Improve Agile Team Productivity with the Penny Game

Ali Cox

Ali Cox

Improve Agile Team Productivity with the Penny Game
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We believe that play is an important part of learning. It encourages collaboration, provides a safe place for mistakes, and results in observations that can be directly applied to daily work.

One game we play in our many of our agile courses is the Penny Game. The goal of the “Penny Game” to encourage self-organization and demonstrate how a team is less productive when processing large work loads. It also teaches the team the difference between in the delivery speed of when a customer receives an iteration vs. the speed at which they would receive an entire product.

Let’s Get Started

Game Requirements

  • 5 pennies
  • 5 nickels
  • 5 dimes
  • 5 quarters
  • (or 5 of 4 types of coins in another denomination)
  • 5-7 people
  • 1 stopwatch or phone per Worker/Manager pair + 1 for the Customer

*Note: The value of the coins is not important, the best reason for using coins is the heads/tails aspect.

Form Groups

  • 2-3 members are assigned to be Workers
  • 2-3 members are assigned to be Managers (you will need 1 manager for each team member)
  • 1 member who will be the Customer

Objective

The project is complete once all 20 coins have been flipped and passed through each Worker and reach the Customer, following the rules presented.

A Few More Things

  • The Customer measures the time that elapses from the start of the iteration until they receive all 20 coins
  • Each Manager measures the time it takes for their respective Worker “complete their work”
  • Work is defined as turning a coin from one side to another
    1. Be sure all coins are facing the same direction (heads or tails) when starting
    1. Once Worker 1 has flipped the coins, Worker 2 will flip opposite, etc.
  • The game takes place in four iterations.

Iteration 1

  1. Be sure all coins are facing the same direction.
  2. The first Worker flips the coins one by one and when they are all flipped, he/she passes the batch to the next Worker, and the last Worker passes the batch to the Customer.
  3. Workers can only use one hand to flip the coins, the left hand if you are right-handed, or the right hand if you are left-handed.
  4. Each Worker passes the coins to the Worker next to them.
  5. In this first iteration, Workers have to work with the entire batch… all 20 coins.

At the end of the iteration, record the results in a table. The data to be recorded will include the time it took for each Worker to complete their Work and the overall time for the full iteration to be completed.

Organize for a 2-minute retrospective to allow the team to identify any process improvements that would allow them to work faster.

Iteration 2

Teams need to update their process following the retrospective.

New Rule: If the group does NOT conclude to reduce the batch size during their retrospective, then revise the rules for Iteration 2 to “Reduce the batch size from 20 coins to 10 coins” (or 15).

Run Iteration 2 and record the time results on the table.

This time there is no retrospective at the end of Iteration 2.

Iteration 3

New Rule: Workers cannot mix coins of different value within a batch.

Run Iteration 3 and record the time results on the table.

Organize for a 2-minute retrospective to allow the team to identify any process improvements that would allow them to work faster.

Iteration 4

Teams need to update their process following the retrospective. (Ideally, they would have concluded to use batches 1 coin each.)

Run Iteration 4 and record the time results on the table.

Feedback

At the end of the game, the team should be asked how they have felt about the game, whether they noticed differences between iterations, whether the results have changed and, if so, why, and whether they have observed an impact related to the size of the batches.

When running a batch of 20 coins, the individual Worker’s performance is the best. However, time to customer delivery is the longest. Additionally, the Customer didn’t receive anything until the entire project was completed. There was no opportunity to make changes.

The smaller the batches get, the more the individual performance suffers. However, the Customer is getting the product faster. AND by allowing the Customer the opportunity to see the product in batches, he has the chance to make changes since the entire work isn’t done. (Good thing the Customer isn’t submitting change requests during this game!)

Ultimately, the goal is for the team to consider improvements for their day-to-day life.

The “Penny Game” allows the team to learn through self-organization and observation; specifically, that smaller batches can deliver value to the customer faster. In addition, the game demonstrates that the size of the batches has a direct impact on the delivery. With a large batch, the Workers feel more pressure on themselves to get the batch to the next Worker; with smaller batches, the pressure is lower but more constant.

Let’s play!

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About the Author

Ali Cox

Ali Cox

Alison (Ali) Cox, Netmind Senior Instructor and General Manager, has experience since the mid-1980s in various areas, including business analysis, project methodology development and training, systems development (mainframe, client-server, and web), and telecommunications management. Alison began her career in the financial services area, and then moved into systems development for accounting systems. She has provided consulting and training in business analysis and project management for small companies to Fortune 500 corporations worldwide and speaks Spanish fluently. Alison is also a partner of TEMSS (Telecommunications Efficiency Management Strategies and Services), which provides telecommunications efficiency auditing and billing analysis services to clients in all areas of business across the United States. She completed her Master of Business Administration in MIS and Accounting from the University of Georgia. Connect with Ali on LinkedIn.

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