A New Spin, er, Flip on the Pennies Exercise

I owe this one to one of the attendees of a recent Agile Concept class I delivered a couple of weeks ago.

Most folks are probably familiar with ‘the penny flip’ exercise to demonstrate the differences between waterfall and agile development.  For those who don’t it basically goes like this.
Part I

  1. break the class into team sizes that make sence, 4 or 5 is good
  2. give each team a bunch of pennies, designate a time keeper and identify the ‘goal’ where they need to put the pennies
  3. have the 1st person flip the first penny and then pass it to the next person in line
  4. repeat step 3 until the penny has been passed through all team members.  The final team member places the penny in the goal
  5. record the time.

Part II

  1. follow the same setup as the first part
  2. give the team the goal of getting the pennies into the ‘goal’ area but tell them they can do it however they want.  Make sure they still flip them first.
  3. record the time

Observations:  In part I you will notice all the people in the room are looking at you and asking you for direction.  In the 2nd part, you will notice the teams huddle together quickly and form their own plan.

Results: empowering the team allows you to go faster, less time wasted in handoffs and you are focusing on the value of the goal instead of telling the team how to get to the goal.

Everytime I do this exercise most teams approach it the same way and the results are usually similar.  The 2nd part is done much quicker and the team works together.  They usually observe the same behaviour and both teams improve even though they may employ different techniques in Part II.  One team took an interesting approach that I haven’t seem before.

In part I the first person decided to stack all the pennies in a pile and flip the whole pile and then pass it to the next person.  KA-BOOM!  Big Bang happened and all the pennies ended up on the floor.

So here are some ideas I was thinking about trying next time:

  • Modify part 1 so there is a ‘done’ area and then a ‘production’ area.  After they flip all the pennies, they need to stack them in a pile on ‘done’ and flip the stack into ‘production’.  If it blows up, the team needs to pick up each penny, flip it and then do the same thing again until it works.
  • Introduce some changes mid-way through – decide that the product owner wants to have all the tails of the pennies facing down.
  • Simulate the differences in releasing small piles of pennies over time as opposed to the whole stack at once.
  • Have a QA period in part I where the last person in line is told they need to make sure all the heads are facing up, but don’t tell the folks that are flipping them.  Have the last person pass any defects back to the team.

Overkill for this exercise?  Would love to hear your thoughts!