Playing at Work

Games That Deliver Value

debrief helped the team see that the test/release process was the bottleneck in the system. Everyone pitched in to apply the game's lessons. Van Cauwenberghe adds, "The release after the Bottleneck Game went a lot smoother than usual. It took the test/release team several days less than usual to deploy the release, without having to do any overtime." [8]

Running the Play?
A successful game often requires a game facilitator. When I serve in that role, I make sure to: 

  • Schedule sufficient time in an adequate space and prepare game materials
  • Clearly communicate directions
  • Always run a debrief after the game, allowing the players to reflect on the experience and see how it relates to their work

As with any type of facilitation, you need to stay neutral to the play while being available to serve the game's purpose and participants.

Design to Win
How do you create an effective game? There were lots of great ideas at the recent Deep Agile 2010: Empowering Teams with Agile Games conference. [9] In the session "Game Development," Mike McCullough and Don McGreal shared their experiences in designing games and coached small groups in creating new games. I joined a group that wanted to design and test games to explore backlog challenges.

During our Open Space time [10] my group created a new game, tested it, and retrospected both the game and our design process. Michael Sahota, the session conveyer, kept us focused with his energy and enthusiasm. Read Michael's post, " The Backlog Is in the Eye of the Beholder ," [11] for details about our process and findings. You can also grab the materials to play the game yourself. Below are some of the key lessons we learned.

Designing the game:

  • Clearly define the objectives and limit them to three or fewer.
  • Start with a small set of players-no more than twelve.
  • Leave wiggle room; expect the game to evolve.

Testing the game:

  • Test as you go, refining and refactoring along the way.
  • Act as a deep observer during the tests. Watch players adapt and extend the game in different directions. They may experience deeper learning beyond your original intentions.
  • Retrospect the test with the players, looking for ways to fine-tune the game.

I also find it helpful when designing a game to employ a number of principles that are congruent with agile software development and principles-whether or not I am designing a game intended for use in an agile software environment. See my blog post " Being Agile When Designing and Playing Agile Games ."

Your Turn
If you need creative ways to do work, or if your team can benefit from deep learning, play a game! Check out the references and resources at the end of this article. You'll find plenty of playing options that can deliver value to your team. What's your next move?

Author's Appreciations
My thanks go to Lisa Crispin, Ellen Gottesdiener, Luke Hohmann, Michael McCullough, Michael Sahota, Sivasailam Thiagarajan, Portia Tung, Pascal Van Cauwenberghe, and Bill Wake for their helpful review of this column.

[1] 99 Test Balloons
[2] More on Flow
[3] Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development . New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.
[4] Innovation® Games
[5] Product Box
[6] PairDraw
[7] Bottleneck Game
[8] Pascal Van Cauwenberghe, personal communication, 3 July 2010.
[9] Deep Agile 2010: Empowering Teams with Agile Games
[10] Open Space and Opening Space for Passion, Energy, and Learning Part II
[11] The Backlog Is in the Eye of the Beholder

Game Resources:

About the author

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