Agile Ball Game

One activity/game I found really helpful when in coaching team about scrum is the ‘Agile Ball Game.’

The beauty of this game is that it breaks down several agile/scrum rituals into something fun and tactile. Even teams working outside of development can better understand how iterative cycles can be used to help them improve quickly.

The Overview

The game can be played in groups of 5 people to over 100, however, I find it more useful to have group sizes which are similar to their work department/team sizes. For example, if a scrum team consists of 8 people, think about having groups of 8.

I recommend keeping each group around the same size to even the playing field.

Materials

  1. Tennis balls, or something similar. Around 6 to 10 per group is good.
  2. A whiteboard or a paperboard.

Rules

  1. Split the group into teams of 5 to 20.
  2. When the same ball touches each team member, it’s a point.
  3. The ball must have air time between each team member.
  4. The ball may not be passed to the team member to your direct left or direct right.
  5. Teams can use the balls again once it’s been counted as a point (or restarting if the ball dropped).

Rounds

  1. 5 x 2-minute rounds.
  2. 1-minute breaks between rounds.
  3. 1 to 2 minutes to organize your team before the first round.
  4. Each team needs to provide a point estimate (before each round) and actual points (at the end of the round).
  5. 5-minute debrief at the end of the game (after all of the rounds).

Debrief

After the teams finish all of the rounds, start to ask questions to see how things went for the team. Some example questions are below.

  1. What was the best interval? Why? Did you notice a flow?
  2. What happened with the estimates? Did they help? Did they get more accurate?
  3. How did the world record number effect you?

Notes For The Moderator

During the game, it’s helpful to keep track of key events/changes that teams do to bring up in the debrief. For example, if a team had people change roles, you could ask:

  • Why did people change roles?
  • Who was involved with the decision?
  • Did the change impact points initially or in a later round?

Other events to look out for would be:

  • Team formation changes (i.e. did they move from sitting to standing)
  • Did they do one ball at a time, or multiple?
  • Did they use anything in the room to help?
  • Were there any sudden drops or increases in the number of points?

Watch for teams if they are following the rules. If they either don’t have airtime or are passing to someone on their left or right, let the team know that none of their points counted. It’s totally fine, and common to have a team have 0 points.

Just before either the 3rd or 4th round, I typically tell all of the team about the world record number of points for the team of the same size. This number is 100% made up and about three times the highest number of points a team has achieved so far. The record number is intentionally high to see how it impacts the team’s last few rounds. It also encourages teams to challenge how they are approaching the problem and to think in innovative ways to increase their point throughput.

As the teams tell you their estimates and points, keep track of this on a whiteboard or paperboard. It’s great if you map this out as a velocity chart.


In this game, you’ll cover the following:

Agile Rituals

  1. Product requirements & backlogs grooming = Initial rules/instructions and 2 minute prep time.
  2. Sprint planning & retrospectives = 1-minute ‘break’ between rounds.
  3. Post mortems = Debrief after all of the rounds.

Team Building

  • Working as a team
  • Self-organization
  • Estimates vs realizations
  • Iterative work
  • Bottlenecks
  • Communication
  • Simplicity vs complexity
  • Predictability
  • Sustainable pace