Katie Dwyer, an agile consultant for Seapine, stands in front a whiteboard, sticky notes at the ready. On the board is a drawing of the ocean out to the horizon, with a sailboat above and the sea below. In the room is the agile development team at software provider Seapine, ready to do a retrospective about the last project they worked on.

Development team members shout out what they think went well in the last iteration of software they create, and Dwyer places those notes in the sails, representing wind that propelled the project forward. Next, they proclaim what went wrong, and those sticky notes are placed in the sea as an anchor, representing drag on the project. Anchors can be placed close to the bottom of the boat, representing a small issue, or deep in the sea, representing a larger conflict.

This agile development exercise is actually a game called Speed Boat, created by Luke Hohmann, founder and CEO of The Innovation Games Company. Speed Boat is part of the 12 original games he created to facilitate work through games.

According to Innovation Games’ website, the rules are identical to how Seapine’s team plays: using anchors as negatives and wind in the sails as positives. The bigger picture, though, is that game-playing can engage team members who might otherwise be reticent to offer input into processes and projects. In that regard, using these games is not just playing around.

Game start
Alan Bustamante, a senior agile consultant, has been working with Innovation Games for two years and decided to bring it to Seapine when he joined Seapine in August of last year.

“If a team is new to games, I’ll start with something I’m familiar with first. The word ‘game’ is sometimes negative, so we’ll say an exercise. Games are becoming part of the agile culture,” he said.

Dwyer added that Speed Boat was introduced to the team as an exercise, and a way of allowing all the voices in the team to be heard.

Agile games, according to Hohmann, are used to teach agile principles, something Michael McCullough, senior technical director at Quadrus Development, agrees with.