Learn why smaller batch work is more productive for the team overall and how to implement the Penny Game with one's own team. Explore the benefits of hand-offs to avoid idle waiting time, as cross-functional teams work better.
- Most of us cling to the notion that if we could just focus on our work in a quiet office all by ourselves we'd be much more productive. The problem is is that you're actually right, but most organizations aren't just one individual. You as an individual probably would be much more productive just working on your own tasks. But as a team overall, you'd actually be less productive. You probably don't believe me, and that's why I love the penny game.
To start the game you'll arrange several people around a table. These people represent members of a team or even different functional areas. Each team member has their own batch of work. To keep things simple, this work is just to flip pennies. Each team member flips pennies two at at time, then passes them to a coworker. To monitor the team's progress you could record how long it takes each person to finish their work and how long it takes for the customer to get their first glance of the product and when it's finished.
I usually run the penny game in three rounds. For this first round, I have each person flip all 10 pennies. Remember that this is how most people prefer to work. They can just focus on all 10 pennies, and when they're done they could hand it off to the next person. This is the equivalent of sitting in your office all day and focusing just on your own work. You can see that each person is pretty productive. They're finishing their big batches around 10 seconds. But the customer doesn't get their product until 52 seconds.
For the second round, the team creates two batches of five pennies. In this smaller batch their coworkers can start working much more quickly. Each team member doesn't have to wait for the full handoff. They can start to work as soon as they receive their first batch. So you can see this is making each individual team member much less productive. The smaller batches are slowing down each person. So now everyone is hovering around 12 seconds. But the customer gets their first batch of work in only 28 seconds.
And then the team finishes in 34 seconds. For the third round, they break their work down into five batches of two pennies. So we're getting rid of these big handoffs and keeping the team from multitasking. Everyone is focused on their own two pennies. It took each team member around 14 seconds to complete the work. Four seconds longer than the batch of 10. But the customer gets to see the work dramatically faster, receiving the first glimpse in only 11 seconds and the entire product in 23 seconds.
Half the time of the first round. During the first round when people could focus on the entire batch, they were individually more productive, but the customer didn't receive the work until much later. So the overall team productivity was quite low. When the work was broken down into smaller batches, each team member took longer to finish their own work, but the team delivered the product in half the time. So if you're a manager seeing this dip in individual productivity, it can be a real challenge when starting to work as an agile team.
But the penny game shows that while individual productivity decreases, the overall productivity of the whole team will increase, and the customer will get their product much more quickly. The most productive way to work as an agile team is by moving around small batches work and eliminating handoffs even if your own productivity decreases.
- Values and principles of the agile manifesto
- The cost of multitasking
- Writing user stories
- Prioritizing work with a taskboard
- Responding to change
- Committing to sprints
- Popular agile frameworks, including Kanban
- Essential team roles
- Major agile challenges