Business Value Game

Where does ‘Business Value’ come from?

In the XP Game you get Story cards with a Business Value number. In the game, teams compete to release as much ‘Business Value’ as possible by implementing the game’s stories. Planning is very easy: developers estimate the cost of each story in points; the customer orders the stories per Business Value/Cost.

If only it were that easy in real life.

How many of you have Stories with a Business Value on them? The projects I’m currently working on don’t have a Business Value estimate (yet). How are stories prioritised? By ‘gut feeling’, by risk, by deadlines… It’s not always clear. How are projects and releases prioritised?

Come and play the Business Value Game

To explore those questions, Vera and I have designed the ‘Business Value Game’. Like the XP Game, it’s a friendly competition. This time the players are salespeople who have to deliver features to customers to earn as much money as possible for the company. They have to keep their customers happy or risk losing customers.

The game is shorter and uses fewer props than the XP Game. No balloons, just a bunch of cards that represent customers, customer requests and stories. Like the XP Game, the Business Value Game will be made freely available for download, using a Creative Commons license.

The first tryout of the game will be held on August 13th at Cap Gemini Belgium in Diegem. See the Belgium XP wiki for more information and registration for this free event.

See you there.


Agile 2008

Agile 2008 is coming near

I’m glad I’m going to Agile 2008 in Toronto this year.

I’m glad Portia and I will present two sessions.

Mirror Mirror

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall… Why Me? Snow White and the Seven Dwarves Kanban” is a mini-adventure of self-discovery to improve personal effectiveness. Think “Kaizen meets Agile Fairytales.”

Huh? What do a bunch of dwarves and an Evil Queen have to do with Agile? In this session you learn more about yourself, how you see others and how you can improve working with others. You learn to recognize the strengths of each (potential) team member. With the help of fairytale characters, you can create and maintain teams that play to the strengths of their members.

Why is this important? Software development is a team sport. I’ve been on some great teams. I’ve seen aligned teams in sports, theater and IT outperform non-aligned teams by a large margin. These two ingredients, efficient communication and playing to the strengths of members, were vital in each case.

Nine Boxes

La technique d’interview des Neuf Cases pour mieux comprendre votre client” is a game where participants learn to perform structured interviews. The interview technique comes from the Solution Selling sales process. The Nine Boxes allows you to discover

  • The real root causes of the problems your customer experiences
  • Who is affected by the problem and how they are affected
  • Co-create a vision of the future where the problem is solved

Huh? What does selling have to do with Agile? If we want to lead meaningful lives, we must attack the root causes of our customers’ problems. We must really understand the system. We must make all stakeholders enthusiastic about solving the problem, so that they will help bring about fundamental changes. We must give them back hope.

And then we can start writing user stories… IF AND ONLY IF software will help us to deal with the customer’s bottleneck.

See you there

I’m afraid to get lost in such a big conference, with so many sessions and so many people.

I’m glad I’ll be seeing friends inside and outside the agile world in Toronto.

Agile 2008, 4-8 August 2008 in Toronto


Why bother with bottlenecks?


Bottleneck Game at XP Days London 2005

Portia writes about a participant of our Bottleneck session asking her about the relevance of a session on (industrial or manufacturing) process improvement techniques at an IT conference. Portia already told me she had the same reaction when she attended this session at XP Days London in 2005. If you look carefully, you can see Portia at the right, a bit bored as she’s waiting for the bottleneck.

Moreover, with terms like ‘exploit’ and ‘subordinate’, the 5 focusing steps don’t sound very friendly. Is this just another management fad ‘to squeeze the workers’? Can we apply manufacturing ideas to IT? Isn’t the manufacturing metaphor (or the house building metaphor) responsible for some of the worst ideas in IT?

That participant took the first step in understanding: they asked “Why?”

What is it about?

The session (and the Theory of Constraints) is about creating meaning and value by really understanding systems.

To do this, you need to:

  • Design systems that fulfill a meaningful goal.
  • Take a step-by-step approach to diagnose problems.
  • Find real cures by going beyond your area of responsibility, beyond your comfort zone and considering the system as a whole.
  • Involve everybody, to continuously challenge assumptions and long-standing traditions to create lasting improvements.

