Six Product Owners and a ScrumMaster are sitting around a table. The PO’S are equipped with Post-its and pens. In the middle of the table is a playing card. It is face down. The ScrumMaster turns the card over. He sees a chalkboard with the following words: ‘Because Closed – reopening in March 2007′ The ScrumMaster gives a short set of instructions: ‘You have 2 minutes, take out a pen, get set, go!’ and the Product Owners begin to write.
You may be asking, what is happening here? A Product Owner team is playing “Happy Aua“. The picture game “Labyrinth of the German Language” originally designed by Bastian Sick can easily be converted with a few minor changes into a creative tool to help Product Owners practice formulating product visions in a playful manner. The more original and funny the commentary on the card is the better. Deciding which commentary is best is decided on collaboratively.
Games at Work?
Management and games? Change and fun? Doesn’t the one rule out the other? In my view work, learning and playing should not be separated from each other. Playing is a form of intervention, that carries people into a world, where anything can happen. Even if most of the working world thinks that games are reserved for leisure time or solely for children, there are people like Arne Gillert, who continue to gain more attention from companies. He is author of the book “Der Spielfaktor. Warum wir besser arbeiten, wenn wir spielen (The Game Factor, Why we work better when we play).“. He maintains that ‘Whoever approaches work in a playful manner, will easily succeed in finding new solutions.’ Dry work topics or almost impossible to solve situations can be rejuvenated with new impulses acquired through playful thinking and negotiation. Because when you play you tap a source of nearly forgotten resources.
When was the last time you watched children play? Early in their development kids learn so much and so quickly – and you can be certain: Learning is more work – than you will ever do again in your life. How do they do that? They play. They play all day long. While doing so they are in a world where their minds are focused, highly concentrated and 100% receptive. The new things they learn, the knowledge and experience they gain is embedded in their consciousness. For the rest of their lives they can use this knowledge to associate new ideas with what they have learned in the past.
Office work, meetings, seminars, training, workshops or lectures – all of that is work. All too often this work is concerned only with the terminology of things and not with the things themselves and their relationship to the environment. But people need opportunities to develop their own style of learning and work. In order to be fair to everyone and at the same time get people to pay attention to the material being taught, possibilities must be created that transfer information in an individualized manner and language to each and every person.
Play can do that.
Playing increases not just your willingness and ability to learn. We are all familiar with play. Once we were all kids at play. Things familiar to us give us the joy of recognition. Joy leads to interest, makes us willing to mobilize our energy to learn and to experience feelings that frequently get lost during a normal work day. That is the childlike desire for new experiences: curiosity. Curiosity compensates not only against the fear of something strange, but is also the key to opening up slumbering fields of actions like creativity, joy of experimenting, free thinking and spontaneity.
Play needs room to manuever
Playing takes place everywhere, where the consequences of your own actions are limited – or where inappropriate behavior is not a catastrophe or cause for reprisal. Even the provision of a secure framework (i.e. here anything is allowed to happen today) ensures that people try or want to try new things.
The best game during a Sprint is the retrospective. Surely you are now asking, if i am talking about the same retrospective as you are. Yes and no. Ask your own team: ” What went well?” and at the same time ask “What could be done better?” However try out the “Spider web” as an introduction (supposedly not a Scrum team, but here is a short Video of an outdoor variation):
- The team members must get from one side of a spider web to the other. While doing this each opening can only be used by one team member. Nobody can go over, beside or under the web to get to the other side.
- Watch out that you do not touch the strings. If someone in the group touches a string, a bell fastened in the middle of the web will ring and that team member must start over again. Of course you can help each other.
- You now have five minutes to discuss what you plan to do with each other. Then we will start. After the game answer both of the retrospective questions and establish a connection between the last Sprint and your ‘spider web’.
Make sure you have space for the individuals to work on their solutions and you will see that the team members are willing to take responsibility for the task.
A short time ago I asked a child playing with legos “What are you building now?”‘ Without even looking up, he shrugged his shoulders and mumbled “I don’t know.” An half hour later a small masterpiece stood in front of me. I never could have built something like that! The child had not done any pre-planning, instead he just started building.
Naturally it is important to have some sort of idea what you want, because to determine what the best way to direct your actions is dependent on what your final goal is. But how good are plans actually? We should know better If we consider the thousands of projects that fail even though fool-proof plans were made.
Don’t misunderstand! Play does not mean that planning is unnecessary. It is actually essential. But it is important to consider the scope of it. How much planning is necessary to be able to start? Often less is really more. Successful examples are the estimation games ‘Magic Estimator’ and ‘Planning Poker’. Traditional cost estimating does not work. It not only wastes time, it is also completely unreasonable. Therefore just trust yourself and play!
Play begins in your head
Whenever I use games in my workshops, I observe again and again the same thing – although in various forms. Once the game has started the players hardly make any difference between reality and the game. Those who are playing imagine something and plunge into this game world. The ability to imagine is one of the most powerful instruments of thinking that humans possess.
Use Daily Scrum as a test balloon. Give every team member a surprise egg. The chocolate is your present to everyone on your team. The respective contents of the egg define the individual motto of the day or week or of the current Sprint. Allow the team to establish connections again and again. Analogies, metaphores, stories loosen up the mood of the team and make everything easier to do.