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The Scrum Penny Game – a modification

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I attended Peter Steven’s Open Space session at the Orlando Gathering which offered a modification on the Scrum Penny Game. Last week I ran Scrum training for 12 new hires in our company and decided to try out a variation of the game. Below is my version of it, and the results and learning the team had.

In preparing for the session I was chatting to my husband and fellow Scrum coach, Carlo. He was asking how long each round took, and I told him that there was no fixed time, it was just how long it took to process the coins. We discussed this, and his comment was that to truly represent Scrum the game should have fixed length iterations, and we should measure how much value the team delivered in that time. So I decided to fix the rounds to 2 minutes each. If the team finish processing a batch of coins and it is accepted by the customer, it can be processed again to earn more value. I did limit the number of coins to 20 though, so they sometimes had to wait to finish processing coins before continuing.

Here is what you need for the game:

You need a facilitator (who understands the game) with a flip chart to mark down results.

You need 1 customer, 1 president (the customers boss), 4 workers, 4 managers (the workers bosses). Since we have 12 people and I didn’t want anyone left out we did the game with 5 workers and 5 managers. I think it doesn’t matter to much how many you have as long as you keep it the same for the different rounds.

You need stopwatches or cell phones with stop watch timers for each manager, the president and the facilitator

You need 30 coins of varying values. I used 10 x 50c, 10 x 20c, 5 x 10c, 5 x 5c.

Here is how you set the game up:

All the workers stand around a table. All the managers stand behind their workers with a stopwatch. The customer stands next to the workers at the table, and the president  stands behind the customer with a stopwatch, and a piece of paper to record value.

The aim of the game:

The aim of the game is for the customer to pass the coins to the first worker in a batch. More on the batch size later. Once the worker receives the batch of coins he has to process them by flipping each coin. Once they have flipped each coin in the batch, they pass the batch on to the next worker. Once the coins have been processed by all workers, they are passed back to the customer who needs to touch the batch to accept the work. At this point the president counts how much value was delivered (the face value on the coins). Each manager times how long their worker spends doing work (flipping coins). The president times how long it takes for the customer to get their first value.

What to record:

The facilitator can setup a flip chart to record the following information per round:

  • Time when the customer received the first value
  • Time each worker worked
  • Total value delivered in the 2 minutes round

The rounds:

The idea is to vary one thing each round to see how it impacts both time and value. For these you can follow the suggestions below, or you can invent your own ideas. Here is what we did.

Round 1: Baseline

  • Workers may only use their left hand
  • The batch size is 20
  • Total number of coins is 20: 5 x 50c, 5 x 20c, 5 x 10c, 5 x 5c (Value = R4.25)

Round 2: Reduce batch size

  • Workers may only use their left hand
  • The batch size is 5
  • Total number of coins is 20: 5 x 50c, 5 x 20c, 5 x 10c, 5 x 5c (Value = R4.25)

Round 3: Remove impediment

  • Workers can use both hands
  • The batch size is 5
  • Total number of coins is 20: 5 x 50c, 5 x 20c, 5 x 10c, 5 x 5c (Value = R4.25)

Round 4: Use only high value coins

  • Workers can use both hands
  • The batch size is 5
  • Total number of coins is 20: 10 x 50c, 10 x 20c (Value = R7.00)

Round 5: Change the team

  • Workers can use both hands
  • The batch size is 5
  • Total number of coins is 20: 10 x 50c, 10 x 20c (Value = R7.00)
  • Managers and workers switch places

Round 6: Self organise (team to decide on what to change)

  • Workers can use both hands
  • The batch size is 4
  • Total number of coins is 20: 10 x 50c, 10 x 20c (Value = R7.00)
  • Keep same team as last time (i.e. managers from round 1 to 4 are the workers)
  • Workers can sit down

The results:

Here are the results I recorded.

What we learned:

Here are the lessons the team learned through observation with each round.

Round 2: Smaller batches mean more value is delivered and workers can spend more time working as they are working concurrently. Also the first value is delivered earlier to the customer.

Round 3: Removing impediments mean that more value is delivered without the team working any longer. They are just more effective.

Round 4: Selecting high value work improves value delivered even though the team works for the same amount of time. At this point I asked the managers if they though it was important to track how long the employees worked for. Most agreed it was pointless.

Round 5: This was interesting because I had no idea what would happen, all I knew is that changing the team would have an effect. Turns out it was a positive one. We discussed why that was. The team decided that because the managers had been watching the process for 4 rounds they had some ideas about what worked and what didn’t. The point I made was just that changing the team will impact your velocity and you can’t predict how. An interesting thing that happening in this round though was that one of the managers couldn’t figure out the stopwatch to time their worker.

