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Goodbye, My Friend

After 3 years of running the Scrum Punkin’ Chunkin’ Simulation exercise in my CSM and CSPO courses, the time has come to move on.

I first conceived of this idea back when I was going through my CST application process. I had done smaller simulation exercises in my classes, being a big proponent of Sharon Bowman’s Training from the Back of the Room approach. The idea of bringing something unique, fun, and yet educational to Scrum courses was very appealing to me, and I began to think about what would distinguish this classroom experience from others.

As a resident of Delaware, I find that many people are unfamiliar with our culture. Other than being the FIRST state and the second smallest, the place where everyone incorporates, and the home of Joe Biden, what is it that really puts us on the map??

And then it hit me:

The World Famous Punkin’ Chunkin’

If you have not heard of this fantastic event, then you have truly been missing out on a concentrated dose of Americana.

Delaware (“De La Warr”) is roughly bisected by the Delaware-Chesapeake canal. Above the canal is Wilmington, which is home to many financial institutions and pharmaceutical and chemical companies. Newark (pronounced “New-Ark,” not “Newrk,” like in Jersey) is also above the canal and is home to the University of Delaware. Below the canal are massive tracts of farming land before arriving at the renowned Delaware Beaches.

Back in the mid-80s, the farmers would celebrate the harvest by having a pumpkin-
throwing competition. As the years passed and one-upmanship prevailed, the competition began to include increasingly more powerful and elaborate machines to throw the pumpkins.

In recent years, the competition has grown to be a three-day weekend event, which is sponsored and featured by the Discovery Channel’s Myth Busters syndicate. The air cannon class of machines can shoot a standard 10” pumpkin almost a mile ... yes, that’s right, almost a mile. Those machines can also cost almost $500K and are a huge marketing opportunity for various firms around the world.

I have also been a huge fan of constructive toys over the years having grown up on a diet of Erector Set, LEGO, Tinker Toys, etc.

Then it came to me: “How about a mini Punkin’ Chunkin’ in the class with different teams building scaled-down models with LEGO?” I set about trying to build a machine with the massive collections of LEGO we have using various rubber bands and some stress pumpkins I had ordered online. The result was like a nuclear explosion of LEGOs all over our living room.

Back to the drawing board ...

Tinker Toys were too expensive, fragile, and heavy. Erector Set: WAY too heavy. “What else is out there??” I thought. And I went searching.

Enter K’NEX.

I had never played with these because they were a little after my time. They have various different mechanical structures and longer pieces with a bit stronger interlocks than LEGO. They still have interlocking blocks, like LEGO, but pieces that are more suitable to the task at hand.

These totally ROCKED!!

I bought a bunch of K’NEX, rubber bands, more stress pumpkins, and some banker bags to assemble kits for the class. A Scrum Team would compete with other Scrum Teams and would include three to nine Dev Team members, a ScrumMaster, and a Product Owner, depending on the size of the class. With five kits, I have been able to conduct the exercise with classes of up to 55 people.

The whole point and goal was to practice Scrum by building a machine in three condensed sprints of 1 hour each; reflecting on the progress, lessons learned, changing requirements, etc.; and culminating in a RELEASE (literally) by way of competition to see who could shoot the farthest.

The results have been phenomenal.

Initially, I didn’t know what to expect. A team shot 8 feet, and I was really impressed. Even more importantly, I observed that the exercise surfaced team dynamics, impediments, and dysfunction that perfectly emulated product development efforts in the organizations I have coached.

Some folks jump right in with a positive attitude and a mind toward the Art of the Possible: “What CAN we do here???” Others focus their efforts on blaming: lack of “technical” knowledge, not enough parts, not enough time, and so on. ScrumMasters have been command and control in their efforts, and Product Owners have been completely disengaged.

Subsequent classes have set records for shooting the pumpkin, all using the same kits, which were randomly shuffled periodically. A team shot 15 feet. Then another team hit 28+ feet; their launch hit a window that was 28 feet away, about 3 to 4 feet up the window. For this facility, there was no larger space to see exactly how far they were launching overall. So, we called it 28 feet.

Finally, a team shot 34 feet using a very simple design at a CSM course I did for VersionOne in Alpharetta, Georgia. The team members were average people, not mechanical engineers. Not engineers at all, really. I think there were some sales folks on the team. But they had a really great team dynamic and working relationship with each other. They didn’t let themselves be daunted by conflict or egos. They followed Scrum practices and used the learning and feedback loops to improve. I was so happy and proud of the team.

I also noticed something else:

The other team felt pretty crappy in the wake of the team that shot 34 feet.

In fact, what started off as a friendly, light-hearted competition aimed at teaching Scrum has evolved into a bitter, intensive rivalry with a “win at any cost” theme. I have noticed teams ignoring my coaching and training throughout the exercise. They don’t bother with what they have learned the previous 1.5 days, etc. I suppose that this in itself could be parlayed into a teaching moment ...

However, I have lost my passion for the exercise itself.

The kits have seemed to become VERY heavy. I feel like I am more impatient with the excuses I have heard over and over about not enough parts, not enough time, and so on. Most importantly, I don’t like that people feel bad that they didn’t produce a machine that shot anything at all, let alone firing 8, 15, 28, or even 34 feet.

I began to brainstorm again on what might be MORE meaningful on multiple levels for the classes. What would involve a low barrier of entry in terms of technology? What is something that EVERYONE around the world could draw upon in their experience? What would be fun but is not perhaps being done by EVERY other trainer out there?

How about a Scrum game?

Yes. That’s it. We will use Scrum to build a game that teaches people Scrum. And the students will be responsible for ensuring that the minimum viable product (MVP) for the entire exercise teaches all elements of Scrum at some level. The Shippable Product Increment (SPI) for each Sprint would be some form of playable game that evolves iteratively and incrementally until they have the MVP.

I have been running this now for the last 5 months in the CSPO class as a pilot, and the results have been very favorable.

ALL teams can produce some kind of game. There isn’t the pressure of a competition that shifts focus away from Scrum. In fact, the focus most definitely stays on Scrum because the game itself must teach Scrum (Bowman, 2008). What a fantastic concrete practice!!

Furthermore, from a logistical standpoint, the supplies are much lighter and can be much more flexible, depending on variations in availability around the globe. That is, in some countries, construction paper is not available. Neither are the traditional Post-it notes, voting dots, etc., that I am familiar with. However, we can still definitely run the game.

I bring multisided, multicolored dice; little plastic gaming pieces in the shape of pirates, skeletons, army men, orcs, elves, Star Wars characters, etc.; rulers; scissors; tape; and glue sticks. All of these things weigh less than one kit for the Punkin’ Chunkin’ simulation.

I also bring construction paper and my standard array of Post-its, drafting dots, voting dots, etc., which are consumed during the class so I don’t have to transport any of that back with me. Thus, this is a much more adaptable simulation for the class and can accommodate even larger classes. (I have used this successfully with classes as large as 75 people.)

And so it’s time to say goodbye to a good friend who has served me well over the last 3 years. I am left with many fond memories of the Punkin’ Chunkin’ Scrum Simulation exercise. Perhaps someday, I will have a reunion or a larger opportunity for some team, somewhere, to break the 34-foot record.

Thank you to all my students who made this an awesome experience for me. I thoroughly enjoyed learning from you all!!

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