Dice of Debt Game

Added to Technology

What is this game about?

Reducing technical debt is important. So why doesn’t everyone do it?

What happens in the game?

In this game, you’re a software development team working on a project that will last for 10 sprints. Your job is to create the highest amount of new software value by the end of the project.

Technical debt can reduce that value dramatically. Fortunately, you have choices you can make that will reduce technical debt, and depending on which measures you implement, they may let you focus more on creating new value. These measures don’t come for free, so you have to decide which of them are worth the investment.

How do I play?

During each turn, your software development team has a finite capacity to create new software value and deal with technical debt. In this game, we’ll represent that capacity with 12 dice. At the beginning of the game, you’ll have 8 dice available to create new value (NV), and 4 dice for technical debt (TD).

Each turn (representing a sprint), you’ll roll the dice for creating new value and take the total of all dice rolled. Then you’ll roll the technical debt dice and total that number. The net new value (NNV) you create each turn is the NV total minus the TD total.

You can lower the burden of technical debt during the game, but it will cost you NV dice in the short term. You have four different ways to reduce technical debt (continuous integration, test-driven development, code review, and a virtualized production environment for more realistic testing). You can invest in one at a time. Each investment in a TD-reducing measure reduces your NV dice for a few turns, then returns those dice to you when you’re done making the investment. At that point, you get the bonus capability for dealing with technical debt, and you can invest in another TD-reducing measure, if you want.

The Rules pdf walks you through all the steps needed to play the game. It’s a fairly simple game, so you might play it in less time than it will take to read the instructions.

Download Rules

Download Materials

SPANISH Materials

FRENCH Materials

Want to help?

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About the Author

Tom Grant is an independent consultant (GameChange LLC) who help clients break through the barriers to successful software innovation. In his practice, he combines Agile, Lean, and serious games to change the rules of innovation when they're not working as well as they could. Tom has worked with a wide variety of clients, from Fortune 100 companies to start-ups, from IT to software companies.

Some of Tom's areas of specialization include technical debt, Lean and Agile, management and leadership, Agile in highly regulated industries, requirements, tools, and frameworks. Tom's great passion is using serious games in Agile to get better customer insights, test strategies through simulated outcomes, adopt new practices and principles through experiential learning, and make smarter decisions.

Tom is a contributor to the Agile Alliance's working group on technical debt. Previously, Tom has worked as practice director at Cutter Consortium, as a consultant at Net Objectives, and an analyst at Forrester Research. A native Californian, Tom now lives in Washington, DC.

This is an Agile Alliance community blog post. Opinions represented are personal and belong solely to the author. They do not represent opinion or policy of Agile Alliance.