Agile / Games

GBL for Agile Coaching: Experiential Learning

There are a lot of games for learning the agile mindset and Scrum that have a lot in common to exercises used in experiential learning (and related fields of adventure and outdoor education) and applied drama. They offer an active and performative vantage point to some specific problem point of command & control mindset and sometimes even use a modified exercise to point out how this problem is eradicated by making the actors responsible and self-organizing.

Outdoor Education

Magic of Photosynthesis station by Jensen Chua, CC2 attribution, no derivative works

They can use actual SW project situations as a base or they can use a completely different situation as an allegory for project work.

The tangled circle game (I’m not certain where I got this originally but it was from an agile coach or trainer) is a good example. This is a game for fairly large groups and one “project manager”. The game is set up by tossing the project manager out of the room. The other people start by holding hands in a circle. They then get tangled up so badly that they cannot move any more. The project manager’s task is to provide a plan for getting the people untangled again.

There are three versions of the game for project manager. Each are played in a series. The versions represent different approach to project work.

In the first version, the project manager is brought back to the room for a glimpse of the situation and then brought back to his “office” to write down a plan for the team to follow to get untangled. The project manager then returns to the team room, gives the plan to the team and the team try to act the plan out. The team is not allowed to discuss the problem with each other or the manager or to do anything that is not written in the plan.

"Steve!" Improv
“steve!”, photo by vicki wolkins, CC-licensed (attribution, non-commercial, share-alike)

After that approach fails, the manager is given another approach to try. This time he is given a chair to climb on from where he can see the problem better. Then he can start to give orders to his team members. The team must follow the orders to the letter. They still cannot communicate on the problem.

The last version of the game gives full responsibility to the team members. They can be active, communicate with each other and work out the solution themselves. The time to reach the solution with each approach is measured. After playing all three versions the team can discuss the different approaches. The point of the game is of course to show that self-organized teams are efficient and the command & control is often not.

This game is perhaps an exception in its group as its message is apparent from its description. The value of most of these games lies in the value of common experience the people participating have after playing the game. As in experiental learning and applied drama exercises these kind of games call for a well-led discussion afterwards to make the tacit observations made during the game explicit and shared. If that is left out of the experience the value of the game is much less than its potential.

Godot Process Drama Online

"Lilypad", Godot online Process Drama, image by mobology, CC-licensed (attribution, share-alike)

The other notable feature of these games is that they require the full-body interaction from the players. The game sessions must be co-located. I think it wouldn’t be impossible to adopt some features of these games to similar games played online but the nature of the gameplay experience would so different that the games would practically have to be designed again to work with the possibilities and sensibilities of online games.

Some examples of these kinds of games:

  • the Push-Line/Pull-Line by Bill Wake, which aims at raising discussion on productivity and waste in push and pull systems,
  • People Polling by Don McGreal, an estimating exercise used widely in training and
  • Collaborative Origami by Michael McCullough, a game that demonstrates the effectiveness of collaboration and the actual effect of communication barriers.

There are a lot of similar games that I’ve run into in the past but those are the ones that I can link to at the moment. Here are some further resources on games that can be used in agile coaching:


One thought on “GBL for Agile Coaching: Experiential Learning

  1. Pingback: 2010 in Review (by « Game-Based Learning Dev

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