When we create a remote IC Agile course, a key objective is not to compromise on the interactive experience. This can be pretty tricky with some of the hands-on learning exercises we use, but thanks to the recent ‘make everything remote’ situation, we’ve adapted pretty fast!

One of the exercises we often use for in-person courses is the excellent Lego Scrum simulation game by Alexey Krivitsky. Obviously online LEGO isn’t a thing, but we have come up with an alternative which uses 2D shapes on a collaborative online whiteboard: Scrum 2DVille.

The intent is still the same, learn about how scrum works by experiencing sprints, understanding the PO role, and seeing how to deliver value. We do this by iteratively and incrementally building a 2 dimensional town, that our stick people will want to move into. No Town, No Value.

Scrum 2DVille

We have run this a number of times now and the feedback from participants has been very positive; they have found it engaging and fun - quite an achievement for a remote-teaching game! You can read Alexy’s book to learn how to run the in-person game, but here I outline the overall flow and how the game has been adapted to work online.

The Online tools

You will need a video conferencing and online whiteboard tool. Take your time to check these out and get familiar with them. I use Zoom for video conferencing, as it has Breakout room functionality which is great for smaller team interaction. In terms of online whiteboard collaboration, (which is needed to create the 2DVille Canvas), I use Mural but you could use Miro or even Googleslides. You will need to give participants a crash course in the tool of your choice, how to select shapes, change their size and colour, how to group and move them. (don’t leave that till the 2DVille exercise!).

The Roles

The Facilitators will need to take on the role of Scrum Master and Product Owner. We run our courses with 2 trainers (it’s a much, much better experience for participants) so we take one of these roles each. The participants make up members of the Delivery Teams, with 3 - 4 people per team.

The Delivery Team

I give each Delivery Team access to their own individual Mural Canvas, primarily to avoid any tool performance issues. The key is not to get the teams to compete though, this is not about them working against each other. To make this explicit I’ve found it useful to tell the teams these are 3 different suburbs in 2DVille, each with their own distinct look and feel. The Delivery Teams can and should collaborate and share ideas. If you want to focus on a single increment get the teams to share one Canvas; but test out for performance and responsiveness first!

The Product Owner (PO)

The Product Owner is the main decision maker of 2DVille, and should let the team know that they will be involved and available (if you use Zoom let the team know about the ‘Ask for help Feature’). Create a separate breakout room for the PO called something like ‘site office’. No one in my experience has yet asked the PO for information and assistance in the first Sprint, the teams get so involved in the building!

How to Run it

I run this over about 90 minutes, with 3 Sprints. I look to have a 10 minute break around the end of the first Sprint, and a 5 minute break and the end of the third. How long you spend overall depends upon your learning objectives and how in-depth you go; make sure you refer to the Scrum simulation lego book for more information and tips.

1. The Vision and Product Backlog

(15 minutes)

Start with the PO’s vision, which is to create a two dimensional town called ‘2DVille’ with the measure of success being ‘Stick people’ will move in and invite their family and friends to visit. The way the PO believes they can attract heaps of stick people to 2DVille is through the delivery of a set Product Backlog Feature items The PO has created a Backlog of items that they believe will attract them. The core set of Backlog items we use are:

  • 1 Storey building (there are 5 of these)
  • 2 storey building
  • River
  • Bridge
  • Bike track
  • Dog park
  • Kids playground
  • Dairy (that’s a small convenience store for any non New Zealanders !)
  • Sports field
  • Cafe

Share the blank Canvas with the group, this is the ‘land’ that the PO has purchased for 2Dville.

Scrum 2DVille

Let them know that the stick person at the top left iis a reference point for relative size, they need to be able to get into the buildings !

The SM should then facilitate a brainstorm session with the team members to get 5 - 6 ideas to add to the backlog. The PO should have final approval on what gets added. I set all of this up as a single Mural canvas, which I screen share with the group as I facilitate, while the PO (2nd co-presenter) fills in any information and moves tickets.

