I’ve been working on a workshop to help teams and Product Owners understand user stories. One of the topics that very important for this group is sizing and breaking stories down.
The classic exercise for this is called Elephant Carpaccio, but I wanted to do something a little different. I wanted to bring an exercise that would have its roots in a real world exercise, and allow for people to experience different ways of breaking down work.
A Tidy Home
Setup - 10 minutes Round 1 - 10 minutes Debrief - 15 minutes Round 2 - 10 minutes Debrief - 15 minutes
You’re a maid service and you are trying to clean a customer’s home
See the differences between decomposing work into their tasks compared to slicing it to add more value each time.
- A home map
- Cleaning activity tokens
- Scratch Paper
- All rooms (Except Closets) are considered clean if the Floors, Tidy, and Clean activities have been completed
- Closets only need the Tidy activity
- You will be Paid based on the rooms that are clean
Break into groups of 3-6. Give each group a game mat, and one activity token per person.
Explain that the game will take place in two rounds. The first round we will ask that they will try to clean the entire house in as, “Few moves,” as possible. Explain that a move to them would be placing a token on one room. So when they are all placed, that’s a move. Ask them to record what they are doing each move, and then report how many moves it took to get to a completely clean home. Now, closets are considered bonus points. They can clean closets, but will only get the bonus points for them if the house is also completely clean.
Optionally, ask them to walk through their plan to make sure it will actually work. If they find a mistake, then we can report it would take some number of moves more than their initial plan.
Debrief on this round. Ask about how they went about breaking the work down, how they coordinated it, and what went well and what didn’t about it. Ask them if they could have done this without any paper or pencil to record their plan. If they discovered a mistake in their plan, what was that like and how would they recover?
In round two, explain that this time they are going to again create a plan to clean the house. This time, however, they are going to do so that allows them to get paid as soon as possible, as much as possible. At this point, they won’t know which rooms are worth the most, so they’ll have to guess. Tell them they can ask to be scored as many times as they would like.
Debrief again. Ask them what this experience was like. Compare and contrast this to the other way of planning the work. What were the strengths of each? What would these ways of planning their work be analogous to in their job?
From here, you can formally talk about the idea of decomposing stories and vertically slicing. They just did those exact things in rounds one and two respectively.