Friday, March 02, 2012

Agile is a Game

While attending a presentation at Agile New England last night on “Gamestorming” by Todd Lombardo I was reminded that Agile is a game. That may seem a bit uncomfortable for something that is done as a professional activity, but it is actually a very good thing from a business perspective. After all, what is a game? A game is an activity that is governed by a set of rules, has a goal, has a scorekeeping system, and is fun to do.

The Rules of the Game
Nobody really likes rules, but what is the first thing you ask when you are about to play a new game? You ask “what are the rules?” You want to make sure you understand all of the rules and that people are “playing fair.” When these two conditions are met it is a lot easier to learn how to get good at the game and have fun.

The rules in Agile are deceptively simple. They are things like "iterations should be no more than 4 weeks" and "all iterations should be shippable." Following the rules mostly involves unlearning years of what you will later realize were bad habits.

The best part of the rules in Agile is that they are so clear. Don't ask me what the rules are in traditional development. I have no idea and I played that game professionally for more than twenty years!

Winning the Game
The next question you ask when learning a game is “how do I win?” This is the goal of the game. It is important to know what the goal is so that you can work within the rules to achieve the goal.
In all of this, it is important to know how to keep score because it is usually how you know how close you are to your goal.

There are aspects of software development that make it difficult to know the actual score, which is the amount of value produced. Value is a lagging indicator which you don’t really know until after somebody has used what you have provided and given you back something in return. Most of the ways of “keeping score” within Agile, such as burn up and velocity, are really only a proxy for the real score (value produced), but they are still important to know and monitor.

The Fun of Playing
You may wonder what “fun” has to do with a professional activity. Well, I don’t know about you but if I have my choice between working in a “fun” environment or a not-fun environment, I’ll pick the fun environment every time. Another way to look at fun is “doing something that is satisfying.” I believe that most people want to gain satisfaction from their work and that usually comes from feeling that you have provided something of value that benefits others in some way. In my experience, high job satisfaction corresponds directly to personal productivity.

The game of Agile development is simple to learn and to play, at least in comparison to traditional development. As a result, it is much easier to reach the goal and provide a high degree of job satisfaction. In my book, that’s a win-win.

Cooperative Play vs Competitive Play
One last point on this subject is that Agile development is both a team game and a competitive game. It is a team game within your organization and it is a competitive game that your organization plays in the marketplace. Now, get out there and win, win, win!


Learn the rules of the game: Boston, March 20th, Agile Whole Team Training .

6 comments:

PM Hut said...

Hi Damon,

I really wonder about the "fun" aspects of Agile. If done incorrectly (which is the case in most companies), Agile can be very tedious to the team members.

Damon Poole said...

Hi PM Hut,

Sounds like we've had a very different set of experiences :) I'd be curious to hear which aspects are tedious?

Damon

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