Several agile experts have tried to create an online version of the famous Ball Point Game especially since the 2020 pandemic forced a large population of the world to suddenly work remotely. However, only a few have succeeded to create a game that encompasses all the reasons why agile trainers love the Ball Point Game in the first place.
My friend Richard Kasperowski is one of the agile experts who has created an online version of The Ball Point Game. In a recent class of his, Richard surveyed his classroom of agile coaches to find out what people love the most about the physical Ball Point Game. Here is a word cloud of what people responded:
Similarly, I surveyed about 300 agile coaches who had previously played the Ball Point Game in person to find out what their or their students’ top learnings from the physical Ball Point Game is: Here is what they responded:
- Process Improvement.
- Flow optimization.
In the face of the 2020 global health crisis that many people had to work from home and many agile trainers had to deliver their courses online, suddenly a number of agile trainers who had never designed or delivered an online class, decided to create their versions of the Ball Point Game.
Unfortunately most of these games use inefficient online game mechanics and have poorly-designed structures that can be confusing for attendees. Furthermore the learning curve for new digital tools or mechanics which is one of the basics of human-computer interaction design seems to be completely forgotten in most of these games. And on top of that, several of these games seem to have completely detached from the purpose of the Ball Point Game in their digital version of it and have focused on process rather than collaboration amongst individuals or survival (focusing on how not to fail) instead of winning together (working towards a common goal).
In response to all the frustration that I witnessed in the agile community and your pursuit of a better online game that embodies what the Ball Point Game used to offer, I decided to publish my online version of this game:
Game Of Circles™ is an online game that I created in 2016 inspired by the physical Ball Point Game. I have since then used this game to teach concepts of agile and scrum to over 150 distributed teams. You can register for any of the upcoming courses of Remote Forever and experience remote-first education and facilitation first hand. Game Of Circles™ has been developed with a remote-first mindset and has considered various aspects of digital behaviour and online team psychology.
Ten common mistakes remote agile trainers have made in designing a digital version of Ball Point Game:
Before I tell you how Remote Forever’s Game Of Circles™ is better than most the other digital versions of the Ball Point Game, let me show you the top 10 mistakes that people have made in their design of a digital game to serve as the Ball Point Game when teaching agile and scrum online. Keep in mind that human interaction online is different from that in-person.
- Not having a goal at all is the most common mistake. A good goal can be “score as many points as possible in a specific amount of time”. However most such games do not specify a goal at all and simply require people to follow a process over and over.
- Having a goal that does not encourage collaboration and keeps teams from building a relationship together. This can be seen in rules that ask every individual in the team to do the exact same move and only master the individual skills of performing the task, instead of designing various roles and responsibilities so that the team would be encouraged to self-organize and find the best way to utilize all skills.
- Replicating in-person practices. A common mistake that I’ve seen in most attempts of creating and online version of the Ball Point Game is:
- creating avatars on a digital whiteboard and placing them in a ring format and asking people to drag and drop digital balls from one avatar to the next just like people would pass a ball physically in an in-person setup.
- Enforcing collaboration rules that slow down the progress compared to if one person was to complete the tasks alone. For example:
- You must make sure every individual processes the same task/ball. This is a copy of the rule: “each ball needs to pass through all hands” in the physical Ball Point Game. Knowing that this is not how any team works, have you ever asked yourself why it exists in the physical game at all? I believe this a restriction that can unlock out-of-the-box thinking in a physical environment. In an online environment however because there are various built-in restrictions, one should not bring this added and ineffective restriction from the in-person game.
- Focusing on process more than collaboration. Some games have rules such as “You must follow the following X rules and you will lose if you make any of the following Y mistakes” where some of those mistakes cannot possibly happen if people are mildly competent in using a keyboard and a mouse or touchpad. A typical example of this is:
- You must pass the balls between your avatars clockwise. You will lose if you pass it anti-clockwise!
- Closed rules that limit or prevent innovation, self-organizing and team development rather than enable them. A typical example of this is:
- You have to choose your roles in the team and stick to them during all iterations that follow.
- Focusing on conditions for losing rather than those for winning AKA management by punishment. A typical example of this is:
- You will lose if not all team members are contributing to the plan or solution.
- Assuming that the same types of incidents from the physical Ball Point Game make sense in an online game. Example:
- You will lose if you drop your digital ball on the line or outside of the box instead of in the digital box (a square). No one would make such mistake unless they have very limited skills in dragging and dropping items on a computer screen.
- Limiting collaboration by specifying that pair-processing or group-processing a task in a single step is forbidden. An example of this is:
- No two people can be assigned to a task simultaneously.
- Last but not least, using too many tools for a simple game and especially tools that require people to create an account in order to access the tools. An example of this is using:
- One tool for video conferencing
- A second tool for playing the game
- A third tool for tracking scores and estimates
- A fourth tool for setting a timer
- A fifth tool to survey the players or collect their votes
- A sixth tool for collecting feedback about the facilitation
Game of circles is a remote-first online game inspired by the Ball Point Game. It’s not a replica.
I created Game Of Circles with a remote-first mindset to avoid all the mistakes mentioned above and as a result give the team a clear goal and very simple set of rules as well as a playground to serve as their workspace.
This game embodies the very essence of working remotely in a team by taking advantage of the power of online tools while having a remote-first design embedded into the mechanics of the game. Game of Circles empowers teams to move from Forming to Performing in 3-5 iterations while creating breakthrough ideas in improving their processes.
One of the most beautiful aspects of this game is that every team comes up with a different innovation in their process in order to improve productivity, quality and collaboration.
If you are an agile trainer, you can use this game to teach the following agile concepts and more:
- Iterative development and delivery (sprints)
- Retrospective (and their importance in improving the development process)
- Collaboration as a team with a purpose rather than a group of individuals each focused on their own tasks
- Innovation by thinking outside the box while respecting the rules
- Story break down (What is a good enough size for an accepted item into the development sprint?)
- T-shaped skillsets for better team performance
- The importance of clear communication (both verbal and non-verbal)
- Team responsibility for “getting things done” as well as detecting defects and fixing them as team members see fit.
- Tuckman group development phases from Norming to Performing
- And finally empowering the team to have fun while working together towards a common goal and winning together.
Most people who have played this game believe that it empowers collaboration, innovation and teaches various concepts of agile and scrum.
Watch this video to see a few of the Remote Forever community members play the game together and hear for yourself what they have to say about this experience.
Get the Game Of Circles for free
If you would like to receive the Game Of Circles facilitation guide along with a template in Miro or Mural, sign up below and claim your copy for free.