Scrum 2DVille

The main building elements that the Delivery Team can use are shapes and lines. Don’t repeat that statement. The PO should be deliberately ambiguous and vague on what is needed when quizzed by the team. Let the Delivery teams know that there will be budget for around 3 sprints.

Now relative sizing on the Backlog items as one group (you can take longer on this if it’s a learning outcome area you want to focus on). I don’t spend too long on this, I pick the smallest Story (usually the ‘Bridge’) and get the group to size quickly, using an affinity approach; ‘is this next story ‘bigger’ ‘smaller’ or ‘roughly the same size’?

2. Sprint Planning

(2 Minutes)

Get the PO to set a Sprint goal e,g, “Somewhere for people to live”, “Recreation and activity”

The SM should tell the teams they have 2 minutes to plan out what Stories they can achieve in their Sprint.Then put the teams into their breakout team rooms, and link them to a team copy of the ‘Blank 2DVille canvas’

Call the team back into the main room and debrief by sharing the Backlog screen, updating each Delivery Team’s Sprint with the stories they are looking to deliver.

3. The Sprint

(7 Minutes)

Now the fun begins ! Set the timer and send the Delivery teams off to their Breakout rooms and Murals for 7 minutes. Keep an eye out for any questions that come in, and be ready to send the PO into a Breakout room that has asked for help (only join if they ask for help!). I like to jump into each Delivery Team’s Mural Canvas and see if things are going ok. Sometimes if there is nothing happening then I join their Breakout room and check on them by observing first. This is especially important if they are having technical issues.

4. Sprint Review

(2 Minutes per team)

Bring all the teams back to the main room. The Scrum Master should say to the PO something along the lines of “ How did you find that Sprint?” to which the PO should answer “Well I was pretty bored, I had nothing to do…” This should set the Review up nicely and make the Delivery Teams a little bit nervous!. You want the participants to fail, as this will amplify their learning moment.

Each team should take it in turns to review, with the Scrum Master screen-sharing the 2DVille Canvas with the group. Unlike the Lego simulation game, I have found teams tend to deliver some features. If they have just spent the Sprint planning or on sketching things out, like roads, then the PO should highlight the lack of value delivered “Where is our town?!!!”

The PO should give feedback on the items delivered and how having seen them they have come to realize what they really want from 2DVille. They should look to reject items delivered in this first Sprint, using reasons such as:

  • “I like symmetry in the buildings”
  • “The windows are not lined up”
  • “This is a unique village not all buildings should look the same; no copy and paste”
  • “A stick person is never going to be able to get through that door”

And here is the big one.. at least one Delivery Team will use photos and/or icons to build the Backlog items (rather than shapes), so they end up with Canvas’ a bit like these:

Scrum 2DVille Scrum 2DVille Scrum 2DVille

The PO should of course reject these out-of-hand, because:

  • “This is 2Ville. PhotoVille and IconVille are North of here and while they are nice, that’s not the town we are building, it doesn’t appeal to our target Stick person customers”

The unfinished items are brought back to the Product Backlog from the Sprint Backlogs.

5. Retrospective

I run a group retrospective at this point, with the combined teams coming up with one or two actions.

6. Rinse and Repeat !

Repeat and run another Sprint, starting again with Sprint Planning. The Delivery teams should look to implement their Retrospective actions, and the PO should be prepared to be heavily involved in answering questions and feedback in subsequent Sprints. They should be prepared to jump into those breakout rooms at a moment’s notice. I find three Sprints is enough, by then the Delivery Teams have learned to work closely with the PO, who shouldn’t need to be rejecting their work at the Review. Here’s an example of a 2DVille you might end up with from a team:

Scrum 2DVille

7. Group Debrief

Take another 5 minute break when you have completed the third Sprint Review, then finish off the exercise with a group debrief, on what participants have learned and how they felt.

While nothing beats Lego (obviously!) I think this comes pretty close. Let me know if you run it and how you get on!