Summer Meadows is a short and fun exercise to demonstrate the effect of handoffs, detailed specs, and silos (otherwise referred to as the Product Management Vacuum) and to communicate how the Three Vs (Vision, Value, Validation) serve as a way to create more cohesive and creative products.

Note: I apologize as I am unsure who to credit for this game. I first learned it from a client, who learned it from an agile coach. It has been tweaked along the way. I first ran it at Agile 2018 with Ralph Jocham to demonstrate the Three Vs. If anyone knows, please add a comment below.
UPDATE: I found the original post from David Barnholdt here. Wish I saw it before putting all this effort into a write-up. 🙂

Ingredients:

  • Flip chart paper for each team.
  • Colored markers for each team (green, blue, red, yellow/orange, black should do it).
  • Print-out instructions for each team. This one that I like to use has instructions for drawing a Summer Meadow scene with flowers, animals, sun, etc. Page 1 has detailed instructions (specs) and page 2 has high level, more value-based instructions. Page 3 is not for printing. I display it on a projector to use as a debrief afterward.

Steps:

  1. Divide participants into an even number of teams. Each team should have between 3-6 people.
  2. Provide half the teams (preferably on one side of the room) the detailed specs and the other half the high-level instructions. But act like you are handing the same instructions to each team. Ask them not to look until you say ‘go’.
  3. Tell them they have 4 minutes to complete the instructions and send them off.
  4. Make sure you circulate while they’re working. You will notice that the detailed spec teams are very focused and start checking their work off without ever asking why they’re even creating this drawing. They randomly place flowers, birds, cows all over the drawing. Whereas the teams with high-level instructions will start asking you more questions. Since the customer is mentioned in their instructions, they will likely ask you about the customer. I answer with “It’s me! I wanted a drawing to remind myself of my summers in Ireland at my Grandparents”. They will then ask more about that experience and end up producing something much more cohesive.
    Here are some examples with detailed specs:

    … and here are some examples with high-level instructions:
  5. When the time is up, have everyone stop and ask them to post their drawings for everyone to see. Ask which ones are better. The more cohesive, customer-focused drawings will clearly be better. I like to point out some cow high up in one of the detailed spec drawings and ask if it is flying. I’ve had teams get defensive and respond with “Well the specs never said that cows don’t fly!”.
  6. Finally, reveal that this was a trap and that you provided them with different instructions (if they haven’t already figured it out). Then start the debrief.

Debrief/Learning Objectives:

  • Ask the participants how we end up with detailed specs in the real world.
  • Ask if they have ever experienced similar outcomes. I’ve never had a group say they’ve never seen a similar effect in their world.
  • Ask about the sentence “This scene reminds our customer of their childhood growing up on a farm.” Tie it back to the importance of a Vision.
  • Ask about the success criteria and the bottom of each page. Tie it back to the way we measure Value.
  • Ask which of the two will be more likely to ask about the customer. Tie it back to the importance of Validation.
  • Point out that counter-intuitively, less details can produce better results through better more focus, more communication, and more autonomy.

6 thoughts on “Summer Meadows (and the Three Vs)”

  1. I love this game! It is a great way to illustrate some learning points about requirements. I first saw Don facilitate this game at Agile Camp 2018. I’m grateful to see it here on Tasty Cupcakes!

  2. Thanks Don. I’d be interested to see the actual instructions you use so I can better understand the way information is being presented to the participants.

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