Recently, TechSmith hosted a Macomb Community College class. They were interested in learning the Kanban practices used by one of our development units. Being on the committee, I volunteered to develop an activity demonstrating the lifecycle of a Kanban card. If Angry Birds has taught us anything, it’s that everyone loves a good game. So I decided to try and make a Kanban game. I think it worked out fairly well, and I’m hopeful it can be used again as a tool to introduce people to Kanban.
I had to make up a “feature” for the participants to complete. Borrowing from a Planning Poker exercise that TechSmith’s Matt Mercieca developed, I aimed for something anyone should be able to understand: have guests over for dinner.
The Kanban Board
By definition, Kanban needs to have a board. Here are the simple columns for my game board:
- Not Started (no limit)
Where the task cards (see below) live before they’re prioritized.
- Ready (no limit)
Prioritized task cards are in this column.
- In Progress (limit two)
The task card is underway.
- QA (limit one)
The task card is done but needs review.
- Done (no limit)
This task card is finished.
The Task Cards
In order to make the game work, I had to fudge Kanban a little and make up some task cards. The players get to prioritize the cards, and then there’s a time “fee” (see below) for moving the cards across the columns. Some of the cards have stickers to indicate a category which is used with the modifier cards (see below).
Representing the flow of time was the hardest part of game development. Eventually, I came up with the idea of “Time Dollars.” The players collectively start with 100 time dollars, and there’s a fee for moving the cards into the different Kanban board columns. The larger the task, the more money it costs to move.
Development typically has a lot of unknowns. In my game, these are reflected via cards that are drawn anytime a card enters the In Progress or QA columns. They’re akin to Chance or Community Chest cards in Monopoly. Some modifier cards have color coded stickers and they can only apply to a task card with a matching sticker. An example of a modifier card is “Someone is allergic to your main dish. You lose 10 time dollars.”
- There must be two teams
- There is no time fee for moving task cards into Ready, otherwise the fee for each card must be paid to move the card into the next column
- Column limits must be respected
- Each team can only spend five time dollars per turn. If your card costs more than five time dollars to move, you must wait a turn to accumulate OR the other team can donate their five time dollars to you at the expense of their own turn.
- When a card moves into In Progress or QA, a modifier card must be drawn
- If you run out of time dollars before required tasks are complete, you lose
I emceed the game which involved: questioning team decisions (e.g. “Do you really need to clean the house to serve dinner?”), handling the time dollars, enforcing the rules, and inciting discussion.
The Macomb Community College students didn’t end up finishing the game, but it still worked out quite well. I explained that the goal wasn’t really to win or lose, but to experience constant evaluation of task cards, change in feature scope, and that time estimates are imperfect.
Because I was making tweaks to the game up until the last minute, I changed some of the cards and unintentionally took out all but one of the cards that add time, so if I were to play again, that’d have to be tweaked a little. Also, the stickers on the task and modifier cards were a little confusing, but it was the best way I could come up with to be able to have modifier cards that made sense with no guarantee of order for task cards or modifier cards.
Glenn Hoeppner has been a Software Engineer at TechSmith since 2006. Glenn has mostly worked on Screencast.com, but has lately been working on multi-user account management and credit card payment systems for the TechSmith store. Glenn has over 1,100 (non-digital) comic books in his collection and has a passion for vintage video games. He also enjoys amazing interns with the IBM Correcting Selectric II typewriter on his desk.