Agile Principles and Practices Training – With Tennis Balls

By · October 25, 2012 · Filed in Agile Scrum Training

October 17th we delivered the Sprint in a Day workshop to the PMI Ottawa Valley Chapter during the 2012 PMI National Capital Project Management Symposium.  This was a session customized for the Project Manager audience.  We had 44 participants in attendance.

We understand the importance in adult learning of making the experience engaging, practical and self directed.  This means using a variety of delivery techniques and activities that help the participants make connections to how it is relevant to them and how they will use the knowledge and or skills in their world.

We were committed to delivering a session that would do all of this, even though it is challenging when you have such a large group.  It’s easy to say instead, “ah, well, this group is too large, we can’t do any activities, we will have to just teach them using the Power Point deck”.  If we do this, we are letting the participants down and wasting their time.

The Power Point is valuable for setting context, and if printed, as a visual guide for the learners to take notes on and hold in their hands (lot’s of adult learner like to have something to hold onto and write on).  The Power Point should provide a segway to the next experiential activity.  Not be the sole learning / training delivery mechanism.

How Did We Do It?

So, how did we manage to deliver a practical, engaging, relevant learning experience to our 44 PMI Ottawa Valley Chapter participants?

  • We considered the audience and what objectives would matter to them
  • We made sure the venue was set up in groups, not rows and rows of seating (promote peer teaching and learning)
  • We limited lecture time and used  Power Point as a segway to an experiential activity – only “telling” them the absolute minimum before letting them “try it out” in some way or another to learn the rest
  • We spent much time and consideration developing the activities that would  offer them opportunities to “try things out”:
    • Some experiential activities were incorporated holistically into the course – so for example, “daily Stand-ups“, “Demonstrations” and “Retrospectives” were facilitated with the large group  throughout the day before breaks and after activities.  This allowed the participants to execute on the skills and knowledge even with the volume of participants and time constraints
    • There were a few small group activities but we were careful to keep them very simple and limit the amount of collateral required because of the size of the group and the fact there was only one facilitator.  The priority was to maintain a positive, valuable learning experience.  Even the most robust activities can have a negative impact on that if the environment doesn’t support them.
    • The key experiential activity included in the session was the Ball Point game (invented by Boris Gloger I think) .  I found it described on this site.  This game proved to be the key to “bring it all together”
 Agile Ball Point Game Described

This is a large group game (up to 50 participants – we broke the room up into 2 teams of  22) where the objective is for the group to self-organize in order to move as many tennis balls as possible through the group in 2 minutes.  The criteria is:

•Anyone who has played before must participate as if they haven’t, so as not to give anything away or reduce the learning experience of others
•The team size cannot be changed
•Every team member must touch each tennis ball at least once
•The tennis ball cannot be passed to the person to your immediate right or left
•If a tennis ball is dropped it cannot be picked up
•1 point will be deducted for each time a rule is broken or
•Every ball must end where it started and for each that does, one point will be awarded to the team
•The team will have 2 minutes to organize / come up with a plan and estimate together how many balls they expect to move through the team successfully and write it down
•The team will have 2 minutes to execute on the plan
•Record how many balls the team actually completes successfully and the points earned (after deducting for any rules broken)
Depending on time available, a number of iterations can be run to make different connections to Agile principles and practices
Connections and Retrospective With Agile Ball Point Game

We facilitated 3 iterations of the game to use each one to make different connections to the learning objectives.  Here are a number of possibilities…

We asked the teams…What happened? Which iteration was best? What were the bottlenecks how did you find them? How well did the team self organize?

Key connections:

  • The game simulates a Sprint – each team member could be touching tasks from a user story, just like team member touches the tennis balls
  • Cross functional nature of an Agile team
  • Self-directed nature of an Agile team
  • Improvements were not found by working harder or faster but rather by working on the process and communication
  • Processes have a natural / optimal velocity
  • Benefit of face to face communication, leveraging experience
  • The team was not interrupted
  • Pulling the balls, vs throwing them to someone who is not prepared
  • Team focused on same goal
  • Opportunity to reflect after each iteration and then do it again
  • Continuous Improvement
  • Learning from experience of previous iteration
  • Connection to Sprint execution – Plan, do, review, Plan, do, review…
  • Estimate vs actual results
  • Time boxing

…there are sooo many.

This game was a great way to get a large group out of their seats, it required limited collateral (there was a small investment in tennis balls – you want at least 1 per person) and time and it allowed us to meet a number of the learning objectives in a very practical and fun way.

 The Point Is

As an Agile SDLC  training and coaching organization we are committed to  delivering  sessions that are  engaging, practical and self directed, no matter what.  It is easy to get caught in the trap of “well we  just can’t do it in this situation.”  The examples described above  includes a number of strategies that can be considered for many situations and the Ball Point Game in particular is a great one for teaching Agile principles and practices to large groups.

Thanks for your interest,

Lynda Todd
WFS Manager, Learning & Development

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