Digital leaders getting ahead of the game

Paul Dykes
Paul Dykes | 1 December 2017

With London’s streets in the icy grip of early winter, our lively and interactive free Agile workshop at 58VE was the perfect antidote.

Our Digital Leaders event, Leadership in a digital age – Driving a paradigm shift in ways of working, was facilitated by our expert coaches Mike Robinson and Laurence Wood, and gathered those who are leading their commercial, not-for-profit or public-sector organisations to a digital future in order to explore together the new ways of thinking and working required.

How? By playing Agile games.

At IndigoBlue, we find that games are a very effective way to explore with our clients how Agile practices and processes require leaders to behave differently and make new kinds of decisions, factoring in inputs that may not have seemed important before.

The Coin Game

First, we played the Coin Game. This is a well-known means of simulating the benefit of using smaller batch sizes to optimise flow along the value stream – a key principle of Lean.

Our workshop participants were invited to work in teams comprising four people on the ‘production line’ and two timekeepers representing the customer and the CEO. Progressing from one end of the production line to the other, participants were asked to turn 16 coins and pass them to the next person in line, ending in delivery to the customer. 

Mike Robinson facilitating the Coin Game

Different scenarios were played out over several rounds of the game. First, all 16 coins had to be turned before they were passed to the next person in line. Then, batches of four coins; then one; and then different batch sizes for each person in the line. The customer timed how long it took to receive the first batch, the CEO how long it took to receive the last batch. Inevitably, things quickly got competitive!

But importantly, the group gained vivid experience of the difference between working with larger and smaller batch sizes – and clear evidence that working with smaller batches means that an increment of value is delivered to the customer sooner and the work overall is completed earlier.

The game also exposed how, as leaders, Agile requires them to deal with a whole new set of considerations around: optimising the flow of work; reducing work in progress; dealing with queues and bottlenecks; and planning incrementally to deliver early value.

The group raised the point that the flow of work can be disrupted by the introduction of unanticipated new priorities. An extremely good point, which led us neatly on to the next game: Cancel Christmas.

Cancel Christmas

The Cancel Christmas game underway

In this game, just right for the season, the groups were asked to agree and write down seven elements of what makes a great Christmas. Having done this, they were asked to stack those elements in order, from most important to least. Then, they were asked to apply MoSCoW prioritisation (Must have, Should have, Could have, Won’t have this time). Finally, they were asked to decide whether the absence of any of the must-haves would really result in them cancelling Christmas.

Leaders in digital organisations are called upon to prioritise all the time, so it’s an important skill to practise – and Cancel Christmas is a great way to do this. 

Laurence Wood facilitating Cancel Christmas

Our participants needed to collaborate and negotiate to decide on what was truly valuable and indispensable; interestingly, an element ranked number one in the stacked priorities might end up as a should-have rather than a must-have. They discussed the importance of visualising their decisions and welcoming feedback. And the game showed how the process of prioritisation encourages you to achieve an appropriate level of precision, refining towards what you really mean in order to assess its value correctly.

Controversially, one team actually seemed to think that the act of “giving” had something to do with what makes a great Christmas. Where they got that odd notion, we’ve no idea!

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