Tuesday, February 12, 2013

What's in a game?

Pssst.., I have a secret to tell you...
- I don’t really like games...
(luckily no one reads this blog, or I’ll be kicked out of the virtual Agile community I belong to.)

Yea, I know some explanation is in order, but first, what the heck am I talkinabout?

Agile games are a part of the Agile coaching toolbox, if you want the team to experience the  importance of small increments of work, give them a task of flipping coins two times, and measure different strategies (groups of 50, groups of 10, etc.), if you want to demonstrate how a spec is less effective than talking, ask someone to write textual instructions of how to draw an image, and someone else to following them from the doc.
The result is usually fun, the team laughs, gets to discuss the different approaches, and end up feeling they learned something….

So  what’s there not to like ??
First of all, it always seems (to me) superficial, and I get the impression it is too detached from the team’s reality, so in real life, they may say to themselves: yeah, but this task is much more complicated than just flipping coins. Or : this is a component the team will surely understand by just reading (and besides, I hate talking to them, they always waste my time, an they are offshore with a strange accent)

Second, I don’t like running a game who's result are expected, if this is a game, I want to be a part of it!

Third, it is often considered by the organisation as a waste of time, and though they are sometimes wrong, they are also sometimes right, and anyway it may create hidden resistance to change.

Solution ? Gamify life (Danko’s Ducks, and more...)

In fact, the alternative was clear for me all the time, but it clicked when I read the following technique (called Danko’s Ducks*) :
Problem : In the team, people tend to cut each other off, which turns discussions to noisy debates.
Solution : Buy a bunch of cheap rubber duckies, and at the beginning of the next meeting give each participant one, with the following instructions :
1.       When you are cut off, or you see someone being cut off, squeeeeze yer Duckie.
2.       When you hear a Quack, squeeeeeeze yer Duckie.
3.       Repeat.
Result :  First meeting, you will have tons of endless quack waves (and laughs), second meeting you will have one or two, and that’s it.
See the difference ? the ‘game’ is introduced to the system, so it is much more effective.

Once I defined it to myself, I realized it was there all along, here are some more :

Vincent’s Mic (**).

Problem : At the standup, people cut each other off, and don’t know who’s turn it is.
Solution : Get a broken microphone you found in the junkpile, and ask people to speak to it.
Result : people hold the mic, do a make-belief fooo-foooo into it, pass it to the left, works like charm ! and the unexpected result: people suddenly speak clearly! and to everyone!

Nicola’s Timebox challenge.
Problem : Team doesn't jump to the water of self-management quick enough.
Solution : See below.
At the end of a long Friday, after a long demo, we scheduled a retro meeting, I ask the team what’s the timebox, and someone (let's call him Nicolas...) smiled with tired eyes and says –« five minutes ?! »
Everybody smiled, so I timed five minutes...
It was finished in four (followup, high/low points and action items)  (***)
Result: the timebox setter role was gladly passed to the team.

Conclusions/ call for action
I have lots of other examples, the thing is this :

I know sometimes things are not that easy...
some radical principles take more energy and effort, but...

We are so used to the work/ play separation, that we are either in a work mode or a play mode
(and sometimes it is even worst since when we learn we often are not allowed to play and are not considered qualified to work,)

Games at work for game's sake give a bad name for gamification, and make it harder to use games for real tasks (such as backlog grooming, for example)

- A game you find inside the work-space may be a great tool to examine and change behavior, enhance creativity, break barriers and lighten things up...

- Look for it! I am sure it is just around the corner!

And once you do, spend two minutes searching for a catchy game-name.
And if you have great game@work stories, comment below.

(*) I won’t tell you who invented this technique, since he specifically gives up any rights or credits in the preface, I’ll just hint that his funny and imaginative book (titled advanScrum) can be downloaded freely here, but fortunately for some, only a Hebrew version is available thus-far.
(**) This one is by a good friend and colleague, I don’t know if he invented it, since he is often too modest to take credit for stuff he comes up with.
(***) you can find in the book above a section about Blitz-meetings, but since I've done em first, (including a red-alert-all-project-management-post-mortem-timeboxed-ten-minute one (with conclusions, action items, and some angry-birds) no credit is given.

Till we meet again.

The Scrum'em Bear.

Oh my...  (giving credit when it's due)
I just realized the grain of this idea was instilled in me when seening this video by Dan Mezick   
So many Dans in one post...
I'm done.

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