I recently attended a Limited WIP society meetup at Skills matter, where Karl Scotland and John Stevenson ran the Ball flow game as a way to introduce Kanban to people. The game originated as a way to introduce Scrum and I had the opportunity to run such a session this week, however I decided to tweak it a bit to enable various scenarios to be experienced by the participants and to support specific conversations.

Here is the setup:

1.    Initial Presentation

Team makes an initial presentation of the scrum framework to the room. Purpose: to give the facilitator an idea of where they are on their Journey of learning scrum / agile, it also acts an ice breaker. It’s important to stress that it’s really not about getting it right, the value is in the conversations that are generated.

2.    Present the rules of the game

  • You are one big team
  • Each person must touch each ball
  • Each ball must have air-time
  • No passing the ball to your direct neighbour
  • The Start Person = End Person
  • Each Iteration = 2 min
  • Each Retrospective  = 1 min*
  • Each Sprint Planning  = 1 min*

(* having 1 minute for the retrospective and 1 minute for sprint planning, did not really work, it was difficult to keep the team to that 2 minutes, one variant might be to setup an automatic timer for the whole meeting so the team has to self manage their time)

3.    Present the roles

If you have all the roles in the room , then great, otherwise the facilitator can play the different or absent roles

  • Team
  • Product Owner
  • Scrum Master
  • Manager

The purpose of having the roles, is to introduce them, and for the later sprints in which we introduce some typical challenges, if your only going to run sprints 1-5, then you can drop this out from your agenda.

4.    Play the game ( sprints 1-5)

Give the team a count down to their first sprint planning session (1 minute) where they need to come back with their commitment in terms of number of balls delivered.

5.    Play the game – sprint 6

Role: Product Owner
Scenario: Last minute changes
Have a card in an envelope, and give it to the person playing the Product Owner, the card should say something like

“just before the sprint starts, demand only blue balls”


The teams tend to do it, but will aim to groom the backlog themselves, rather than pushing back on the Product Owner to groom the backlog, or to let the Product Owner know of the possible impact the late change will have.

6.    Play the game – sprint 7

Role: Product Owner
Scenario: Changes in the sprint
Before the sprint, give envelope #7  to the person playing the Product Owner, the card should say something like

“once the sprint has started, demand a new feature (give orange ball) is delivered”


The orange ball tends to go round the system once or twice before someone in the team throws it out, some even question it straight away but still take it into the system. The team’s focus is so much on the end goal that they don’t recognise the threat, there is a great opportunity here to emphasise the importance of the Scrum master in protecting the team from outside disruptions in the sprint.

7.    Play the game – sprint 8

Role: Manager
Scenario: Changes to the team
If you have a large group (more than 10, otherwise I would skip this it) you can try this one, before the sprint, give envelope #8 to the person playing the Manger, the card should say something like

“split the team into 2, as you recognise that some are better than others, so form the Best team and the Other team, try and make the better team and odd number and the other team even”


In very large groups over 20, teams find a huge increase in productivity as there is a smaller communication circle and its easier to co-ordinate updates and changes. Discussions here around ideal team size. If one team now has an even number, they tend to try and replicate the previous system and will need an extra pass of the ball at the end to not break the passing to your neighbour rule. This tends to have a large impact on productivity, and good conversations around outside decisions and their impacts.

8.    Play the game – sprint 9

Role:  Product Owner
Scenario: Changes to the type of work
Before the sprint, give envelope #9 to the person playing the Product Owner, the card should say something like

“Introduce 4 others types of balls (the really really heavy ones), demand they get delivered with a normal ball in between”


By now the team will be really used to the standard ball , its weight, how to throw it, how to receive it. By Introducing the 4 new types of balls, ideally really heavy or large balls, it will introduce variability to the system.  If the Product Owner plays out the role of unaccommodating Product Owner, “well they are all just balls”, it can lead to useful conversations around a lack of awareness of the other persons domain, IE not all balls are the same.

9.    Play the game – sprint 10

Role:  Facilitator / Product Owner
Scenario: Pushing the team for more , faster.
Before the sprint, give envelope #10 to the person playing the Product Owner, the card should say something like

“you know the team can do more, (if your the facilitator) say that by now, most teams are doing 3 times what their current best is, what can they do about it ? “


Some teams down tools, as they feel its a push too far, which can be a great conversation point. Some teams try the, ” lets keep it the same but go really fast” and generally end up dropping more balls and not getting near their previous best.  All great discussions around why, what happened, , what would you do next time ?

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One Response to Introducing Scrum using a big bag of balls

  1. Agile Scout says:

    Good game here. Thanks for sharing!

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