Context: This game is similar to multi-tasking game, and can be used to teach concepts like   focusing on people utilization (instead of completing projects early), continuous partial attention,  effect of lack of face to face communication, limiting Work-in-progress, etc.

Acknowledgements: This is a variation of how Peter Saddington did his multi-tasking game at Agile 2013

What you need: flip charts (to note down times), stop watch, 6-8 balls.

Set up: Call for 7 volunteers, 6 for performing the experiment(workers) and 1 volunteer (time keeper) for tracking time

Three Projects:

Project 1:  1, 2, 3, 4, 5, . . . 30

Project 2: a, b, c, d, e, . . . z

Project 3: 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, ….56

Steps:

1. Explain the goal. The workers will work on projects as a team. They will count (or say a, b, c…) in a round robin fashion.

2. Ask for  estimates for how long it will take the team to complete each project. The time keeper notes down the estimates for each project. (If they ask if you will switch them between projects, say “No”, beause in our first experiment, we will not be switching them between projects. If they do not ask, you do not have to mention it, and it will be more fun this way).

3. Implicit – you do not have to say it, it will naturally happen, but make sure that the team members are facing each other , if it is a straight line where they can see each other with a little effort, it is ok.

Experiment 1:

The team works on one project at a time.  Once a project is complete, they move to the next one. The time keeper notes  the start and finish times of each project and then calculates duration of completion for each project.

Debrief: How did the team compare against their estimates? What do you infer?

Experiment 2:

1. Tell them the business conditions have changed and that you (facilitator) will determine the priority in real time. You (faciitator)  will let them know if priority changes, by saying “switch”.  When the facilotator instructs the team to switch, they automatically move to the next project (example: project 1 to 2, project 3 to 1) .  If team had already started a project, when they revisit the same project next time, they have to continue from where they left

During the experiment: The facilitator switches projects less frequently during the beginning and starts switching more frequently towards the middle/end.  You may notice that they will help each other out during the experiment, that is OK. The time keeper notes  the start and finish times of each project and then calculates duration of completion for each project.

Debrief: It usually takes longer to complete the projects.  Tell them that you are very upset and they are not skilled in counting/knowing A B C …  You have decide to cut cost and so … (move to either experiment 3a or experiment 3b)

Experiment 3 A– distributed team – non face-to-face communication.

Move them far apart  from each other, and ask them to face away from each other , but tell them that they still have to maintain the same round robin order.  Then repeat experimetnt 2 but this time  switching the projects frequently right from the beginning.  The time keeper notes  the start and finish times of each project and then calculates duration of completion for each project.

Experiment 3 B: – Continuous Partial Attention / Increase “people utilization”

Unlike 3A, the team members will be facing each other in this variation. Tell them that you are observing they they are utilized only one sixth of the time and so they are taking on a new project “Don’t drop the ball”. They have to keep passing balls to their team members  (variation of ball point game) and that they cannot pass balls to their immediate neighbor .  Alternatively, the facilitator can also instruct them to pass the ball in a specific manner to form a geometrical figure(e.x. form a pentagram, etc ).  Have more than 4 balls in the experiment to keep them really busy.

For the ball to count, it should have air time, should not be dropped and all  of them should have touched it.  Set a target (say , 100) for the count and tell them that they have to reach this target before completing all 3 projects. Someone in the team has to keep score of  how many times they pass the ball.

Repeat experiment 2, but this time  switching the projects frequently right from the beginning.(They are doing round robin on projects, and they are also passing the ball, forming the pentagram).  The time keeper notes  the start and finish times of each project and then calculates duration of completion for each project.

Another variation: Fire one of the workers, and do Experiment 3A or 3B.

Debrief Questions:

1. What was it like doing doing these experiments? Which one was easier? Which one was difficult? Why?

2. How do you account for the cognitive load of “context switching” , lack of face-to-face communiation (experimetn 3A) or Contunuous Partial Attention (experiment 3B)  in your traditional estimation process?

3. Experiment 3 B – What is the effect of increasing “people utilization” on projects 1, 2, and 3?

4. What do you infer about RoI? Which experiment helped in achieving RoI early? Why?

5. What are you taking away from this experiment which you will implement at work?

## 3 thoughts on “Three Projects, Three Experiments”

1. GuyM says:

Ran a variation of this with our community of practice, looking at just Experiment (1) and (3B) as part of a wider session on context switching and cognition.

Worked very well; we had two people remote connecting in which was a good simulation of our current work status; they couldn’t take on the additional task (which I termed “business as usual”)

I set a limit of 100 ball passes; this was completed before the third product was started, and so demonstrated the “recovery time” factor post disruption/cognitive overload that is described in workplace studies.

Used a single ball and no geometric pattern, and with 6 people this still had a very measurable impact.

2. is that project has different experience?

3. Thanks for the shoutout! This is a great permutation of my core exercise! Awesome!