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Happy Families Scrum Game

How to Adapt a Simple Card Game to Demonstrate Scrum

3 June 2016

Graham Bishton
Williams Lea

Are you familiar with the children's card game called Happy Families? I recently had an idea about how we could use that game to showcase the strengths of Scrum. I hope I can make you enthusiastic by explaining how well it works, by sharing my own experience with playing the game.

The concepts applied in Scrum are similar to those of the card game. When playing the original game, each player must complete families by collecting all four members in the family set. For example, Mr. Baker, Mrs. Baker, Master Baker, and Miss Baker complete the Baker set. To play the Scrum version of the game, a group of people play the cards as a team to generate the families as quickly as possible.

In terms of project development, we can think of the set as a product feature and the cards as the phases to develop it: Mr. = Development, Mrs. = Test, Master = User Acceptance Testing (UAT), etc.

To play the game, you will need:
  • One ScrumMaster
  • A minimum of three team members
  • One Happy Families deck of cards (or a normal deck will do)
Happy Families Cards

The basics

Below are some of the basic rules of the game:
  1. At each turn, the ScrumMaster deals each team member three cards.
  2. The ScrumMaster turns over the top three cards. These are impediments so that completing a "set" can't be worked on during that turn.
  3. Team members choose one card from the three that were dealt to bring to the Daily Scrum.
  4. At the Scrum, the board is updated.
  5. The aim is to complete sets.
  6. Sets must be completed in the order of Mr., Mrs., Master, and Miss. (If you are playing with a normal set of cards: Clubs, Diamonds, Hearts, Spades.)

Stage 1: Waterfall

Play through the project as a Waterfall project with the following restriction: You can't start the next phase until the previous one is complete (i.e., no Mrs. cards can be played until all the Mr. cards are on the board).

Stage 2: Scrum

Rules for the Scrum stage:
  • No more than three sets in WIP (work in progress) at any one time.
  • The ScrumMaster can choose to remove one of the three impediments at each turn.
  • The team and ScrumMaster are allowed to view each other's cards to play cooperatively.
  • The team can help the ScrumMaster decide which impediment to remove.

Our game results

How did it go? On the whole, it was a fascinating demonstration of how much more effective Scrum is than Waterfall. As a fun game in its own right, it was so-so. It was rather boring during the Waterfall stage and satisfying, instead of exciting, during the Scrum stage. I think that it lacked the sense of risk in that the project could fail if the budget were depleted.

The Waterfall game showed that at each stage it was easy to get a few of the sets going, but waiting for the last Mr. before you could start on the Mrs. was painfully slow. In the end, we were dealing the cards to the middle of the table as fast as possible to speed up the turns. We decided that it was better for the Miss cards to be dormant, so completing a set meant acquiring only Mr., Mrs., and Master. Even with that change, it took a painful 34 turns.

The Scrum game was much more efficient and, surprisingly, we often had a choice about which impediment to unblock to get things moving. At several times, a set was completed in just one turn, with different team members playing Mr., Mrs., and Master. All the sets were completed within 14 turns, with the first set completed on the second turn.
Three sets in progress
Waiting for UAT on Baker and Teacher families while Florist family is in QA.


During the Waterfall stage, the game was boring and noninteractive. In general, players were bringing their single playable card to the table. More often than not this was blocked, and no progress could be made. To speed the game at this stage, you can deal the impediments first and move straight to the next turn if the sets you want to work on are blocked. To be fair to the Waterfall method, the ScrumMaster should be dealt a hand of cards each turn as well, as he or she is not doing any ScrumMaster work and thus should be available in a "doing" role.

During the latter part of the Waterfall game, we discussed cutting straight to the Scrum game. That was a valuable reminder to me that Waterfall projects don't always complete all features. We almost fell into the "We'll do it in Phase 2" mantra.

The Scrum stage was immensely satisfying after doing the boring bit. For that reason, I would recommend trying some Waterfall to really feel the sense of improvement. Moving to a Scrum game felt like an extremely useful demonstration. I did not expect the degree of improvement we made (more than 50%). In summary, I think this stage would be a tremendous introduction to Scrum for an inexperienced development team.


  • Try different WIP limits.
  • You must complete at least one set every five turns (represents a one-week sprint).
  • For the product owner role, sets must be delivered in a prescribed order (e.g., A, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, J, Q, K or Baker, Butcher, Browne, etc., in alphabetical order).
  • Introduce a sense of risk:
    • Play against another Scrum team.
    • Roll two dice — that is the number of turns. You have to complete more than one set every two turns.

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

Article Rating

Current rating: 4.5 (4 ratings)


Don Vince, CSM, 6/3/2016 12:59:23 AM
Great article Graham: an enjoyable read. As one of the guinea pigs I would like to share a reflection: I recall a wonderful sense of camaraderie during the death march section of the waterfall game, it was us versus the luck of the cards and we celebrated each eventual success. Those eventual successes were of course eventual... and keeping the tally really beautifully demonstrated that. Thank you for sharing an effective way of illustrating these concepts in a far shorter time-frame than running an entire real world project.

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