August 18th, 2011

Story Spines: An exercise in emergence

Gaining faith in emergence is a major part of agile: our designs, architectures, requirements and solutions emerge over the course of an agile project. Teams and teamwork also emerge over the course of time and this is often one of the most scary parts of agile for the teams I work with.

Tamm & luyet also state in "Radical Collaboration" that 'faith in emergence' is one of the behaviours in collaborative teams. Collaboration in a team, as you are undoubtedly aware if you have seen it, is so much more powerful than just co-operation.

At the Scrum Gathering in Amsterdam last year, Simon Bennett introduced me to a game he plays that helps teams get used to the idea of emergence. This is how it goes:

1. Set up a row of 6 chairs (the actual number is variable but 6 is a good place to start)

2. Ask one person to go and stand by the 1st chair on the left and start off the story with the words "Once upon a time"

[for example, "once upon a time there was a blue chicken"]

3. Another member of the team will then go and stand by the 6th chair and finish the story with "And ever since that day"

[for example, "and ever since that day, it couldn't get up in the morning]

4. The next member of the team goes to seat 3 and starts their part of the story with "until one day"

[for example, "the Icelandic volcano erupted"]

5. The next member of the team goes to seat 2 and starts their part of the story with "and every day"

6. The next member of the team goes to seat 4 and starts their part of the story with "and then, because of that"

7. The next member of the team goes to seat 5 and starts their part of the story with "and then, because of that"

The rest of the team can help out and the aim is for the team to get from the start of the story (seat 1) to the end of the story (seat 6), manouvering the impediment (seat 3) while staying within certain constraints (how to start your part of the story). 

Potential Learning Points

  • One example of emergence in many agile projects is the concept of a user story where the brief overview is given (the start) then the initial acceptance criteria are worked out (the end) with how we get from A to B left up to the intelligent creativity of the self-organising team.
  • Emergence gets easier with more practice - get the team to try this a couple of times and see how it becomes easier
  • Team members get used to the idea that team members will help them out of tricky situations (another behaviour of collaborative teams is they "get unstuck"
  • Team members may feel at some point that they wish to change the rules (for example swap seats 5 & 6). This is a great opportunity to talk about how user stories are not set in stone and we can collaborate if the team identifies an opportunity to deliver something better and more valuable. 
  • With point above, it is sometimes interesting to see how naturally reticent teams are about challenging the status quo, constraints and assumptions.

If you give it a try, let me know how you get on. Experiment with different starting statements and numbers of chairs...

Tags:

Emergence / Game / Story

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