Sustaining Agility Game

Have you been on a software project where each release gets harder and harder? Many projects fall into the tar pit of the Design Dead Core.

Why do nearly all software projects fail to balance short term choices with long term consequences?

Through game-play you will experience how hard it is to make effective choices. Game learnings will be tied into well-known models in and beyond software such as Technical Debt, Stephen Covey’s Production Capability, and Alistair Cockburn’s theory of competing games.


  • Game Objective: Participants experience the attraction of short-term thinking and feel the long-term consequences. The game helps executives and managers understand the importance of investment in sustainable development practices. The game is intended to help them get through a Red Pill, Blue Pill moment.
  • Number of participants: 6 to 50 (Has been playtested with 40 at XP Toronto User Group Meeting).
  • Team size: 3 to 5 people per team.
  • Duration: 90 to 110 minutes
  • Materials: Game cards (can print or write by hand), pennies (15 per team), dice (two per team)
  • Setup: (optional) video projector, tables for group work, whiteboard or flipchart.
  • Credits: This game was created by Alistair McKinnell and Michael Sahota.

Session Timetable

  1. Intro & Motivate Game [3 min]
  2. Break into teams of four or five people. [2 min]
  3. Setup Game [5 min]
  4. Year 1 [30+ min]
  5. Year 2 [20+ min]
  6. Year 3 [15 min]
  7. Debrief [15 min]

There is a backdrop story that motivates the game situation and is used throughout the game to provide entertainment and inject new rules.

What’s Your Choice?

Here is a photo showing the project choices available to management teams:

Game Narrative

You’re working at a large organization. (Although situation entirely applies to smaller companies). Your goal in this game is to get promoted within your organization through delivery excellence. You need 50 Career Points to get promoted.  You’ll keep track of your Career Points as the game progresses.

Together with the other people on your team, you form the management team of a software development division. Your team is competing with other teams to get promoted.

[Handout Steady and Fast Cards and Scoring Sheet]
[Each steady project generates $3M revenue. Each fast project generates $4M revenue.]

[Optional Colour: You have two strategies that you can follow for any one of the projects in your project portfolio: (1) negotiate with the development organization and let them influence the deadlines; or (2) pressure the development organization to deliver to meet this quarter’s business targets. You may choose a hybrid of these strategies for your project portfolio: running some of your projects with a steady, negotiated delivery pace and some of your projects with a fast delivery pace.]

Year One

Turn 1: Q1
Start of Turn: We are going to walk you through the first turn.
Allocation: You can fund 10 projects. When you take over the following strategy is already in place: 8 steady projects and 2 fast projects.
Scoring: Calculate revenue.
Calculate change in Career Points. Calculate cumulative Career Points.
[Each quarter, you get 1 Career Point for every $1M revenue over $28M and you lose 1 Career Point for every $1M revenue below $28M. You start with 12 Career Points. Need 50 Career Points to win]

Turn 2: Q2
Start of Turn: Your team has achieved more autonomy from the senior management team and you may choose whatever project delivery strategy you like.
Allocation: You can fund 10 projects. Choose an allocation strategy.
Scoring: as above.

Turn 3: Q3
Start of Turn: At the company town hall, your CEO shares her latest business thinking with the organization. Last quarter she attending a seminar based on The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and going forward she wants the organization to consider not just production but also production capacity.

Some consultants have been hired and have started to put in place some metrics around production capacity.

The consultants present a report to your management team. It turns out that projects that are designated for fast delivery appear to be lowering the development organization’s production capacity by one unit of production capacity for each fast project.

[Fill in last 4 columns to spreadsheet: Invest, Delta Production Capacity, Production Capacity, and Fundable Projects. You start with a production capacity of 105. Update these columns for the first two turns (Q1 and Q2).]

[Each fast project reduces production capacity by 1. You start with a production capacity of 105. The number of Fundable Projects is calculated by dividing your production capacity by 10 and rounding down.]

Explain Invest. Your management team has been given a new portfolio management strategy: in addition to delivering project using either a steady or fast delivery strategy you may also invest in projects to increase your delivery capacity.

[Each invest project generates an opportunity to gain production capacity by rolling a 1d6 where each pip is a unit of production capacity. ]

[In order to avoid getting fired you must meet satisfy these 3 conditions: (1) no more than 5 Career Points lost in any one quarter.; (2) never two quarters in a row with Career Points lost; and (3)  never allow Career Points to go below zero.]

Turn 4: Q4
Start of Turn: The consultants present another report to your management team. It turns out that projects that are designated for steady delivery appear to be lowering the development organization’s production capacity as well.
[Reduce production capacity by one for every 4 projects (steady or fast) (rounded down).]

End of Turn: Audit Event. Each team requires two independent auditors from other teams to verify the calculations.

