Kanban Games

As someone with good knowledge of the Kanban method, people ask me from time to time about good games as learning tools to aid people in learning the method. Also, as an accredited trainer and coach, I must be using some interactive tools or games to help transfer my knowledge to the clients. So, which games do I use?

GetKanban is, of course, the first game I should mention. Russell Healy invented it six years ago and many people around the world have played it ever since. (Russell won the Brickell Key award, the highest honour in Kanban, in 2011 for inventing this game.)

GetKanban V5 Example

The full version of the game takes about three hours to play. A shortened variant takes 90-120 minutes, which makes the game accessible to after-work community groups and conference sessions where many people have actually played the game.

GetKanban has evolved since its invention and is now up to version 5. I use this version, with a few rule modifications in one of my training classes.

The 2-day Kanban System Design (KSD) class, classified as KMP I-level training in the Lean Kanban University curriculum, is where GetKanban game is the most appropriate. Here we teach people to apply Kanban at the service-delivery level, not the team level, to understand and use Kanban systems, and to design Kanban systems for services within their organizations using the systems thinking approach. Students learn many Kanban system elements such as work item types, classes of service, workflow activities, commitment points, replenishment, delivery planning, explicit policies, visualization of risk, cadences, transaction costs, coordination costs, and so on. They learn what to observe in their unique business environments and how to incorporate their understanding into their Kanban system design. The GetKanban game within the context of this class allows them to actually learn these things by experiencing them. Much better than listening to a lecture!

Note that the game itself doesn’t deliver training in Kanban system design. The 2-day KSD class works and is effective because it includes the game and many other activities and they all fit together. Nearly all people who have played GetKanban at some point and took the class later reported that their understanding of the method and skill in applying Kanban increased greatly after the class.

FeatureBan. This is a relatively new game, invented by Mike Burrows. It is simpler, more compact than GetKanban, and takes less time to play: 60-90 minutes. It is a great fit for introductory and team-level Kanban training. I use it in the 1-day Team Kanban Practitioner (TKP) class.

FeatureBan Example

Playing GetKanban in the TKP class would consume more time. But time is scarce and we are better off using it for more learning outcomes. (Not a speculation, we have tried this approach.) At the same time, GetKanban is very effective and a better fit to the 2-day KSD class and its service-orientation agenda. As with many things Kanban trainers and coaches do, appropriateness for the context and coherence of problems at hand and variations of approaches to them are always considered.

Kanban Boat Game invented by Klaus Leopold. In this game, the players form a line and make paper boats. This game is superficially similar to various other flow games, where players make things out of pieces of paper and, when they start controlling work-in-process (WIP), their flow gets better and productivity improves.

Kanban Boat Game Boats

Klaus’ Boat Game, however, is different, because it actually teaches a different and very important point: the limitations (and in some contexts, futility) of the team-level Kanban introduction. As one of the modules in Team Kanban Practitioner (TKP) training is about students’ understanding these limitations, learning there’s more to Kanban and how and when to move up to the service-oriented Kanban system design, the Boat Game is a very useful tool in this class. Late in the class, to be clear — not before the participants have played FeatureBan and achieved more foundational learning outcomes through FeatureBan and several interactive exercises.

As far as I know, there are no written instructions to the Boat Game yet. Klaus did post a video. I found the facilitation tricky. There were many important nuances for the trainer to pay attention to that could make a difference between achieving the deep learning outcomes this game is for and yet another paper-folding game. Klaus makes it look easy. The best way for others to learn this game is to have been at the Kanban Leadership Retreat in Mayrhofen where we played this game and came up with the TKP curriculum. This should not to deter professional Kanban trainers who should by all means practice and learn it. I intend to use this game every time I run a TKP class, late in the class, of course.

Other games. There are many simple flow games, such as the dot game, the coin game, the name game, etc. They will teach people how to see the flow of work and how controlling WIP can lead to better quality or productivity. These games are entirely appropriate for Kanban and Lean thinking enthusiasts to show the basic concepts of flow to beginner audiences. However, in Lean Kanban University-accredited training classes, which are all tailored to meet certain learning outcomes (changes in what people actually do after the class as far as managing work in their companies), accredited trainers use appropriately different games that have evolved and are uniquely adapted to those outcomes.

Summary

  • GetKanban game version 5 in the Kanban System Design (KMP I-level) class
  • FeatureBan and Kanban Boat Game in the Team Kanban Practitioner (TKP) class
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