Dropping the ball in Leuven and Mechelen

On October 26th, Marc Evers and yours truly facilitated a session of who’s dropped the ball at XP.BE in Leuven. I’ll post a few pictures I didn’t get around to posting so far. The difficulty I have with posting pictures of game workshops like these, is that it might give away too many ideas for new player – the game is most educational if you play it for the first time, and I wouldn’t want to give away ideas and configurations tried, because at each play new ideas come up. I also don’t want to give away the surprises Marc and I plan that disturb the gameplay :-) . On the other hand, I would like to show the energy and level of engagement of the participants in the game. As usual, the players got the instruction to keep as many balls in the air as possible.

graph of balls in the air over time, causal loop diagram and players standing opposite to each other
Graph of balls in the air over time, a Diagram Of Effects (DOE) and players trying out a new configuration

We first asked the players and an observer what happened (events). We used that to create a the graph of number of balls in the air developed over time, and used that as a start for a Diagram Of Effects. The DOE was useful in generating more observations and interpretation of events by the participants. In the debrief there was some debate between the participants as to how much creating the DOE contributed to creating new ideas for keeping balls in the air. Pascal Van Cauwenberghe suggested to do more rapid prototyping based on small changes to the DOE. So, after what started as the debriefing, we continued with a few prototypes and discussions, and ended up with a surprising solution (not shown here, to not spoil the fun at future workshops).

Setting up another configuration

Some lessons we learnt (as appeared during the micro retrospective at the very end of the session):

  • Energy is low during the introduction. Recommendation to try for next time: skip the introduction.
  • Energy was low while Marc and Vera were drawing second version of causal loop diagram. The group also did not feel they owned the diagram. Try next time: make the diagram in groups, and start using post-its for the DOE variables right away – that makes it easier to change the diagram. During a brief introduction we can introduce the main aspects of the Diagram of Effects notation by drawing a mental model of what the bosses (Marc and me) think is going to happen.

  • Connection to the context (eXtreme Programming) was not clear to everyone. Marko van der Puil has written a great blog entry about how the XP values relate to this game and to Systems Thinking. I hope his weblog is going live soon, so everyone can enjoy it. In a succeeding session we can ask participants at the start of the workshop to think for themselves about relations to projects they participated in, and observe how the four values ( communication, simplicity, feedback and courage) appear in playing and discussing the game.

  • Some players were wondering what effect the DOE had on the final configuration. Next time, we’ll try to cut gameplay as well as discussion short even sooner. Stopping gameplay is hard, since players enjoy playing a lot as you can see in the photographs.

  • Prototyping is important: if you have an idea, try the configuration ASAP, so you get feedback on your idea.

We’ll be playing this game three times within one week, at XP Days in Mechelen, Karslruhe and London. The workshop in Mechelen is likely to have a good turnout – the conference is virtually sold out, and many participants indicated a preference for this session. The London conference is now also sold out, so that will probably be a busy session as well. I’m looking forward to meeting you at one of these conferences!

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