These are things I use every day in my life and my work. Are these things you could use in your work, in your life, every day?

Thank you to Portia for excellent writing advice and helping to edit this entry.


XP Game v5.0 released

XP Game

A long, long time ago, Vera Peeters and I developed the XP Game to explain the interaction between Developers, Customers and Coaches in an Extreme Programming project. In one fun simulation, participants learn about estimating, planning, embracing change, stories, acceptance tests, velocity and collaboration.

The game was born out of necessity. Our development team was applying the XP developer practices (refactoring, TDD, pairing, continuous integration, automated acceptance tests…) with success. We found it a lot more difficult to explain the concepts to customers, salespeople, support, management. We needed to involve them to take the next step: agile release planning. Explaining didn’t work; examples didn’t work; presentations didn’t work. They were baffled. This ‘XP thing’ was too weird…

Vera came up with the idea of a game. We started working on the game on Wednesday and played the first version on Friday. Shortly after, we played the game with a new customer, to kickstart our largest project to date. The game convinced them to participate in an agile project and to allocate an onsite customer to the project. The fact that we committed to deliver the project in a quarter of the time of our nearest competitor might have helped too ūüôā

Grown up games

We played the game at several conferences since 2001 and came into contact with other people who used games to teach. We started to become more aware of the mechanisms and techniques behind teaching games. Our own experience and feedback from others who played the XP Game shows that simulation games are great teaching tools.

The XP Game has been played all over the world. We’ve received feedback and ideas from those who have played it. We still use the game to teach the basics of agile planning to our customers.

The XP Game evolves each time it is played.

XP Game v5.0

Vera and I updated the documentation to reflect how we currently play the game. The new version is available on http://www.xp.be/xpgame

The game is licensed with a Creative Commons license, so you can use it and remix it. Play the game, play with the game and let us know how to improve it.

Expect some news about a new game soon…

Creative Commons License The XP Game by Vera Peeters and Pascal Van Cauwenberghe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Belgium License.


Les goulots d’√©tranglement pt. 3

Université du SI day 2: Heroes

We start the day with a refreshing run up the Champs Elys√©es, down to the Eiffel tower and along the Seine. I’ve been looking forward to this day: I will meet two of my heroes!

Eli Goldratt challenges us throughout the whole keynote. Do we want an easy life or a meaningful life? We have in our hands the most powerful tool that has ever been invented and what have we done with it? Have we brought enormous value to companies and people? We haven’t: we’ve automated the same old processes; we’ve looked no further than local optima; we’ve enabled people to perform useless work faster than ever before. Is that all we want to achieve?

What is the greatest challenge businesses face? The ability to take the right decisions at the right time. IT is the ideal tool to support that decision-making, at all levels of the company: we can store, transfer and manipulate prodigious amounts of data almost instantly. We can provide the Information people need to make decisions. We can create an enormous amount of value, but by all accounts (sic) we haven’t.

Why haven’t we fulfilled the promise of IT? The tools are out there: Theory of Constraints, Lean, the Thinking Processes, Agile… Most of them readily available and only a few clicks away. Why haven’t we used those tools? One of the reasons is that we would have to step out of our comfort zone. We need to stop dabbling with technology and look further, to accounting, sales, marketing and production. We need to see the whole system and realize its goal. Do we want an easy life or a meaningful life? Do we want to ‘fulfill requirements’ or do we want to add value? Who dares to enter into a contract with a customer where payment depends on value added?

Where are the real constraints?

The real constraints are in (implicit) rules. Who has the intelligence to recognize those rules and the guts to challenge them? Common Action (“that’s how we’ve always done it”) is not the same as common sense. Accounting rules and the way we measure are some of the most pernicious constraints. We have the tools and the obligation to change the system, to enable our companies and people to realize their full potential.

People do not resist change, according to Goldratt. People resist changes that are unclear, that threaten them, that might harm them or that bring no clear value to them. Resistance is your cue to realize that your proposal is not fully worked out and that your explanation is not clear.

