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Empowerment through Action Poker

Paul Lister

Scrum Master

suggests how to avoid 'Lord of the Flies'–style meetings

11 December 2017

Most immature Scrum teams have an unstated hierarchy, especially when it comes to developers.

When watching the teams in the different Scrum rituals, it is apparent that often the team member with the loudest voice or biggest personality will dominate the conversation, and hence any decisions based on that conversation. In fairness, sometimes such members become self-aware enough to temper their enthusiasm so that someone else can volunteer and opine but, more often than not, this is not the case.

This made me think of Piggy.

Piggy is a character in William Golding's book Lord of the Flies. Piggy is both physically and psychologically weaker than the other boys who are stranded on the island (at least as I remember it; it's been a while since I read the book), but he has good ideas. During meetings, Piggy tries to use a conch shell as an indicator of who can talk next (that is, whoever is holding the shell has the floor). This was a good idea, but, unfortunately, the other boys eventually dominate the conversation (spoilers), and not only is the conch broken but poor Piggy gets killed as well.

So how do we fix this problem? I suggest that you give everyone a voice and the power of decision no matter what.

How? Action Poker, that's how!

Action Poker

The rules of Action Poker are simple.

Create a proposed action

Creating an action usually takes ten minutes.

  1. Think of one action you would like to implement and write it on a card anonymously.
  2. Note the action type on the card as 'Technical', 'Behavioral' or 'Other'.
  3. Identify whether the action is for the 'Team', an 'Individual' on the team, or 'Other'. These owners are self-explanatory, apart from 'Other'. 'Other' can be an organizational action for which the Scrum Master is responsible.

Play the game

  1. The first player is chosen.
  2. The first (action) player reads aloud their proposed action and type and presents the card to the group, explaining to whom it applies (Team, Individual, or Other). Every player whose turn it is to present an action automatically gives everyone a voice, even if the action is not taken on by the team.
  3. If it is for an Individual, the card is placed in front of that individual.
  4. The player to the right of the first player then plays a Decision card:
    • Try-It Wildcard: Action is undertaken for the sprint. This card trumps the Yes, No and Maybe card. But it can be negated by a Veto card.
    • Yes: Player supports the action.
    • No: Player does not support the action.
    • Maybe: Player wants to discuss the action.
    • Veto Wildcard: Player stops the action. Trumps Yes, No and Maybe cards. It can be negated by the Try-It card.
  5. After playing the Decision card, the player must explain why he or she chose that action. The idea behind this is to empower the less confident or inexperienced team members to be part of the decision-making process, giving them time to explain their support or to contradict the action without interruption.
  6. The next player on the right plays his or her Decision card and explains.
  7. The action player plays the Decision card last.
  8. The team examines and discusses the Decision cards and can either agree or decide that the majority decision rules. If no wildcards have been played or they have been played but negated, teams can replay Yes/No/Maybe cards after discussion.
  9. The action is then agreed to or discarded.
  10. A new player becomes the action player, and the game starts again.
  11. A round is complete when everyone has been the action player once.
  12. If players want to generate new actions, rounds can continue.

Note: A player can play their wildcards only once in a round.

The benefits of Action Poker

By using Action Poker, everyone can express his or her point of view. The game gives equal time to both Actioners and Decision Makers during their discussion of improvements. It also gives the team the chance to ask individuals to make changes in positive areas, but if a team member is not comfortable with the action, he or she can veto the action to negate it.

The aim of this empowerment game is to promote a positive feedback effect. It encourages introverts to come out of their shell, thus creating cross-emotional as well as cross-functional members.

So, it may be worth trying this game to determine whether we can improve intra-team communications. After all, no one wants any more dead Piggies.

This article first appeared on the Scrum Alliance website (external link).

Paul Lister is a Scrum Master at Aquila Heywood, the largest supplier of life and pensions administration software solutions in the UK.

Further Reading