Look Into My Eyes!

This is a great agile ice breaker exercise you can do with a group of people of almost any size. It is fun, quick and demonstrates a key lesson of agile… I first came across it on a site visit at UsTwo with MOJ Digital, and have used it a lot since then.

A4 paper (3 sheets each)
Pens (1 each)

find a partner (you have 10 seconds)
Each pair has 20 seconds to draw a portrait of their partner
Both portraits happen simultaneously
YOU CANNOT LOOK AT THE PAPER, you must only look at the face of your partner throughout!
After 20 seconds, look at the paper, sign the portrait, hand it to the partner, find a new partner. All in 20 seconds again.
Go again. And again.
Each person should now have 3 amazing portraits of themselves. Tell them to choose their favourite, and write their name clearly on it.
One a time, get the people to introduce themselves, show their chosen portrait, and importantly, say why they chose it. For example, one person told me “because it is in orange ink,” another said “because it makes me look like a beer mug.”
After everyone has been, pick a couple of people with the funniest explanations, and ask them, “Is that reason what you were looking for before you saw the portraits? Were you always wanting to look like a beer mug?”
It should turn out that this is a complex problem, we don’t know what style of picture you want to represent you, you need someone to do something to help you refine your understanding of what you actually want. This is what we do in agile. We understand that when problems are complex, people need to do something to understand the problem better, not analyse the problem. Once we have something, we seek early feedback (Sprint Review) not so we can be congratulated, not so we can better understand what the stakeholders want, but so that the stakeholders themselves can better understand what they need. We the team have no chance of understanding what is needed if the customer themselves don’t know, which is exactly the situation we are in with complex problems. What they ask for at the start is not what they need, it’s their current best understanding of what they need to solve their problem. By doing something, (the work of in the sprint), and showing it back to them, we change their understanding of the problem. That is why we do agile….