Agile Lego — Taking Flexibility and Speed into a whole new level

The situation looked grim: with a gold statue standing tall, and the barracks unfinished, time was running out and there still weren’t enough resources to complete the construction of the Death Ray.

No, this isn’t a scene from the latest sci-fi thriller; it was Shop Your Way’s Lego challenge.

The idea was simple: get a bunch of high-tech developers out of the their comfort zone by sitting them down in a room, giving them a few Lego Sets, and splitting them up into competing teams. Then, set up a simulation that mimics their everyday work environment — only, take away their conventional tools, divide their time exponentially, and offer a kick-ass prize to the winner, and you’ve got a competition.

Shop Your Way prides itself on short iterations, flexible work, ingenious design, and quick response times. To push our developers to be the best, we ran then through this exercise, designed to show them that no matter how fast and efficient they are it’s easy to fall prey to routine. Surprisingly, Legos seemed like the perfect cure.

When the starting bell rung, the development team divided into several smaller groups, received a limited number of Lego pieces, and was given a set of requirements to create a building. Each member of a team took on a different role — product manager, program manager, or builder. This forced them to think outside their norm so that they could really understand the roles of other team members.

To shake things up a bit, the requirements given were not very clear, sudden changes in the plan were brought in at the last minute, time was shortened, and the Lego pieces seemed to perpetually be in short supply.

In theory, our developers already work under similar stresses: a dynamic and changing environment that demands quick responses, short iterations, and daily deployments. However, the Lego challenge took it to the extreme by removing the familiar code and measuring sprints in minutes instead of days.

The exercise helped the developers understand how their everyday working process feels for other members of the team, and brought flexible thinking and quick responses into focus. It also forced them to ask questions and challenge standard procedure , from the basic requirements they’re given, to the responsibilities of each team member, and even the process itself.

The Lego challenge allowed the team to experiment with their process and break conventions without the fear of wasting millions of dollars. The team also took advantage of the opportunity to learn new lessons — sometimes within a matter of minutes.

The end result was eye opening. Suddenly, all of the office clichés about flexibility and speed got a new meaning, and the developers taking part in the exercise saw the process in a new light.

Who would have thought that a small plastic toy could be such a powerful tool for a cutting edge high tech company?

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