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The ULTIMATE agile game...

TL;DR - this post discusses the coin flip game used to demonstrate the principles and benefits of small batch flow, and provides over 35 additional variations to take this deeper and further than you may have ever considered.


 

The humble coin flip game is a tool every agile practitioner / kanban trainer has used or experienced at some point. The ease with which it allows people to experience the benefit of small batch flow is unparalleled.

And, whilst there's a fairly standard format most commonly used, there's infinite variations on how to facilitate this in order to create depth and insights well beyond the superficial.


Instructions for coin flip game

As with any facilitation, I encourage you to be creative and playful with the prompts and interventions you provide. To make it relevant to the context. To surface existing challenges your clients are facing. To align people on a baseline understanding of lean principles.


Agile coin game in action

My preference is to play with some of the common agile anti-patterns listed below before running the normal format, so that the group can experience a broader set of challenges, and generate far richer insights.


Variations to consider before changing the batch size:


1 - You have an inconsistent backlog

  • Round 1 - Rather than starting with 20 coins of equal size, before even introducing the game ask the group to find 20 random items.

  • Round 2 - Ask them to change the order in which they process the items

  • Round 3 - ask them to create 4 groups of 5 similar items

  • Round 4 - use 20 different sized coins

  • Round 5 - 2 different sized coins - 10 x 20p and 10 x 50p (2 x 10 coins of the same denomination)


2 - You don't have a dedicated, or stable team

  • Round 1 - as normal

  • Round 2 - add 2 new team members and 1 manager to help 'go faster'

  • Round 3 - swap team members around so they are working in a different order

  • Round 4 - remove 2 team members and add 1 new one in


3 - The environment is not conducive for collaboration

  • Round 1 - Have the team sitting on different tables

  • Round 2 - Have the team sitting far apart from each other

  • Round 3 - Have half the team (or a second team operating fully remotely / online)

  • Round 4 - Have the team in a line but facing in different directions so they can't see the work being done before it comes to them or after they have processed it


4 - Scope is changing between sprints

  • Round 1 - as normal

  • Round 2 - tell the team they need to flip each coin twice

  • Round 3 - tell the team they need to flip half the coins 3 times

  • Round 4 - tell the teams each coin needs to touch the floor and the ceiling before it can be moved on

  • Round 5 - you introduce a large object and tell then team this is a P1 defect and they have to process it first (as well as the 20 coins)


5 - Interruptions are common place

  • Round 1 - as normal

  • Round 2 - interrupt and ask one of the workers to touch each wall before rejoining the team

  • Round 3 - start whispering into the ear of each worker as they take their turn

  • Round 4 - make a large noise like a fog horn / whistle / bang a gong at random points during the round


6 - You compare different teams output

For this one have at least 2 teams running in parallel, ideally one team online (A) and one team in person (B). Allow team A to review after each round and suggest improvements, whilst team B is rushed to start again with you adding more variability in based on the options in 1-5 above.

After each round keep comparing the scores of the 2 teams and putting pressure on the team with high variability (B) to be more like Team (A)


7 - You mess with the managers!

  • Round 1 - ask them not to interact with their workers at all

  • Round 2 - ask them to shout aggressive demands at their workers

  • Round 3 - have then ask their workers how they can support them

  • Round 4 - remove all but 1 manager and tell the remaining manager to ensure they are measuring each individuals performance separately.


 

The beauty is in the debrief

Reflecting on, and unravelling what happened during the game should be given equal (if not more) time than running the game.


Debrief

Provocative questions to ask will vary based on which variation you choose, but some tried and tested ones at the end of the standard format include:


  • "Looking at the data - the individual work time didn't improve much after round 3, yet the customer got value quicker - how is that possible?"

  • "Customer - did you prefer getting all the value at once, or getting a smaller item of value quicker?"

  • "What was the impact of pausing after each iteration to discus and agree on an improvement?"

  • "What does this activity expose?"

  • "How helpful was it to create an element of competition between 2 teams?"

  • "Managers - how helpful were you to the overall work being processed?"


Of course, there is no right answer to these questions, however they create space for learning to surface. The discussions that follow in the debrief are my favourite part of this activity, as they allow the team to look under the rug on how they work and what topics are triggering for the group. As a facilitator or agile coach you can soak up a bonanza of spoken and unspoken information to customise your future interventions.


Wrapping everything in a bow at the end using the 1-2-4-all Liberating structure with the invitation "Based on what we've experienced, and thinking about the way you work together, what experiments could we try?" is the final build on this to ensure the insights are discussed, internalised and taken forward in a way that's relevant to their context.


In conclusion - Don't rush the Agile coin flip game.

Be mindful not to suggest that if the team replicates what they experienced in the game they will achieve optimal performance. This is often not possible.


Yes, it's a simple activity that can be done in 30 minutes. But, that doesn't mean it should be.


In fact, you can easily spend a half day tailoring the variations to suit your teams context and needs. So take the time. It's worth it.


If you need to run this virtually here's:


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