Goldratt’s call to arms can be summarized as: “Get of your asses and start using your brains!” I thought this was an excellent, inspiring and thought-provoking keynote. I left the auditorium with a renewed resolve to create meaning and value.


We participated in an excellent exercise led by Olivier Pizzato and Christian Daniel about using Lean techniques to solve IT project challenges. We worked in small groups on different scenarios. For each scenario we defined three approaches to solve the problem; listed the three biggest obstacles/objections to the most promising approach; searched for a way to overcome the biggest obstacle. After a group presented their analysis, Christian linked the solution back to Lean principles and techniques.

What I like about the session are the exercises and the short (15 min) timeboxes. To make this session perfect I would provide participants with more structure and guidance about Lean, so that they can apply the techniques to the exercises.

We attend part of the session about how Google will revolutionize the development of IT systems. Bernard Notarianni and Didier Girard pair-presented the session in a very relaxed style. Portia thought it looked like a French game show. The session gave examples of web design principles that can be applied to internal IT systems. The resulting systems, often using a RESTful style, are simple and easy to integrate. We had to leave before the end to prepare for our next run of the Bottleneck Game.

Goulots d’√©tranglement, take three

After Goldratt’s keynote interest for our session is very high, the room is packed full. Seven volunteers come forward to play the role of the “workers”; the other participants are the “consultants” who observe and give improvement tips to the workers. They all get paid in Belgian chocolates and British sweets.

After one round of play we go through the “5 focusing steps”:

0. Define the goal of the system
1. Find the bottleneck
2. Exploit the bottleneck, get the most value out of the constrained resource
3. Subordinate all decisions to the bottleneck
4. Elevate the bottleneck when it has been exploited fully and all decisions have been subordinated
5. GOTO 0. Don’t let inertia become the constraint

The team makes some improvements to their process and plays a second round. The decision to subordinate to the bottleneck wasn’t fully implemented. The team had planned to put a buffer of work in progress before the bottleneck. They failed to keep it filled, which led to an idle bottleneck and reduced output of the system. The players used their idle time to ‘learn’ so that they could help the bottleneck in the next round.

Changing the system, breaking through constraints

Warning: don’t read this section if you want to play the game with an open mind!

The game is filled with arbitrary constraints:

  • players are very specialized and can’t help each other
  • the two customer representatives sit far apart
  • the layout of the table makes it difficult to get an overview and to communicate with the other team members
  • testing is done at the end. Nobody but the tester knows the acceptance tests

In the third round we make the players think about the assumptions and rules built into the game. They get to change their system. The most powerful thing they can do is to re-arrange the tables. As you can see in the picture, the team has a better oversight and can communicate more easily when they sit around the tables.

In the end, this team didn’t produce as much as the previous team on the first day of the Universit√© du SI. I think this is because this team tried to be too sophisticated. Instead of simply implementing an optimisation as agreed, they kept discussing and tweaking their way of working. The DO part of Plan-Do-Check-Act shouldn’t be skipped.

Running this session in 90 minutes is exhausting. Time for a break before the closing keynote.

Man from the moon

OCTO brought Neil Armstrong to Paris for the closing keynote. As a little kid I read a lot of science fiction, fascinated by the tales of wonder and limitless possibilities. I devoured everything about the “Space Race”. These people were making science fiction a reality. By the time I was old enough to understand what was happening, the space race was already over; interest for space exploration was gone. We had stopped looking outward.

Armstrong’s keynote was humorous, enthralling and humble. These teams achieved wonders with the technology of that day (e.g. on-board computers with a few K of memory) and took enormous risks. The American and Russian space programs are a testament to what we can achieve if we really set our mind to it.

I was thoroughly inspired by these two keynotes by my heroes. Armstrong showed us what we can achieve; Goldratt exhorted us to achieve our potential, starting NOW.

The end. Or the beginning?

The conference is over. Our visit to Paris is over. Thank you to Octo for organizing this conference and for inviting Portia and me. We left Paris buzzing with ideas and energy.