Skip to content

Kanban – Learn with games

I love agile games – they make learning fun and interesting. Also people tend to remember the lesson as they experienced it.

A while ago I did a kanban introduction game at work. The support team was using Kanban and the Development team was using scrum. Most people didn’t know what Kanban was or why we were using it for support – so the aim of this session was to demystify the word kanban.

To start off with I briefly explained that Kanban meant “Visual Card”, and that it was a pull as opposed to push way of working, that it was responsive to change and based on Just In Time actions. I then went through the core concepts.


Next I showed a basic kanban board and using yellow stickies explained how the flow of work would happen. I then introduced limits (green stickies), and gave an example of how they affect the flow of work and what happens when a limit is reached. There was a brief discussion around how to set limits, and signs to watch out for a too low or too high limit.


The next step was to explain the game and what we would be doing. I based it on the Making Pamphlets Kanban Game. The stationary I used was similar except I opted for crayons, and got stickies for the whiteboard. I only had 7 people in the session – so we formed one team. We had the ‘manager’ using a whiteboard. I had 2 timers on my macbook – one for 6 minutes – the duration of the iterations and one for 2 minutes the duration of the “stand ups”.


The “stand ups” were more mini-retrospectives. I asked them what they had noticed and if they could make the process/flow smoother. In Iteration 3 I introduced a change of asking for them to prioritize 2 blue pamphlets with different cut outs (I specified what they should be). In Iteration 4 we discontinued the use of white envelopes, all envelopes had to be brown. By the 7th (and final) iteration the team made comments that they were cooking :) When I said that the game was over, they all seemed a little sad!
Over some pizza we discussed what they had noticed from the start to the end of the game. There were some great discussions. Here are some things I can recall:

  • “Stand ups” were very valuable – important to make changes and adapt when you notice the bottlenecks
  • Changes need to be small – every little change has a ripple effect elsewhere in the process
  • Roles and responsibilities change depending on where assistance is needed
  • Slack is needed to help with flow
  • Putting in limits (which they didn’t do) would have helped with flow
  • Response to change (blue pamphlets and envelopes) was quick
  • Change highlighted waste of “pre-cutting” cut outs that were not needed anymore
  • Collaboration and constant talking amongst team members was vital
  • Manager using the board to follow partially done pamphlets was important – team was lost in the detail
  • Manager having overall big picture view was able to guide team from the outskirts when they got buried in the details

The participants mentioned that they now understand Kanban and the difference with Scrum – and see how it can be useful.

Two things I would change next time: take in a bin (for the cutoffs!) and have trays that symbolize the done columns (things got a bit crazy at one point!). I also regret not asking everyone to write down one thing they will take out of the session :(

This session was loads of fun for me. It was great to see the simple process of making a pamphlet adapt over 7 iterations and see kanban in action with first timers. I think the pamphlet making team had fun and learned some new things (well I hope so!).

kanbanbook— Update October 2016

If you enjoyed this blog post, you will love our book Kanban Workbook: A Practical Guide to using Kanban.

The book will guide you through implementing your own Kanban board and all the principles of Kanban in your own environment.


2 thoughts on “Kanban – Learn with games”

  1. Hi Samantha,

    Thanks for a simple, powerful and effective game. There are lots of games but they all need a lot of preparation and logistics. I will use this game with my team and let you know the outcome.

    Agile Coach, Bangalore, India

Comments are closed.