Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Self enabling teams: a demonstration.

One of the most impressive memories from my Certified Scrum Master course last year, is the experience of growing a self enabling team.

The exercise was simple:

  • Given was a bucket full of tennis balls.
  • The team was about 20 people.
  • Only one team member could take balls out of the bucket. He could take out as many as he liked at any time throughout the sprint.
  • The team would score a point for each tennis ball that was touched by every team member and then touched again by the first team member, he who took the ball out of the bucket.
  • The team would do 10 sprints. Each sprint is 2 min. Between two sprints is a break of 2 min for retrospective and optimization.
  • Before each sprint the team announces the score it expects to achieve.

Before the exercise I thought that the main challenge would be figuring out the optimal formation of the team members. I expected that after that there will not be much improvement possible.

I was wrong! This was the result (second column: expected, third column: achieved):


I am still amazed how the team was able to optimize and improve in each of the ten sprints. This improvement was rooted entirely in the team itself and is a perfect demonstration for a self enabling team, that was given the chance to inspect and adapt.

Some of the optimization steps included:

  • Finding out the optimal formation for the task: a circle.
  • Optimizing the formation into two circles of people. The outer facing inward and the inner facing outward, this way we could pass the balls to a person in front of us and not besides us.
  • Ignore dropped balls, continue with the flow.
  • Not throwing balls to your peer, but dropping them into his cupped hands.
  • Passing two balls at a time to your peer.
  • Sitting down on the floor reduces the danger/consequences of dropped balls.

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