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Online Ball Point Game

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We believe the best way to gain knowledge is to learn by doing.

This is why we incorporate a good variety of practical activities in our workshops so that our trainees can experience the theory while having a lot of fun.

One of the most widely known, and our personal favorite, is the “Ball Point Game”.

The reason why we like it so much is that it simulates very well what it’s like to work in an iterative and incremental way, teaches the power of retrospectives and how teams can gradually improve over time through experiments, and last but not least – it is one hell of a fun!

Unfortunately, after the recent Coronavirus events and the mass lockdown happened, we had to re-invent how we conduct and facilitate training, so we can move to a 100% digital experience.

Games like the Ball Point Game were no longer feasible for video conference-based training. One of the biggest challenges was to come up with alternative exercises and simulations that can be done fully online, easy for the participants to do, and such that drive home the key learning points. We searched the web for an alternative online game like the good old Ball Point Game and while there were some suggestions from the community, none of those seemed good enough for us. So, we decided to come up with our own one, experiment with it, and share it back with the community for wider use.

The first step was to define an OKR.

Objective:
Come up with an Awesome Online Game that can replace the Ball Point Game for digital training

Key Results:

  • Suitable for large groups, more than 5 people
  • Rules are so easy that everyone can understand within 3 minutes explanation
  • Drives home the same learning objectives as the Ball Point Game
  • Takes the same amount of time to conduct as the Ball Point Game
  • The average feedback score from the participants is above 4 out of 5, where 5 is the highest grade

We are proud to announce we scored 100% on all Key Results!

We’ve successfully designed and conducted several times a new game, that is perfectly suitable for our needs and now we would like to share with you our approach.


Game Name: Conquer The Numbers


Game Objective

The objective of the Conquer The Numbers game is to get as many numbers through the team as possible within 90 seconds.

The Rules

The rules are very simple. Below are the original rules that we invented, however you’re free to extend and experiment with them.

  • The numbers are conquered one at a time and participants are taking turns in sequential order.
  • After the time is up, the team is allowed an additional 60 seconds to discuss the process and how it could be improved.
  • Before the next iteration start, the team has an additional 30 seconds to come up with a rough estimate of how many numbers they’ll conquer.
  • The team still has the objective to conquer as many numbers as possible, regardless of the estimate.
  • You can do 3 to 5 iterations.


Play Time

  • Everyone is part of one big team
  • The group starts counting from 1
  • Numbers are conquered in sequential order – 1, 2, 3 …
  • Everyone has to participate and take part in the counting process
  • Participants must remain silent if it’s not their turn to speak
  • When participant’s turn comes, they can say only a number and nothing else
  • Participants can have a new turn only if all the others have taken turn before them
  • If 3 is a divider of the current number, the participant, in turn, should clap instead of saying the number
  • If two or more participants talk simultaneously – the group starts all over from 1
  • If there’s a counting mistake – the group starts all over from 1
  • The final score of conquered numbers is the maximum number the group reached during the iteration

 

Game Play

The game consists of several iterations or Sprints of play immediately followed by a Retrospective and Planning.
The team is completely self-organizing and is allowed to do anything they want, as long as the rules are being followed.
The team must come up with a rough estimate of how many numbers it can conquer during the next iteration before it starts.

Timings

  • Game introduction and rules explanation – 3 minutes
  • Preparation of Strategy – 60 seconds
  • Estimation – 30 seconds
  • Play Time – 90 seconds
  • Run 3 to 5 iterations 
  • Debrief the learnings from the game ~ 5 – 10 minutes


Preparation

Preparing for the game is also very easy.
All you need is to create a virtual board or a matrix with 3 columns:

  • Iteration number
  • Estimation
  • Final Score

Add as many rows as the number of iterations, you’d like to run.

In the “Estimation” cell you put the team’s projected estimate for the iteration and in the “Final Score” cell, respectfully, the maximum conquered number the group reached during the iteration. 

Participants need to be able to unmute and possibly turn on their cameras for a better experience.


Game Conclusion

After all, iterations are done you should facilitate a short discussion to debrief the exercise. There are several interesting points that are worth talking about.

Here are some powerful questions you might ask the group:

  • Show the Board so they can see the scores and ask “What can you say about the trends?”
  • How did you come up with your first estimate for the first iteration?

Usually, the answer is “It was a wild but educated guess.“, then you can ask:

  • You were asked to commit to an estimate on work you’ve never done before and first time working together as a team. Think of how many times managers have asked you to do just that?
  • How did you come up with your estimates for the next iterations?
  • How did your strategies change during the iterations? What worked and what didn’t? Could you know in advance?
  • If you had additional iteration, do you think you would have kept improving?

Of course, based on your current situation, context, group, and results you might come up with other powerful questions to ask.


Learning Objectives

The major learning points this game provides are the following:

  • Iterative and incremental development
  • Agile planning and estimation
  • Value of retrospectives
  • Learning by doing
  • Importance of teamwork
  • Self-organization
  • Running experiments

 

Share Your Experience

You’re free to use the Conquer the Numbers Game and experiment with it. We’ll appreciate it if you do so and share back with us what your findings are.

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About the Coaches

Bogoy Bogdanov

Agile Coach

Nikola Bogdanov

Agile Coach

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