Coin Sorting with a Twist

pile_of_swedish_coins500x750I went to Budapest last week to do a workshop with the local management team of one of my customers. The goal was to talk to them about how they could move into the agile way of working. This was triggered by a move of some substantial product development from Sweden to Hungary. In Linköping, Sweden, I have been coaching a dozen teams in a transition to Agile, and I was asked to help the management to ensure that the transfer retain as much as possible of the Agile way of working that we have established.

I decided to select a few exercises, and add a set of scenarios that we could analyze together. I was hoping that the exercise would give them first hand expericene in the values of Agile and that this and the scenario analysis would spawn good discussions. And it did. Actually, I did only use one of the exercises I planned.

The exercise that I used was from Tasty Cupcakes and is about sorting coins. We use that exercise extensively in our Agile training, so I knew it would work, but I decided to add a few twists.

The exercise is to ask the group, preferably divided into teams, to estimate how long it would take them to sort a set of coins. The team with the lowest estimate actually get to do the sorting.  This raises the level of competitiveness in the group.

I decided to add a “Requirements Specification” to the game. Instead of telling the team what it was about I had prepared a document stating that they would get a number of coins of various value, how high piles could be, how far apart they where allowed or required to be placed and some other facts. (An unplanned complication was that I had stated distances in millimeters and a couple in the group where actually Irish…)

So after a “pre-study” period the bidding commenced. As often happens one group had a low bid and the others said “Let them do it!”

The team were actually done on time, which is kind of a bonus. Because the kicker is that almost always the coins are sorted according to value although that has never been specified.

I think adding the written “Requirements” shows how easy we are thrown of track by something written. It’s not just the fact that written communication is narrow-band, it is also very often misleading since if someone has spent so much time writing the document, specifically if it also has been reviewed and approved, the truth must actually be in there somewhere. And everything in it must be equally important, right?

Of course, the 10,000$ question that someone should ask is how you actually want them sorted. (Occasionally this question is actually put during the bidding and then you can either try to be undecisive, misleading, or you can just take it from there.)

But the billion dollar question that I really want to hear is “Why do you want them sorted?” I had prepared an answer: I want to be able to sell piles of coins as birthday presents so all the coins should be from their birthyear. I hope that I will someday do this exercise and have to use this answer.

By the way, at the end of the workshop one of the managers said “So I think we cannot wait for the transfer to be done and then start becoming Agile, we must do this now”.

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