3.3 Agile Leadership experiments


AgileAn iterative approach to project management and software development that helps teams deliver value to their customers faster and with fewer headaches. Instead of betting everything on a “big bang” launch, an agile team delivers work in small, but consumable, increments. Requirements, plans, and results are evaluated continuously so teams have a natural mechanism for responding to change quickly.
GamifyApply typical elements of game playing (e.g. point scoring, competition with others, rules of play).
KanbanIs a scheduling system for lean manufacturing. Taiichi Ohno, an industrial engineer at Toyota, developed kanban to improve manufacturing efficiency.
Stand-upA short meeting of a kind held regularly by people working on a project together, at which participants discuss their progress and typically stand rather than sit.

Gamifying kanban

I worked with an Executive Coach/Learning & Development expert Samantha Thomas on this experiment.

The situation

A new team with mixed skills and expertise were given a task of producing new learning content to a tight timeline. Individuals in the team were very capable and had all the skills, experience and knowledge needed to produce high-quality content.

At the start of the week the team agreed two outcomes that would be achieved by the end. The work was divided up into four subject areas and each area was ‘owned’ by a different person.

The work was being loosely tracked using a prioritised task list.

The problem

Lots of ideas were being generated but nothing was landing. It felt wrong, but we didn’t understand why.

We needed a different approach.


Finding a way to visualise and gameify the situation would engage people in a new and different way opening a safe space for the team to have an open honest discussion about the situation and allow individuals to reflect on challenges, ask for support and benefit from the wisdom of the group.

We believed using this approach would achieve the following outcomes:

  • Provide a way for the team to reflect on themselves and progress
  • Drive different/better behaviour and self-realisation
  • Stand-ups would be more effective

What happened

Sam saw there was a problem and described what she wanted to do about it at one of our daily stand-ups. I offered to help.

We caught up later in the day and as Sam talked I doodled.

Fig 1 – Thumbnails and doodles sketching out ideas (2021)

Her idea was to use a roadmap to visualise the week, with the end being the point where weekly outcomes were achieved.

It reminded me of childhood board games where players race to the finish negotiating snakes, ladders and other obstacles and challenges on the way. A great metaphor for a working environment.

To make the idea relevant for the team we incorporated ‘in jokes’ and metaphors. I sketched out what this might look like.

Fig 2 – A more developed sketch – Sharpie and Promarker pen (2021)
Fig 3 – The idea mocked up in PowerPoint with moveable counters (2021)

This got refined to the point where a colour version was created.

Fig 4 – A colour version of the game (2021)

PowerPoint seemed the simplest way to interactively present the information so it could be tested with the team.

What I learned

  • People quickly got what we were trying to do and enjoyed the ‘in jokes’.
  • It changed the conversation and created a safe space to be more vulnerable.
  • It gave us confidence to acknowledge when we’d gone down rabbit holes, got stuck in the weeds or bitten by crocodiles. Most importantly of all we were able to change our approach and do something different.
  • Moving counters backwards and forwards allowed us to have a richer conversation. (If we’d strictly applied Kanban, rules this wouldn’t have happened).
  • Rapid co-creation (the experiment took 3-days), between different disciplines can be really powerful.
  • Being able to create bespoke imagery that develops based on user feedback strengthens buy-in, use and effectiveness of the tool.

What I’ll do next

  • We’re using it daily to discuss and track progress.
  • The game is evolving. New gags and metaphors have been added.
  • I’ve blogged about this to the bank’s internal audience and wait to see if/how if gets picked up and used in a different context.
Fig 5 – The second iteration of the game with new elements (2021)


Figure 1 – Hadfield, Hugh (2021) Thumbnails and doodles sketching out ideas [Ink pen]  In possession of: the author

Figure 2 – Hadfield, Hugh (2021) A more developed sketch [Sharpie and Promarker pen]  In possession of: the author

Figure 3 – Hadfield, Hugh (2021) The idea mocked up in PowerPoint with moveable counters [Sharpie and Promarker pen]  In possession of: the author

Figure 4 – Hadfield, Hugh (2021) A colour version of the game [Sharpie and digital colour]  In possession of: the author

Figure 5 – Hadfield, Hugh (2021) The second iteration of the game with new elements [Sharpie and digital colour]  In possession of: the author

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