Mark Needham

Thoughts on Software Development

ThoughtWorks University: The use of games

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When I attended ThoughtWorks University in August 2006 we spent quite a bit of time playing games which had been designed to help us to achieve various learning objectives.

At the time I didn’t think much about it but now being on the other side as a trainer I’ve started to doubt whether these types of sessions are as useful as I originally thought.

I recently came across a blog post Sumeet wrote last year where he talks about effective e-learning environments and I think his point still applies here:

The really effective elearning is where people actually practice real-world tasks, but we have little time for that post our fascination with card games and flashy animations.

The Agile Lego Game

I was pondering this a couple of weeks ago when we ran the agile lego game.

Interestingly the feedback that we got from the participants of this session was that they really enjoyed the games part of the sessions.

My current thinking is that the feedback may have been more indicative of the fun that people had rather than the learning gained.

The problem I see is that people do know it’s a somewhat contrived situation and may therefore have difficulty relating it to a real life problem that they face later on.

For example in the agile lego game I acted as a customer with the instructions to be very picky/particular about what I actually wanted so that the team would communicate with me more frequently.

The idea was to try and simulate a real life customer and to allow the participants to see the value of collaborating with the customer frequently.

I found this part of the role really difficult as I knew how much I would hate to be on the other side facing someone acting like that.

On the other hand we did encounter the same types of problems that can happen on real projects:

  • Making assumptions about what the customer wanted
  • Not speaking to the customer and just building something
  • Miscalculating how long it would take to build something and spending ages doing it
  • ‘Committing’ to way more points than could ever be done

Despite seeing people learn those lessons and not committing the same mistakes in the next iteration I have noticed these same mistakes happening now that people are working on a real project.

From what I’ve seen it’s not until they make these mistakes in a real environment that the learning really sinks in.

Having said that I wouldn’t completely write off the use of games in learning environments.

They certainly provide a really good way to get people to interact as a group as well as proving them a good opportunity to know each other better.

The real learning happens when you’re in a real environment though!

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Written by Mark Needham

March 30th, 2011 at 8:34 pm