Game Events (Year 2)


Beginning of Q1: At the all-hands meeting to kickoff the New Year your CEO exhorts everyone to work harder and to stay focused on delivery. She announces that Agile software development is on her radar and to stay tuned.The senior management team has set a revenue target of $33M for this quarter.

[Rules: You must meet it or loose an additional 5 career points (usual Career Point loss limit is increased to 10 Career Points). THIS TURN ONLY]

Beginning of Q2: Your management team becomes aware that an Agile consulting firm has been hired to help the development organization transition to Scrum. [Possible rule: you must do at least 3 fast projects while you still can]
Beginning of Q3: At the company town hall, as usual, your CEO shares her latest business thinking with the organization. Pick one option:
  1. Discuss design dead core and how it gets created. [3 min] (
  2. Show Schwaber video [11 min] The lights are dimmed and she signals the Audio Visual guys to play the Design-Dead Core video presented by Ken Schwaber. [Ken (to 45:07)]


Beginning of Q4: CEO announces that promotion criteria are under review and they are working on revised policies for Q1 that reflect the need for sustainable development.

Game Events (Year 3)


Beginning of Q1: At the company town hall, as usual, your CEO shares her latest business thinking with the organization.Agile consultant explains Alistair Cockburn’s model of Competing games (current/next): Current Project (bounded game) and Product/Company (unbounded game)

[Rule change: Promotion Criteria is now 35 Career Points and 13 Production]

[CFO: Teams that have very low production capacity can revert to original game starting conditions]


Here is an example debrief using ORID (

  1. What did you notice during in the game?
  2. What emotions did the game raise for you?
  3. What does this mean for you and your organization?
  4. What will you do with these learnings?


Facilitation Tips

  • It is useful to create memorable even stereotyped characters to help participants connect with the storyline. e.g. CEO has a Texan drawl, CFO is from NYC, Consultant is from California.
  • Write Rule fragments on flipchart or whiteboard so everyone can see the rules. I suggest skipping text and just put keywords such as “Invest –>+1D6 Production Capacity”.
  • If you have not played the game before, I suggest you playtest it on your own.
  • It may be helpful to write up rules on flipchart in advance and then share them when it is time.

Feedback from first run (XPToronto)

  • “Fantastic, Magical” – Jorgen Baker
  • “Real pressures bottled up” – Alex Aitken
  • “Good fun, valuable, opportunity to learn” – Tom Huras
  • “Thought-provoking, Fun, Interesting” – Nick Faulkener
  • “Lively, Interactive, Team-focused” – Hedi Buchner

Feedback from second run (Agile Games 2011)

  • “This game relates hugely to my current work situation where we struggle daily to do thing the right way or increase our technical debt. This game can give great insight to our companies leader to make the right decisions as much as possible.” – A.F.
  • “Very interesting game. I’m going to try it myself.” – A.J.
  • “Good mix of presentation and game. Provided great thoughts about career goals, revenue and investing in production capability and the future.” – J.V.
  • “Great, practical game about strategy and the impact of long-term choices and short-term consequences” – T.M.
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  1. Not sure I see the solution given rules as written. After three years I’m not seeing any solution… i don’t doubt one exists – but seems unlikely groups will find it – and anyway would be nice to have a filled out example of a spreadsheet to confirm understanding of rules for a facilitator.

    • Thanks for the comments.

      There is no “solution” per se. What the game does is get people to look at the system and effects over time. Sometimes a change may actually require a shift in company values. This game is effective and holding up a mirror to show the situation. What people and companies do is a function of their maturity and goals.

      If you are thinking of running the game, you can easily play test it by yourself. I have done this with other games in order to learn the rules and be able to facilitate. Maybe even play test it twice. There is no substitute having your own knowledge. Good luck.

  2. Hi
    Seems like a good game to explain things like techinical debt.
    I entered the rules in an excel-sheet to test different staregies.
    When you introduce new rules, you mean that that specific rule is in play from now on, right?
    [Reduce production capacity by one for every 4 projects (steady or fast) (rounded down).]
    This means that there is still a -1 penalty for fast projects and another penalty for all projects on top of that.
    Also, I guess you mean a production capaity of 130 and not 13, right?
    [Rule change: Promotion Criteria is now 35 Career Points and 13 Production Capacity]

    Good game!


    • Hi,

      Glad to hear you tried it out. That’s a great way to understand how to play the game and the key message.

      Yes, new rules are in play indefinitely except for the one to hit a goal of 5 extra career points in that quarter (Year 2, Quarter 1). I have updated the rule to reflect this. I have also made a fix to be 13 Production.

      Love to hear how this works out if you play it at your company.

      – Michael

  3. hi,

    great idea, great game. this shows a substantial problem of many companies, not only in software development.
    i will try this game in some project teams as soon as it fits to their problem/situation.




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