Modified Scrum Penny Game – An Agile Exercise for Teams

In my last post, I mentioned that I ran an exercise – the Modified Penny Game – with one of the teams in Medellin. The Leading SAFe course includes the original Penny Game, so I’m very familiar with that, but I liked some of the other lessons that could be taught and learned through this updated version. In particular, what I liked most was that we could discuss the concept of value beyond simply the amount of work being done. Just because we’re doing work doesn’t mean we’re creating something valuable for the customer.

Modified Penny Game
Modified Penny Game in Action

If you’re interested in running this exercise with your teams, read on and learn how I did it with the team in Colombia.

Velocity Partners Penny Game Rules

Goal

The goal of the exercise is to teach key concepts around workflow, small batch sizes, business value delivery, and optimizations.

Materials

For this exercise, you will need:

  • A large number of physical coins (60 or more – multiples of 20 work best) of different denominations
  • A timer (most smartphones have this functionality)
  • A whiteboard or flip chart for writing down the rules and for recording times
  • A team willing to participate 🙂

Setup

On the whiteboard, write down the following rules the team must follow:

  1. Each player must flip only one coin at a time
  1. Each coin must leave the player’s hand and be airborne
  1. Each player must use their non-dominant hand to flip coins
  1. Players can only pass 20 coins at a time to the next player (batch size = 20)

On the whiteboard, also put the following chart:

Round

Batch Size Time of First Value Total Value Received
1 20

 

Running the Exercise

The exercise is run in several rounds. During each round, the team will flip coins and pass them to the next team member, repeating this process until the coins reach the facilitator. The exercise is timed. If the team asks how they’ll be measured, tell them (for the first round) that it’s just based on the amount of work they do. You, as the customer, want all the coins by the end of the timebox.

Round 1 – 2:00 minutes

The facilitator starts the timer and passes the pile of coins to the first team member.

The first team member flips 20 coins per the rules above and then passes that batch of coins to the second player. They then begin on the next batch of coins.

Each player, in turn, flips the coins of the batch and passes them along to the next player.

Any dropped coins must be retrieved (they’re bugs).

The facilitator records in the chart the time the first batch of coins is received (if any).

When time is called, leave all coins where they are. The facilitator asks the team to count the number of coins still in process but only records on the whiteboard the total number of coins they received.

The facilitator should also ask the team to add up the value of the coins in the queue. This exemplifies the situation where the customer didn’t prioritize their work – they just asked for everything by a date (fixed date/fixed scope). If the value in the queue is greater than the value delivered, point this out to the team. Finally, record the value of the coins received in the chart as well (write it as <# coins received> | <total value of coins received>).

The chart should now look something like this:

Round

Batch Size Time of First Value Total Value Received
1 20 1:34

40 coins | $2.50

 

Recombine all of the coins into one giant pile.

Retrospective – 2:30 minutes

For the first 2 minutes, talk with the team about their experience. What worked? What didn’t? Why?

Give the team 30 seconds to determine which of the rules they would like to change or remove (this simulates the Scrum Master working to remove impediments). If there’s no agreed-upon decision, then none are removed (this would simulate a failed retrospective).

Round 2 – 2:00 minutes

Repeat the exercise with the new rules.

Record the time the first coins arrive.

Ask the team to count the total number of coins in the queue and the value of those coins.

Calculate the number and total value of the coins received. Record the information as Round 2 on the whiteboard. Compare the number of coins and value in the queue to what was delivered.

Recombine all of the coins into one giant pile.

Retrospective – 2:30 minutes

For the first 2 minutes, talk with the team about their experience. What worked this time as opposed to last time? What didn’t? Why?

Give the team 30 seconds to determine which of the rules they would like to change or remove. If there’s no agreed-upon decision, then none are removed.

Round 3 – 2:00 minutes

Repeat the exercise again with the new rules.

Record the time the first coins arrive.

Ask the team to count the total number of coins in the queue and the value of those coins.

Calculate the number and total value of the coins received. Record the information as Round 3. Compare the number of coins and value in the queue to what was delivered.

Retrospective – 2:30 minutes

For the first 2 minutes, talk with the team about their experience. What worked this time as opposed to last time? What didn’t? Why?

Tell the team that for Round 4 the goal is to maximize both the number and value of coins they deliver in 2 minutes. What kinds of activities will they do to achieve this? Direct the conversation toward prioritizing the work (organizing the coins by denomination), small batch sizes, re-seating themselves to reduce transport time, etc. Encourage them to think “outside the box” when reducing time. And, if you’ve run this exercise with other teams, challenge the team with the best results from another team. Friendly competition can spur some great thinking.

Round 4 – 2:00 minutes

Repeat the exercise again with the new rules.

Record the time the first coins arrive.

When time expires, ask the team to count the total number of coins in the queue and the value of those coins.

Calculate the number and total value of the coins received. Record the information as Round 4. Compare the number of coins and value in the queue to what was delivered.

Exercise Retrospective

Discuss the exercise with the team:

  • What did you learn?
  • How does this apply to the work you do every day? Every sprint?
  • How will you change how you work based on this exercise?

Then retrospect the exercise in general:

  • What did you think of the exercise?
  • What would you change to improve it?
  • What did you not like about it?

Thank everyone and congratulations on running your team exercise!

Feliz entrenamiento, mis amigos! (Happy coaching, my friends!)

 

Bill.

Have questions?






Bill DeVoe