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Continuous Improvement: Lessons from Running the Snowflake Game

14 September 2017


Have you noticed that sometimes in a retrospective meeting, an action item is the responsibility of "we, the Scrum Team," whereas what your ScrumMaster (SM) really means is "you, the engineers, and quality assurance engineers"? This is not the intention of the ScrumMaster, of course. This is the last thing any decent ScrumMaster would want. Part of the servant-leader role is to lead by example when it comes to personal improvement.
 

The importance of positive outcomes

I’m a ScrumMaster, and in this blog I reflect on a workshop I led recently in which we played the Snowflake Game, whereby attendees formed teams to produce snowflakes to sell to customers (me and other overseers). The aim of the workshop is to highlight the importance of value and positive outcomes, rather than the output, to achieve your goals. The workshop illustrates the significance of customer feedback loops to influence future development with the intention of creating greater value for the customer. As a result of running the workshop in two different contexts, I highlight the improvements I made to enhance the experience of players the last time I ran, it at June's Maidenhead Agile Meetup.
 

Lessons from the Snowflake Game

I said with a mix of bravado and trepidation that running the Snowflake Game for 140 people in the same room would be chaos and carnage, but it would be organized chaos and carnage. However, I underestimated just how unruly the room would become! I had participated in the Snowflake game at the 2016 Global Scrum Gathering in Munich. I enjoyed it and had plenty of takeaways. I then ran it with my colleagues while in Romania. This was deemed a success, so I was invited to run it at the 2017 Alfresco Product Development All-Hands for 140 participants.

It struck me that I had chosen to go to the workshop in Munich — I wanted to learn. When I was in Romania, I sent out a meeting invitation and participants chose to come. They wanted to have fun and perhaps learn something they could recognize or apply in their working lives. When I ran the workshop at the All-Hands, it was marketed as the day's ice-breaker. Clearly the primary objective was to have fun. If I could sneak some learning in there too, then great, but my audience’s motivation for attending was not a voluntary learning opportunity.

Judging from the noise, interactions, development, and sales of snowflakes during the All-Hands, my colleagues certainly had a lot of fun. However, based on how I could improve it, including feedback from the participants (such as the requirement to bring the room to order, and the impression that the phases weren't clear or well policed), this is how I improved when I last ran it at the Meetup:
  • There was a clear, visual indication where we were in the game. The phases of the sprint cycles (planning, the sprint itself, retrospective) were in three-minute bursts. With such a large audience, even though there was a good sound system, sometimes people didn’t know which phase we were in, causing confusion. As a result, people didn't know what they were supposed to be doing. During the Meetup, there was a PowerPoint slide, like the one below, to indicate where we were in the sprint process, thus creating a common understanding of where we were in the game.

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  • I ensured that the rules of the game were observed and upheld. There was confusion and flouting of the guidelines. For example, during the retrospective, many teams continued to develop snowflakes. This was frustrating, because a retrospective should be about communication, not development. But people couldn’t help themselves, as they wanted to produce more snowflakes. As part of my slide deck at the Meetup, I had a traffic light graphic, as shown above, indicating what participants could and could not do during the sprint. As a result, there was a common understanding in the room of what the participants were allowed to do.
  • There was a clear method of bringing the room to order.At the end of the sprint cycle, I used the alarm on my phone to bring the room to order and get participants to focus on what was next. This meant that the phase ended elegantly and there was an efficient way to bring the group together.
  • I understood how the session met the needs of the audience. If participants are there to have fun, let them relax. If they are there to learn, give some time for teaching opportunities during the session.
Therefore, by employing inspect-and-adapt practices and using the feedback loop from the attendees at the All-Hands, I felt I achieved better results at the Meetup, as there was less confusion about where we were in the game. I ensured that rule-breaking was kept to a minimum. There was a greater sense of order in the room, and I better understood customer requirements and the various benefits each attendee got from participating. The feedback I received, such as "Great — wonderfully interactive!" and "I learned a lot!" meant I came away with a real sense of accomplishment, satisfaction, and confidence in continuous improvement.
 

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.



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