Round 6: Here I let the team decide what to change. Interestingly their changes were fairly minor, and it didn’t impact value. The person who only worked 39 seconds was proud of her mastery of flipping coins. I asked her how she felt that here fantastic job didn’t impact the value, and the team pondered the importance of individual contribution vs team performance. Another interesting thing that happened this round is that one of the managers (not the same one as the last round), chose not to time his worker. He said he trusted him to do the job well regardless of how long it took :)

In summary I think everyone enjoyed the game. They were all new to Scrum and I think it helped highlight how some of the principles work in a way that they are more likely to remember than if it had been in a power point.

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9 Comments Post a comment
  1. Richard Dorman #

    As a member of the group and someone who has been part of teams who have used aspects of scrum and agile for development practises there were a few things that I picked up about this exercise.

    1. The dependencies between workers was simple and allowed for the easy optimisation of a production pipeline. Although this illustrated some important points it is significantly simpler then the complex dependencies found in development projects. It is often this complexity that makes development projects hard.

    2. Selecting high value work to improve delivery is deceptive. Value perceived by the customer alone may not be sufficient to guarantee a successful delivery. There may be value that the customer requires but does not necessarily understand. For example a system may need to be secure but the customer may not be able to articulate how. The value should be implicit. The customer will trust the development team to deliver this.

    3. The contribution of high performing team members should not be undermined. In our exercise the high delivery of one of the team members served to foster a positive sense of competition. It energized the team and contributed to the overall improvement of delivery even if this was not explicit due to the pipeline nature of the exercise.

    April 20, 2010
  2. Hi Richard

    1. I agree this game, and most used in Scrum training model a much simpler problem that exists in development, however I find them a useful teaching tool as people are far more likely to remember a game than a power point slide. As long as people remember enough of the concepts that helped and consider how to apply them in real life, then the game has served it’s purpose in my view.

    2. In Scrum we prioritise by business value. That doesn’t necessarily mean we consider only the customer’s point of view on value. We might for example choose to do a piece of work that will make our own lives easier when supporting the product and therefore reducing our support costs and increasing our own bottom line. This could have high business value, even if it is invisible to the customer.

    3. I agree that a high performing team member can foster competition which motivates the whole team and improves delivery. I am saying that the more important aspect is how the team is delivering not how the individual is delivering. I’m not saying individual contribution is not important, without it we would have no contribution, but I’m saying it is not enough. If that doesn’t have an impact on how the team before as a whole, then it is not beneficial. High performers who encourage the team towards their objectives are awesome; high performers who work against the team and end up not improving the team performance are often more of a hindrance than a help (although I don’t think the penny game can demonstrate this :)

    April 21, 2010
  3. Hi Richard,

    For me, the purpose of these simulations is expose people to fundamental truths in a manner that they can grasp easily. I would use this exercise in conjunction with some reflection about how value is managed in the company. What are examples of chasing after pennies? When did we loose some quarters? How can we get quarters from concept to cash more quickly.

    There are other simulations which emphasize some of the points you mention. The ball point game for team work and the paper airplane factory for the effects of queuing are also very dramatic illustrations of fundamental truths about value production.

    Regarding the customer not understanding the value: Interesting point. There is a reason that the sprint planning is a negotiation between the Product Owner (voice of the customer) and the Implementation Team (voice of the Solution). It is the team’s job to communicate those issues so the P-O can understand them. And the P-O, as the voice of the customer, get’s to decide if s/he buys into the teams arguments or not. It can be a very healthy relationship!

    Cheers,

    Peter

    June 30, 2010
  4. This is a great game that illustrates the benefits of small batch sizes in a simple manner! Regarding customer value, I was struggling with this as well. I think it is a worthwhile addition to the game, if only for the sake of having the discussion with the group about what is value-added and what isn’t. For me, it is hard to distinguish between something that has more value than something else. Either the customer is paying for it or not!
    I posted a review of this game on my blog at http://http://leansimulations.blogspot.com/2010/11/penny-game.html
    Thanks!

    November 15, 2010
  5. Something not mentioned above (but that was valuable especially for product owners when we did this exercise) was to use the same mixture of coins in each small batch (1 x 1c, 2 x 5c, 2 x 10c, 1 x 25c), except in the final round where the president (il.e. product owner) was allowed to decide how to batch the cooins. The decision was naturally to arrange the “backlog” into highest value “stories” first, and lowest value “stories” last. The total value completed in the last round was about double the value of the others.

    Also, we allowed the first round to run as long as needed, and then cut it to about a third of the total for the following rounds – talk about pressure to deliver! The interesting thing was (of course) that even though round 1 was longer it delivered way less value than any other round.

    June 23, 2011
  6. I’ve created a useful variant of the game, which is described at http://kc.agilehood.org/?p=450. Feedback appreciated!

    Jim

    October 11, 2013

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Recap : CSM and CSPO Training in New Delhi December 17 – 20’2010 « Inphina Thoughts
  2. The X Penny Game | Project Entropy
  3. Lean Simulations: The Penny Game | PMBlog

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