Virtual Agile Games to Strengthen Distributed Teams

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Summary:
While many games and related materials have been created for collocated team-building activities, there is a need for more of these artifacts in virtual form to support distributed teams. These three authors developed a set of virtual agile games that can be downloaded and played remotely, for team-building with newly created teams or as a fun activity with established teams.

One of the principles of the Agile Manifesto is “The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.” Unfortunately, collocated teams are becoming more the exception than the rule as many companies look to other geographic regions to control costs or to augment their workforce when there is a shortage of local talent.

While many games and related materials have been created for collocated team-building activities, there is a need for more of these artifacts in virtual form to support distributed teams.

To address this need, we developed a set of virtual agile games using Google Drawings and Google Sheets. They can be downloaded to any personal Google Drive so that anyone can have their own instance of the game.

Here, we provide an overview of these virtual games, including new versions of the games that do not require using Google applications to host and play the games.

Scrum Values

This virtual game was adapted from a subset of the Scrum Values & Roles card game, which consists of a set of printable Scrum Values cards and Behavior cards. The objective of the Scrum Values & Roles game is for team members to match up the Behavior cards with corresponding Values cards. The facilitator of the game, typically the team’s ScrumMaster, reviews the distribution of cards once all Behavior cards have been placed and discusses with the team how the Values and Behaviors best align.

As with the original card game, the purpose of our virtual game is to introduce or reinforce the Scrum values listed in The Scrum Guide. The virtual game pieces consist of five Scrum Values cards, a set of Behavior cards, and a set of Anti-Pattern cards.

Aside from the ability to play our virtual game with distributed teams, our game differs from the original card game in two more ways. First, we have added Anti-Pattern cards to highlight negative behaviors that teams need to recognize and work to eliminate. Second, our game is not as prescriptive in terms of insisting that a particular behavior can only be associated with a particular value. In playing our game with our teams, we found that some behaviors can be associated with multiple values. Our philosophy on the game play is that the fun is all about the corresponding discussion, as opposed to designating choices as right or wrong.

Since our game was designed with Google Drawings, multiple players can access the same instance of the game at once. This allows team members one by one to drag a Behaviors or Anti-Pattern card from the stack on the left side of the playing area and drop it underneath a Scrum Values card that the team member feels most closely embodies the behavior or represents the value that needs to be embodied to eliminate the antipattern.

Scrum Values game cards

This version of the game is available on author Jeff Schlaver’s personal Google Drive here. However, since some may encounter access issues with Google Drive, author Rich Stewart created a native web-based application version of the game utilizing the Angular 7 drag-and-drop functionality. This version of the game requires a facilitator to move the cards on the team’s behalf, but it is freely available and may be accessed here.

Scrum Roles

This game was adapted from a subset of the Scrum Values & Roles card game discussed above. The objective of the game is for the team members to distribute the Responsibility cards below the corresponding Roles cards. The facilitator of the game, typically the team’s ScrumMaster, determines whether the distribution is correct once all Responsibility cards have been placed.

The purpose of our virtual game is to introduce or reinforce the three Scrum roles defined in The Scrum Guide: development team, product owner, and ScrumMaster. However, we choose to use the term “delivery team” instead of “development team” because it’s a more generic term that will be applicable when working with non-software teams.

The virtual game pieces consist of three Scrum Role cards and a set of Responsibility cards. As the game was designed with Google Drawings, multiple players can access the same instance of the game so team members can take turns dragging a Responsibility card from the stack on the left side of the playing area and dropping it underneath a Scrum Role card that they feel most closely fits with the responsibility.

Our game aligns with the original card game very closely. Scrum roles are well defined, so by and large the corresponding responsibilities fit with one of the roles.

 

Scrum Roles game cards

The original version of the game is available on author Jeff Schlaver’s personal Google Drive here. A native web-based game has also been developed, and while this version of the game requires a facilitator to move the cards on the team’s behalf, it is freely available and may be accessed here.

Cards For Agility and Cards Against Agility

These games were created using Google Sheets and are based on the popular game Cards Against Humanity (CAH). The games were designed to develop awareness of agile practices—or poke fun at them, as the questions and answers can be rather irreverent. As the original game states: “Cards Against Humanity is a party game for horrible people. Unlike most of the party games you’ve played before, Cards Against Humanity is as despicable and awkward as you and your friends.”

CAH includes two roles: Card Czar and Player. The game is started by each player drawing ten White Cards. The Card Czar then plays a Black Card and reads the question or fill-in-the-blank phrase on the card out loud. Each Player answers the question or fills in the blank from the Black Card by passing one White Card, face down, to the Card Czar, who shuffles all the answers, shares them with the group, and picks the funniest play. The winning Player earns one Awesome Point. After each round, a new player becomes the Card Czar, and everyone draws back up to ten White Cards.

Despite the intent of the original game, playing an agile version with your team provides an enjoyable, low-consequence environment to try out new ideas, explore new modes of interaction, and get the team to interact and learn through game play. If you've ever played Cards Against Humanity or Apples to Apples, you will love Cards For Agility and Cards Against Agility. Either game can also be used as a tool to generate a fun and interactive retrospective.

Let’s take a closer look at the Cards For Agility game, which may be accessed here.

This game is designed for multiple players to participate simultaneously. Prior to starting the game, all team members and the facilitator join a video meeting through your collaboration tool of choice (Skype, WebEx, Microsoft Teams, GoToMeeting, Zoom, etc.).

The facilitator then adds the names of the team members and clicks the Add Player button next to each player’s name. Doing so generates a new tab for each player to use to participate in the game.

Screenshot of the Cards For Agility game

The facilitator next clicks the Draw a Black Card button to present the players with a scenario that is selected randomly from a databank.

At this point, each player navigates to their respective tab via a URL provided by the facilitator, as shown below, then clicks on the Get All Cards button to load a set of ten potential responses to the scenario, drawn randomly from a databank. Each player selects a response by clicking one of the Play This Card buttons. If a player doesn’t like any of the potential responses, they can click the Get All Cards button to generate a new random set of ten responses.

The facilitator displays the main playing tab, shown below, in the video collaboration tool. As players select responses, they appear in the grid to the right of the scenario. When all the players have selected a response, the facilitator chooses the winning response, which may be the best answer or the most irreverent one, per the facilitator’s choice. Players’ winning responses are kept track of in the Cards Claimed column next to each player’s name. Game play continues for as many rounds as the team chooses to play.

A variation of the game consists of having the team members rotate into the facilitator role.

The game Cards Against Agility may be accessed here and is played the same way, except the scenarios and responses differ. In this game, the content is much more irreverent, so it’s probably better suited as a fun team-building activity for a more mature team. It’s recommended to also review the content of this game before playing with your teams.

A free, native web-based, mobile-friendly, multiplayer version of this game is available here.

Game Your Way to Stronger Teams

Game play is a proven technique for team-building with newly created teams or as a fun activity with established teams. We hope that some or all of these virtual agile games we created can facilitate these activities with your virtual teams. In the spirit of continuous improvement, we welcome and encourage your feedback as you play these games so we may continue to improve them.

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