more stressful for the original project manager?
A: No surprises here – the project manager in the first round felt “really frazzled” whilst he looked visibly relaxed in the second round with the distributed decision making
Q: Which round achieved more?
A: The team felt that they achieved more in the second round. Verify this yourself by comparing the drawings to the original photos
Q: Which was the more creative product?
A: The team felt that the second drawing was more creative with the use of colour and scale. Again, you can answer that question by comparing the drawings to the original photos
Also, remember to tie in the classic four questions that you would use during your typical sprint retrospectives.
- What did we do well?
- What could we do better?
- What can we try next time?
- What issues should be escalated?
- In ‘round two’, a natural leader emerged who wasn’t actually the original project manager. What was interesting though was that this person was very conscious about not becoming a ‘dictator’. It was as if a micro-culture had been implicitly created by the group that disqualified any command and control behavior.
- In ‘round two’, the first question that the team asked was, “Who is actually good at drawing?” This is not something the project manager asked in ‘round one’. As such, it was quickly established who was the best artist and this person ended up sketching the ‘architecture’ of the drawing i.e. the main broad-brush strokes that gave the team the correct scale and perspective to build upon.
- Everyone had a good laugh and found ‘round two’ to be much more fun. In my opinion, this was the most important critical success factor. Increased productivity and creativity are both direct by-products of strong team morale.
- Through genuine collaboration, other smart suggestions regarding both process and product bubbled to the surface. For example, someone suggested that each team member work on different quadrants of the picture which certainly helped avoid a lot of the ‘toe-treading’ that occurred in ‘round one’. Another nice idea resulted in the comic-style shading which not only saved time but gave the picture a slick modern effect.
- All team members preferred the second drawing. Now this doesn’t necessarily mean that it was the better drawing (critically speaking) and some of you might actually have a preference for the first drawing. The point is, the team felt that the second drawing reflected their creativity a lot more and they were certainly proud of it.
- Irrespective of which drawing is ‘better’, I think it is safe to say that the second drawing is certainly less sterile and more creative – at the end of the day, to truly delight customers, creativity is the key ingredient.
I will point out the fact that however successful this game seemed to us at the time, it was the inaugural and maiden voyage for ‘Artful Agile’. Further, it happened to have been invented five minutes before it was played so there certainly isn’t any empirical research yet to back up its efficacy. What I can say though was that it was a lot of fun, it demonstrated the objective clearly and if nothing else we have some artwork (for better or worse) to decorate our project wall. For anyone who is keen to try the ‘Artful Agile’ game with their team I will be really interested to see how you go so please stay in touch!