Lessons learned from facilitating the Kanban Pizza Game

Posted: March 10, 2014 in Kanban
Tags: , , ,

I recently played a Kanban game with my new Kanban team. I’ve never played an Agile game before so was not sure how it would work, but had heard about the airplane game and how successful it is at teaching teams about flow, pull systems, cycle times, limiting work in progress, etc. After doing some online research, I stumbled across some variations of the traditional game, and was attracted to the Kanban Pizza Game. It looked fun and something everyone could relate to, plus it created the opportunity of actually ordering pizza for afterwards 🙂 The link goes into some detail about how to facilitate the game, so I won’t go into that here. I’d rather highlight some of the lessons I learnt trying to facilitate a game I’d never played or watched being played for the first time.

You need a helper!

There is a lot going on this game, not least of which ensuring teams don’t leave the pizza slices in their oven for too short (or too long without penalties). Thankfully I roped our Product Owner in at the last moment and he also helped with quality control and counting up for scoring, as well as keeping track of which slices had been “spoiled”.

Enforce WIP limits at least once

When I facilitated, I mentioned work in progress limits and enforced that each team had at least three stations (of their choice). In the close-out, one of the teams mentioned that they had set WIP limits but had not really stuck to them – or had changed them on the fly. My feeling is that some of the Kanban principles may have been more clear had these been enforced for the round. In hindsight, it may have worked better from a demonstration perspective to have enforced certain base stations and base limits to start with and then allowed the team to tweak them as the rounds progressed.

Track cycle times

The facilitator’s guide says measuring this is optional (perhaps because you really will need more helpers to do this). My feeling is that we lost a lot of the point by not tracking the cycle times between different rounds and changes to the process. We saw a significant improvement in the number of slices produced between rounds 1 and 2 (and one of the teams did observe that having a pull system – the orders – contributed to this), however, as things became more complicated, the points scored at the end of the round did not always correlate to improved efficiency. Cycle times would have also helped illustrate just how much value was being lost through wasted inventory.

Have a practice round

The group all said that they were more efficient in the second round merely because they had a better grasp of the process and rules. It may be an idea to run the first round twice before introducing Kanban concepts to mitigate this ‘learning’ effect on the outcomes.

Don’t give them timelines

The facilitator’s guide does warn why the team shouldn’t know how long a round is (watch out for clever teams timing a round for better planning!). I did let them know when we were busy with the final round, which in hindsight I probably should not have, as then they paced themselves to make sure there was no excess inventory at the end of the round rather than working towards getting as many orders filled as possible. I guess in real development this approach might make sense, but it didn’t really help from a demonstration perspective.

Outcomes

Things I felt came through quite strongly

  • Having stations.
  • The advantages of a pull system.
  • The group had fun!
  • The fact that the whole process was important: it was not helpful to have a highly efficient stickie cutter if the end-to-end process was too slow to consume the parts.

Things that didn’t come through as well

  • Limiting work in progress.
  • Impact of limiting work in progress on cycle times.
  • Having explicit policies (team felt that they were implicit).
  • Idle time.

Have you run this game before? What did or did not work for you?

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