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A Confession

Since it is a new year, I thought I would start it off right with a confession: I hate board games. Actually, to be more specific, I hate learning new board games. The process that I’ve experienced, is horrible. Maybe you’ve had the same experience. Let me explain what I’ve been through and maybe you can relate.

It starts out with opening the box and setting up the game. This isn’t too bad, but the horrible part, isn’t the setup, but the explanation. What typically happens is someone grabs the rulebook and begins to read it aloud to everyone else; in its entirety. Alternatively, in the cases of being with someone that already knows how to play, not only explain the rules, but also start explaining the strategy to the game.

I’ll be honest: a few sentences into this process and I check out mentally. I start to daydream and admire the artwork of the game, not paying any attention to the person explaining the rules. By the time the explanation is over, my interest is almost zero. Not because I don’t want to play the game, but the traditional process of learning a game has killed my attention and patience.

A board game and agile connection

You may be asking what learning a board game has to do with an agile blog. Well, this whole process demonstrates the finer point of agility frameworks and the advantage it has on a team that is within the realm of discovery and doing something new.

The traditional way that I’ve experienced learning a new board game is very much like a traditional project implementation (read waterfall here). You go through all the documentation up front, expecting everyone to understand it all. Then, you begin playing the game. Inevitably, confusion and questions start to set in, where various rules are re-read and re-reviewed. What is apparent in this method is the amount of waste on the front end of the process. When the rules are read in its entirety, then reread when it is applicable during game play, you essentially duplicated effort and wasted everyone’s time.

There is a better way! What if, there was a person dedicated to managing the overall process of the game? This person would be in charge of the rules, reading when appropriate, and researching situations or clarifications when necessary. Additionally, what if that person only gave you the information needed now? For example, rather than reading the entire set of rules, what if he or she was in charge of determining what the team needed to know next to successfully complete a turn?

What makes this agile

Transmitting information in small manageable chunks allows for several things. First, the group is able to begin playing the game earlier. Second, each member of the group gets a turn to try moving or completing their turn’s objective allowing for mastery on the basic mechanics of the game. Third, just-in-time rule-reading enables the entire group to retain what is being told because they aren’t being barraged by the entirety of the rules of the game. They receive small rules or nuances of the game as the situation arises or as needed.

This second approach looks to be more agile, which is really the point of this post.

Being agile with board games or anything else

Let’s draw some conclusions. First, the environment between the two different methods is the same: A group of people doing something that they have never done before. In this environment, there is a degree of uncertainty what and how to accomplish things. Moreover, everyone has to learn in order to be successful. Thus, this type of environment is best for agile approaches where things are incremental, and iterative. We can digest new information in bits rather than giant knowledge transfers. In agile methodologies, you get information in digestible user stories whereas in waterfall implementations, you have a requirements document that explains the solution in its entirety.

Having a Process Expert

Now, the real key to this second approach of learning a board game is dedicating someone to the process. An independent game administrator has the ability to see what is happening with the entire group, ensure cooperation and learning, and make adjustments when necessary. While the rest of the group is progressing through the game, the game administrator can review nuanced rules and situations for understanding. That way, when the situation arises, he already mastered the reasons why that rule exists and can teach it to the rest of the team.

In one of the most popular frameworks, scrum, provides a dedicated, built-in expert. A scrum master facilitates and teaches the process to the development team. He or she monitors the team’s progress, removes impediments, and makes sure that team can continue working. Truthfully, this is one of the overlooked and under-appreciated roles on a scrum team. Having a person specifically work within a team, teach them the process, and monitor leads to better optimization and efficiency. I am also a proponent of having this type of role in any kind of agile framework, not just scrum. Additionally, that person retains much of the institutional knowledge developed by the team for future reference.

What can you do to with agility?

The final take-away here is that given the right environment, agile approaches applies to a variety of activities. Being agile is greater than software development, and existed prior to the agile manifesto. Really, it is a way of going about activities that maximizes a group’s ability to learn, adapt, and progress. With that said, what is something you can be more agile about in the New Year?

If you found this helpful, please share with your colleagues, friends, boss, etc. Also, feel free to start reading my Agile Laws series here.

Thanks for reading!

Agile ↑

David Bjarnson

David is an agile practitioner for 6 years in various capacities working specifically on software development for a number of different companies. David has his CSM, CSPO, CSP-PO, CSP-SM, and PMI-ACP certifications.

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