Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The ScrumLiner Game - doing a new Scrum simulation game in my CSM classes

I am using a new game in my CSM classes, it turned out to be really fun and helps understanding the true nature of Scrum a lot. For a very long time I was struggling with which kind of games it makes sense to participants to really get a first hand experience of what Scrum is all about. I was trying all the games I know that other CSTs are doing, like "Scrum in 59 minutes" etc. All of them worked for me, but I found a new one, that has actually exceeded all of my expectations. I have done it a couple of times so far and improved on it a bit, here's what we do.

The ScrumLiner Game: A team effort to build an airliner out of paper using Scrum

That's the product vision so far. Splitting the class into teams of 5-10 people and having them choose one person as their Product Owner and another one as their Scrum Master, and myself - as the trainer - play the role of a Stakeholder, the president of the aircraft manufacturing company. I hand out a prepared Product Backlog and a vision document. Product Owners are free to decide on the details but should meet my business goals. The Backlog can be refined as the first User Story is quite a big one - we do not estimations at this time as my focus is on collaboration within the team. I have a couple of User Stories that make up the Product Backlog, such as Passenger Cabin, with at least 20 windows, doors and emergency exits, Wings, Landing Gear, Tail Fin and Cockpit. The Backlog cards are actually quite detailled and have a list of acceptance criteria on the back side (you get the idea).

We conduct a short sprint planning of 5 minutes, where the Scrum Team discusses a sprint goal and they take over one or more Stories. Then they create a plan of how to do it.

During the sprint I coach the ScrumMasters to take particularly care of the teams collaboration. We do a kind of a Daily Scrum every ten minutes, so they can inspect & adapt on their progress towards achieving the sprint goal, the sprint net time is 30 minutes. Typically, in the first sprint they take over too much work and collaboration during the sprint lacks a bit. But you already can see all the problems Scrum Teams also have in reality, blockages etc. are arising, I hand out a limited number of tools per team such as scissors, cellotape and glue - so they need to work on the deliveries collectively. Even the anti-patterns like ScrumMasters taking over sprint work, not solving impediments etc. become visible in the simulation.

Most of the teams start to work on the passenger cabin, a rather huge story that demands quite good collaboration to finish it within a sprint of 30 minutes. So in almost all of the cases they are not going to finish it. Many teams are highly motivated and take over up to even three user stories, such as cabin, cockpit and tail, what turns out to be way too much for the sprint. In the first sprint almost none of the teams did have daily scrums.

After the 30 minutes working in the sprint, we stop and do a 5 minute review where we inspect the "product increment" they have done so far. I put on a slide with particular things to look at and they demo their product to me - I give feedback, so they may find new stories even. Some new acceptance criteria arise during that and become new stories for the team. We also do a 5 minute retrospective, where I give also hints on what to look for. They find a lot of process improvements and I coach the ScrumMasters to particularly take care and look that the team works on them also during the next sprint.

We run two more sprints where a whole bunch of new things arise and they really can see all the typical problems a Scrum Team faces, such as late testing, total lack of, lack of continuous- or only late integration, architectural decisions, forgetting about acceptance criteria, DOD, etc. surface and can be discussed afterwards.

Almost all teams come to finish a product, an Airliner with all the acceptance criteria met and they not only had a lot of fun and enjoyed a highly intense collaboration but also learned a lot about Scrum by actually doing it.

Here are some pictures I shot in my recent classes in India and as you can see, people had really a lot of fun and there is a shippable Product at the end with some first hand experience of how Scrum really works.

Particularly for me as the trainer, this simulation has worked out best so far and I am happy if you also want to give it a try in your classes (an attribution would be fine). I can share the all the preparation material, the Backlog cards and the bill of material needed with you, just get in touch with me, I'll be happy to send it to you!

About the creation: During the last classes I was thinking of how to improve on the learning experience and I wanted to build something but run a simulation that is very close to a real Scrum environment. I actually have a co-trainer, Satisha Venkataramaiah from Bangalore, who I was discussing with about it and he came up with the construction of a building, inspired by my slide picture of "Framework" for explaining the Scrum Framework. Actually we discussed and came up with the idea of doing airplanes and finally we found ourselves in a funny and deep going discussion on this idea. I have improved it multiple times so it really works quite well now.


  1. Can you provide me with any training material for this game? I am teaching a software engineering course at the University of Maine and I would like to have my students conduct this scrum simulation. It would be helpful to see your project backlog and any other helpful information you can offer.

  2. You can download instructor notes, backlog and bill of material needed for playing this game from our company website at

  3. My use of the ScrumLiner simulation went very well with my software engineering class. We had a few minor issues I will just list here for the record:

    * the 20 minute Sprint timebox needs to be sub-divided so the 2 minute daily standup meetings are clearly called out and considered an integral part of this 20 minute sprint timebox. Its easy to loose sight of the need to have the

    * With such tight timeboxes, students did not relyl heavily on the taskboard to identify their work and schedule their work and keep the taskboard updated so it correctly reflected what the team was doing at any given minute. But teams that did make good use of the taskboard were more successful in the end.

    * Two teams made prototypes in the first sprint and this was helpful. They found the cost in time compared to the amount of time they had for the project (3, 20 minute sprints) to do the prototype was very high and the payoff may not have been as obvious.

    * Teams tend not to focus on building a potentially shippable increment when it comes to an airliner. So for example, wings or landing gear are not easy to demonstrate as being useful by themselves. So the skeleton to be fleshed out incrementally is more difficult with hardware like an airliner than it is with software.

    I enjoyed using your simulation and found it to be very good for teaching people about Scrum.

  4. Hi Andreas,

    Looks like a really cool simulation. However I was unable to download the material from the above mentioned link. Could you please share the link again.

  5. This is so cool to understand scrum, I impart workshops in my organisation can I get backlog and material details to refer. I would like to introduce this exercise in my workshops as we are travel technology company and participants would definitely enjoy this. My contact Meetu29@gmail.com


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