One of the simulations I like to facilitate during training sessions is a simple penny flipping exercise learned from Mishkin Berteig to show how the team approach can lead to substantial improvement and productivity gains.

The idea is simple, have the attendees work in a serial process where they have to pass the penny from person to person.  The goal is to get the pennies facing heads up in ‘the product environment’ (which is a piece of paper) at the end of the chain.  The second part has the same goal, but the teams can accomplish it however they want. I usually repeat the second part a couple of times to prove the meaning behind the exercise.  I’ll add a post with the mechanics on this game later.

Anyway, last night my 2 kids and I were playing dominos which always results in a living room disaster since we have a few hundred of the them.  20 minutes for me to set them up, 10 seconds for them to knock them down.   When it was time to clean up I simply stated the goal.  “Ok guys, time to put all the dominos away in the clear bin“.  Just like a high-performing Scrum team, we started singing the Wonder Pets Teamwork song (what’s gunna work?  TEAMWORK!) and each “team member” started cleaning up.

My 4 year old son started picking up the dominos nearest to him, same for me and my 3 year old daughter.  The bucket was pretty much centralized between the 3 of us.  After we had cleaned up the dominos closet to us, my son immediately took the bin, moved it to the next ‘batch of mess’ and we proceeded to start with whatever dominos were nearest to us.  My daughter had walked towards the pile my son started with so she quickly self-adjusted and started on another pile.

I was stunned.  The collaboration was completely instinctive and there was very little, if any, discussion.  We all knew what the goal was and we all chipped in.  Once there were only a handful of dominos left, all 3 of us focused on that so no one was idle until there were less than 3 dominos left.

Sounds silly, I know, but the Agile principles were were much apparent to me during this clean-up session:

  • all team members understood the goal
  • team members self-organized
  • team members adjusted based on work remaining
  • team members started with highest priority items (as in, we all started with the pile in front of us)
  • we had fun while working! (For those who don’t have kids, trying to convince a 3 and 4 year old to clean-up is not really that easy most of the time!)

I often get complaints in training sessions about the simplicity of the exercise and that moving pennies is different than real-world work.  I agree, it is but applying the one-team, shared goal value is more important.  Once folks buy into the team system, the rest of the work falls into line much easier.