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Training Exercise: Scrum Simulation

Recently while co-training a CSM (Certified ScrumMaster) class with Peter Hundermark we found ourselves with a polarised class of people who had only just heard about Scrum and people who had been practicing for months or years . Inspecting and adapting as we do, Peter and I decided to split the class. I invented a new exercise during the lunch break for the beginners, to help them grasp exactly what all the Scrum meetings are about, how they fit together and how the artefacts are used. It turned out to be a very successful exercise for teaching the concepts to newbies, and took about 90 minutes. I have given timings below of what I would time box each section to in future, being a new exercise I didn’t timebox well, as I had no idea how long it would take, and so we ran out of time near the end.


Set up 4 flip charts in 3 different locations in the room for the artefacts, as shown in the diagram:

  • At position 1, setup 1 flipchart with index cards, prestick and a marker for the Product Backlog
  • At position 2, setup 2 flipcharts, one for the sprint backlog/taskboard with: to do; in progress and done headings, and one for the sprint burndown. I also included the definition of done and an impediment log on the second flipchart. Make sure you have markers and post-it notes at position 2 for the tasks and impediments.
  • At position 3, setup 1 flipchart for the product or release burndown.

Create cards for each meeting:

  • Backlog grooming
  • Sprint planning
  • Daily Scrum
  • Sprint review
  • Sprint retrospective

Create cards for each role:

  • ScrumMaster
  • Product Owner
  • Team member (you can create multiple cards for this, or just one card for the team to own)

Getting Started:

Ask for a volunteer to be the Product Owner. Give them the Product Owner card. Ask for a volunteer to be the ScrumMaster, give them the ScrumMaster card, and all the meeting cards. I made the ScrumMaster responsible for displaying the appropriate card for the meeting we were engaged in at any time. Depending on the size of the class you can then either let everyone else be the team, or with a large class ask 4-6 people to volunteer as team members.

The ‘Product’ I used in the exercise was renovating a room in your home. I asked the product owner if there was a room she wanted to renovate, and she said her kitchen, so we chose this as the ‘Product’. I’m not sure if it will work as well for other rooms, but I do think using something the Product Owner actually wanted to do improved the exercise.

Backlog Grooming [20 min]:

We all gathered at position 1. The ScrumMaster displayed ‘Backlog Grooming’. I asked the Product Owner what some of the things she wanted in her new kitchen were. For each item she mentioned I wrote an index card. After she has listed a few I asked the team to size them. I didn’t introduce planning poker or even the modified fibonacci sequence. I just picked one story and said, assuming this is a 2, how big is this one. The team sized all the stories fairly quickly and instinctively. I wrote the size on the top of the index card. After sizing I asked the product owner to prioritise what was most important. I just rearranged the cards so the most important stuff was at the top. We didn’t prioritse them all, we stopped after we had the first few.

Sprint Planning 1 [10 min]:

We moved to position 2, and I took the top priority items with us from the product backlog. The ScrumMaster displayed ‘Sprint Planning 1’. I asked the Product Owner to describe what she wanted for the first story. The team asked some questions. I asked the team if they could finish this story in a week. They all said yes. I asked the PO to explain the second story, etc. After 3 stories the team felt that was all they could do in a week. I got them to confirm the commitment and that was the end of SP1.

Sprint Planning 2 [10 min]:

We stayed at position 2, but I made it clear we were now moving into Sprint Planning 2. The ScrumMaster displayed ‘Sprint Planning 2’. I asked the team what they needed to do to deliver the first story, as they discussed it I wrote down tasks of what I heard on sticky notes and stuck them on the board. I wanted the focus to be on the discussion not on them writing the tasks. At the end I asked if I had captured their discussion correctly with the tasks. It was in Sprint Planning 2 that questions emerged about the PO’s acceptance criteria. I admitted that we should have covered that in SP1. We quickly asked the PO, and wrote down the criteria on the back of the story card. I was glad that this emerged without me prompting it, I think it’s a more powerful lesson if people realise something is missing for themselves. At this point we also discussed the definition of done, and wrote it up on the flipchart next to the taskboard. Once we had discussed each story, SP2 was done.

Daily Scrum [2 min each, repeat 5 times]:

Still at position 2 we held the first daily scrum. The team all picked up tasks, and were fairly inventive with coming up with impediments. When they did the ScrumMaster wrote a sticky note and put it up on the impediment log part of the 2nd flipchart at position 2. After each daily scrum we updated the burndown. We just did a story point burndown so it was simple to ask, are any stories finished yet? If so, how many points are done? We repeated 5 standups in a row pretending we’d had a full day in between. I was pleased by how much fun people had with it, we had someone injure themselves, someone needing tools they didn’t have, someone being off sick, etc.

Another Backlog Grooming [5 min]:

I had hoped to do another backlog grooming session during the sprint but was short on time. I think it would be valuable if after say 3 standups, to have a grooming session and ask the PO if they have new stories, size anything not yet sized, prioritise a few more stories etc. I think it would teach the principles of just enough, just in time quite well. I also think it would highlight the fact that some preparation for the next sprint must be done in each sprint.

Sprint Review [5 min]:

At the end of 5 standups, we moved to position 3. The ScrumMaster held up ‘Sprint Review”. I asked the team to tell us what they had completed. I then drew the release burndown, explaining how big the whole backlog was, how big the big we had prioritised was, and given the velocity of the first sprint, predicted when they would be finished. I also showed how this could convert to cost by assigning the team a notional cost per sprint.

Sprint Retrospective [5  min]:

We didn’t actually do a retrospective due to time pressure, but I introduced that this is when the meeting would take place (i.e. after the review), and mentioned the purpose. With 5 minutes I think it would be possible to do a quick retro simulation.

Debrief [20 min]:

Although it is good to debrief at the end, I also answered questions throughout when people asked, okay so how would this work in real life etc. To me the power of the exercise was for people to have a concrete idea of what happened in grooming vs SP1 and SP2. Somehow doing it always helps you grasp it better than just talking about it. I think the home improvement example is good because most people can relate to it. A warning though, some people are home improvement experts and want to do the equivalent of big design up front or waterfall which doesn’t work too well for a Scrum simulation. i.e. all the demolition first, then tiling, then fittings. A good idea if this comes up is to introduce the constraint that the kitchen must be usable at the end of each day or sprint.

That’s it. Go ahead and give it a try, especially if you are training newbies. Would love to hear how it goes for you and if you have any improvements to suggest, because I will definitely use this again. 

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