Agile Holland Conference 2008

Off to Amsterdam

Vera and I travelled to Amsterdam to play the Business Value Game at the first Agile Holland Conference in Amsterdam. The one day conference was set in the “Montessori College Oost“, a school with a very distinctive architecture.

In the train to Amsterdam we started the development of a new training workshop on discovering, hunting and fishing for User Stories. The Stories are out there, but they’re not easy to catch. Fortunately, there are some simple techniques we can use to get on the right track. Unfortunately, explaining simple ideas is very hard.

Money, money, money

When we arrived, Martien van Steenbergen was already explaining participants how to play the “Serious Crazy Money Game“. Players had to buy and sell products from each other during the day as way to get to meet new people and learn something about value, trust and cooperation. The XP Game and the Business Value Game were among the products. We had come to give away the Business Value Game.

Business Value Game

Three teams of 6-7 people competed to play the new Business Value Game v1.1. You can see from the pictures that they have this combination of total concentration and immersion with fun that characterizes learning moments.

Becoming a team

The first two rounds took a long time: we need to explain the rules and techniques and the group of strangers needs to become a team. After two iterations we held a standup retrospective to share what each team had learned, which strategies they were using and to resolve issues. After the retro, there was a coffee break.

Back from the coffee break, the teams started to work faster. Whereas the first two iterations and the retrospective take 45 minutes, the next two iterations have to be completed in 15 minutes total. Despite the time pressure and the will to win, the players stuck to the Agile values of Communication and Collaboration. Even when we tried to divise the team by giving chocolate bonuses to the “account managers” who managed to get “their customer’s” projects released, the players kept looking at the whole. They prioritised in the interests of the whole team. Some account managers even chose chocolate bonuses that they could share with the rest of the team.

Most of the teams didn’t notice the “small print”: some of the customer requests have extra conditions or information that have a large impact on the team’s decisions. We had to remind the players to look at customer’s request carefully and to ask us for more information.

Lessons learned

And what have we learned today? Amongst others:

  • Carefully read and ask what the customer really means and really wants. “Don’t guess! Ask.”
  • The economic benefit of releasing sooner.
  • Business Value is primarily useful on Epic level, less on User Story level. In some cases, looking at the business value of individual stories helps us to prioritize stories.
  • The difference between iterations and releases. The difference between iteration planning and release planning.
  • The difference between potential value, features developed but not released, and actual value, features released, deployed and paid for.

For me, the lesson of the Business Value Game can be summarized as follows:

Business Value is not a value.

Business Value is a function.

Business Value is a function of what you value.

Too often, prioritisation or selection of projects is done by “gut feeling”. When we introduce Business Value, we start a conversation about values. Which factors will we take into account when we prioritise?

  • How much money we can make in the short term?
  • How much money we expect to make in the long term?
  • How (un)happy a customer is?
  • How hard the customer shouts?
  • How much we like the customer?
  • How well the customer knows our CEO?
  • The size of the bonus for the salesperson who sold the project?
  • How late the project is?
  • Constraints?
  • Deadlines?
  • How (un)happy our team is?
  • The capacity of our team?
  • Strategic objectives?
  • ….

That’s the conversation the teams have during the first iterations. Once they know the factors they value and the weight of the factors, they can prioritise effectively.

How do you prioritise your projects? What does that say about your values?

Do you want to learn about “Business Value”, prioritising your backlog, portfolio management and all the challenges that salespeople and account managers face daily? Do you want to experience the benefits of working with short iterations and releasing early? Do you want have fun while you learn? Download the Business Value Game, print the cards and organise your own game.

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

Or come and play the Business Value Game at: