For years I have used games, including those in this blog, for one simple and basic reason: to communicate a complicated idea or concept. Values and principles are perhaps but the most difficult concepts to explain and also the easiest to agree upon. Agile is fundamentally a system of values of principles and we need effective techniques to explain them. We cannot rely on declarations or propositional statements to communicate values and principles.
Say for example I said that I value trust, honesty and loyalty. If I were able to ask if you also value these things, most people reading would nod in agreement. Now if I asked you to now draw a picture of trust, just for fun why don’t you……
… done yet?
So did you draw stick man falling backward into other stickmen? A handshake? A child holding a parent’s hand? Perhaps a pet on a leash. These are the pictures I often see when I ask people to do this exercise. The point of that exercise is to illustrate that values have no useful meaning without an understanding of how we live them in our interactions and behavior with those around us. We can all agree on trust but how we express it and our expectations of how others will express it has not been discussed. All we really have agreed on is that the word is one we like.
Values and principles are only meaningful in the context of human experience. As it relates to groups of people, teams of software developers for example, it is the examples and rules of interaction between people where shared values become important. The values themselves cannot be defined outside of the context of these examples of interaction.
Games are one technique to communicate and define Agile values with a team and can be used to create examples of interactions both positive and negative to define the boundaries of what a value like individuals and interactions over process and tools means in an experiential way. They are a simulation of real life that the players can reflect back on to make judgements about how they should act in the futures. This reflection and discussion is really the point of running a game in the first place. It is in the discussion after the game that theses values and principles really emerge.
There are other techniques. Stories are excellent vehicles for communicating the complexities of human interaction. We will soon be adding a section for stories on TastyCupcakes.com and start to build a toolkit for this technique.
Michael McCullough is a co-founder of TastyCupcakes.org
Michael has been creating and using games in training and consulting for 20 years.