Adding Game Mechanics to Agile Processes Part 1: Card Aging

Seems like everybody wants to gamify everything these days. Far be it for me to not jump on this bandwagon as well :-).

When properly harnessed, adding game mechanics to certain processes can make them more fun, engage the team performing them and increase the productivity and quality of output from that team. As we continue to evolve our Agile practices, we’ve experimented with some game mechanics to see what, if anything, is effective in increasing our velocity as well as the quality of our work. In the inaugural post of this series, I’d like to show you how aging your feature cards can help your team focus and unblock itself.

Card aging consists of physically indicating on each card how “old” it is. Age is determined by each day that the card is in-flight. At TheLadders we age our cards quite literally. On day one the card is a baby and is awarded the baby magnet.

Agile card aging - baby avatar

Awww....it's a baby.

With each additional day in-flight, a new avatar is assigned to the card. The card “ages” from baby, to boy, to man, to old man finally, death.

 

agile card aging - boy avatar

It's a boy!

agile card again - man avatar

He's getting tired.

agile card aging - old man avatar

Now, he's old.

Agile card aging - tombstone avatar

The end.

The switching of the avatar happens every morning at our stand-up marking a very explicit transition. The team members assigned to that card, while not called out explicitly, become keenly aware that their card is still in the in-flight column. At a certain point, the scrum master or dev manager begins to notice that a card is aging and will jump in to see what can be done to move the team forward.

agile card aging - avatar in action

Boy avatar hanging on a card on the board

In this way, card aging serves as a daily reminder of how quickly the team is moving forward. If the board is full of babies, we’re in good shape. As the avatar population ages, however, it becomes evident that the team needs to focus more. The goal is to avoid the “death” avatar. If a card “dies” on the board it becomes the top priority to move through and other developers may be pulled over to help unblock that issue.

 

An additional incentive for us to stay out of the “death” phase is a counter we’ve placed on our board that mimics the accident safety records of physical production facilities. Our goal is always to increase the “days without death” count. It’s actually quite disheartening when that number gets reset to zero.

agile card again - days without card dying number

Days without death.

Card aging has worked well for us as a technique to focus the team and make it aware of issues before they arise. The addition of a counter has helped make this focus top of mind and motivates the team daily to keep that number high. Do you think this type of technique would work well for your team? Do you already do something like this? Leave a note in the comments.

 

[Jeff]

 

About Jeff Gothelf

Jeff Gothelf is an agile product designer, teacher, writer and team leader. He is one of the leading voices on the topic of Agile UX and Lean UX. In addition, Jeff is the author of the O'Reilly book (2013), Lean UX: Applying lean principles to improve user experience (www.leanuxbook.com). He is a highly sought-after international keynote speaker, workshop leader & trainer. Currently Jeff is a Principal at Neo Innovation in NYC (www.neo.com).
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