The good news: Serious games help Agile teams address some of their most intractable problems, by disrupting the normal rules by which we operate. Not only are they effective, but they’re fun, so it’s easy to get people to voluntarily change their behavior long enough to get better results than normal means can provide.

The even better news: When we feel that a game might help an Agile team, we have a jam-packed closet of them available to us.

The bad news: The choices are overwhelming. If you’re not familiar with all of the games available, which one is best suited to address the challenge the team is now facing? Will we have to impose some “house rules” on the game to fit our circumstances? And what if there isn’t a game that helps us with our problem — how hard is it to design one on our own?

In this session, we will help people score big points with serious games, with the minimum effort required. We will focus on three common types of challenges that teams face, where serious games can help:

* Customer insights. How can we better understand what our customers want? For example, how can we use a game to change the conversation to help us get a sense of what the minimum viable product might be, before we make our first attempt at building one?
* Deeper learning. How can we use games as experiential learning tools, making a greater impact on Agilists than words alone can accomplish?
* Agile at scale. How can games help the adoption of Agile at scale? For example, how can you use games to hold massive retrospectives, and follow up on the results?

(There are others types of challenges that serious games can address, but three common ones are plenty for this presentation.)

For each of these challenges, we’ll get into the nature of the problem, which “rules of the game” need to be disrupted, some examples of games that can help, and real-world examples of people who have done exactly that. And, of course, we’ll play a couple of games, too.

We will also discuss a strategy for going beyond the first game. For example, software product development starts with an idea, moves to the definition of the minimum viable product, and then generates a prioritized backlog. Which games can help with each of these activities?

This session will end with a game design challenge. At the beginning, we will ask participants to write down a challenge they face that they think a serious game might help address. (Examples might include, We just don’t seem to understand what our customers want, We can’t figure out how to prioritize technical debt clean-up, and We have a tough time prioritizing our backlog.) At the end of the session, after hearing the ways in which serious games might help them, people at each table will select one or two challenges that they have identified. Everyone at the table will have 15 minutes to work out a serious game strategy (with the help of the presenter, and other serious game practitioners). The people at each table will select one, then use what we’ve discussed to build a quick serious game strategy to address that challenge. What sort of game would work best? Is there a good off-the-shelf game available, or would you need to custom-build something? How would you use the results? (Time permitting, participants are welcome to discuss a second challenge.)

* Quick introduction to serious games, and why they work (5 minutes)
* Games for customer insights (10 minutes)
* Play a game: Prune The Product Tree (10 minutes)
* Games for deeper learning (5 minutes)
* Play a game: Self-organization wins again! (5 minutes)
* Games for predicting the future (5 minutes)
* Other challenges that games can address (5 minutes)
* Selecting the game that addresses my problem (5 minutes)
* Customizing and custom-building games (5 minutes)
* Building a strategy beyond the first game (5 minutes)
* Design challenge (10 minutes)
* Wrap-up (5 minutes)

Tom Grant is Practice Director for Agile Product Management & Software Engineering Excellence at Cutter Consortium. He helps organizations use Agile, Lean, serious games, and other approaches to innovate better. He has experience working in and working with software organizations, both large and small. Tom regularly designs and runs games for clients who need new, disruptive ways to get better customer insights, ignite organizational change, generate and assess options, and reap the other benefits that serious games can provide. He has a library of over 600 board games that he uses for, um, “research,” and he interviews game designers for a semi-regular podcast. He also maintains a web site, Serious Games At Work, that archives success stories about serious games. Tom lives in Washington, DC.

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