Chris Stone with Virtual Learning Games for Agile | Episode 159

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Chris is The Virtual Agile coach, a #PeopleFirst champion, and an Agile Evangelist / Agile Transformation Lead / Scrum Master possessing over 8 years of experience within the IT industry.
Chris facilitates a Meet up titled the Agile Arcade, is a vlogger, speaker, coach and trainer who always seeks to gamify content to enable consumers to connect to the subject matter and have fun whilst doing so.
He’s currently writing a book titled ‘The Virtual Agile playbook’ that will be free.


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Full episode transcription

Rob (5s):
Welcome to Professor Game podcast, where we interview successful practitioners of games, gamification and game thinking who bring us the best of their experiences to get ideas, insights, and inspiration that help us in the process of getting the students to learn what we teach. And I’m Rob Alvarez. I teach and work at IE Business School in Madrid, where we create interactive and engaging learning materials. Want to know more? Go to Start on our email list and ask me anything. Hello, Engagers. Welcome to another episode of the Professor Game podcast. And today we have Chris with us, but before we introduce you, Chris, are you prepared to engage?

Chris (49s):
I’m always prepared to engage, game on.

Rob (52s):
Let’s do this because he is the virtual agile coach, a people-first champion, and then an agile evangelist, agile transformation lead, scrum master possessing over eight years of experience within the it industry. And he also facilitates up titled the agile arcade. He is a vlogger, a speaker, a coach, and a trainer who always seeks to gamify content to enable consumers to connect to the subject matter and have fun while doing so. And he is working on a book called the virtual agile playbook, and it says here that it will be free. So keep an eye out for that. Chris, is there anything we’re missing from the intro?

Chris (1m 31s):
I think that’s an upset. Cup’s not just covers everything, so we’re good to go.

Rob (1m 36s):
Sounds great. Because we always like to get started with a very simple question, Chris, we want to be sort of sit around in your shoes for a while. So we want to know what does it feel like to be Chris? What is it like to be Chris on a day like today? What do you do? What, what is your day composed of?

Chris (1m 51s):
It feels pretty great, to be honest, I tend to wake up. I go for a nice walk to clear my head. I’ll do so either by reading an audiobook or listening to a bit of music and then I will start my day, jump on my work laptop. And that can be wherever I’m in the world at the time. Cause I’m also the virtual I’ll coach and I will start planning my day in terms of what I have to do that might be facilitating various agile ceremonies. Be they retrospective sprint planning. It might be teaching a new concept or introducing a concept through an abstract medium, usually gamifying them. And that’s pretty much it, to be honest, it’s, it’s various ceremonies, meetings, ways of promoting agility at the enterprise level.

Chris (2m 31s):
And as mentioned, I always use gamification as my key way to do that. So gaming is a huge part of my life.

Rob (2m 37s):
Absolutely, absolutely. So let’s get started with, one of the questions that we really enjoy and not because we enjoy failure, but because we enjoy learning from failure because we know it is part of life, especially in the world of games. So Chris is there something that you could call your, your, your, maybe your favorite failure or first attempt in learning one of those times when you were wanting to go North, things went South. We want to be there with you. We want to experience that, know what you learned from it, you know, how do you get out of it if you did we want to be there with you basically?

Chris (3m 6s):
Sure. So I love the question because, for me, I’m someone who believes in failing always, you know, I use the moniker to learn fast, learn often. I don’t believe failure is a bad thing and we need to de-stigmatize it. So to de-stigmatize it I’m always keen to share my failures, my war stories, my scars, and battle wounds and things like that. And the example I can think of, I’d like to tell you guys about today is I was sharing a, a new game of my own creation. It was called the agile escape room. And the way it would work is you’d be introducing agility, agile software delivery approaches and methodologies to a group of people and doing so using the agile manifesto and gamifying a sort of escape room.

Chris (3m 47s):
So I would walk into the room and I say, right, guys, you, you’re not allowed to leave this room. You got an hour to escape, otherwise, you’re not getting lunch. We’ll see, I couldn’t physically lock them in the room, but I had to try and create some sense of urgency and danger. And then, then from there, it was like up to those guys to go and explore, find various clues and tricks. And essentially they were trying to find a four-digit code that was somehow unlocked within various puzzles around the room that four-digit code would open a lockbox. That lockbox had the key inside. Now, one of the games that I prepared involved what was essentially a maze that was on the floor and tape. I basically had to map this maze on the floor that morning using, using tape. And what you would do is your team would guide you through that maze blindfolded.

Chris (4m 30s):
Now, though, in various points of the maze where mines were represented by post-it notes, I aspire to make this game as out of the box as possible so that anyone could create it using anything you have lying around the office. So we had these post-it notes representing mines, and you’d be guided through the maze by your team blindfolded. Now, um a failure. I can particularly mention this as on this occasion, was that the tape I used didn’t stick down very well. So basically meant that the first person walking through that maze destroyed it. And I remember that that whole game was ruined in seconds. My failure in that respect was to test the maze myself, to make sure that it wasn’t going to fall apart, straight away. So I lost one of my games and I had to pivot quickly towards another way of teaching that concept.

Chris (5m 12s):
The reason behind that concept was to build trust and rapport with your team to experiment with how they could improve iteratively by getting their teammates through the maze with fewer instructions over time. So again, representing agile ways of working, trying to get more efficient in the way you do things. And yeah, and that was, that was a particular failure of mine. So my own failure was the failure to test something before unleashing it to the, to those I was trying to teach the concept to

Rob (5m 36s):
You need a bit more playtesting perhaps, right?

Chris (5m 38s):

Rob (5m 40s):
Interesting. Interesting. That’s a good story. And I think the playtesting phase is very important. Maybe you could even say that that was your first playtest, but of course, there are the stakes, you know, every now and then there are stakes and stakeholders, and you want to make sure that when those are the ones who come in, you have things at least, you know, a bit more tested. Which I’m sure is the lesson that you’ve taken to heart for future occasions. And we’ve talked about failure and how you came out of it. But we want to go for a time actually, if something that you, maybe one of those proud moments you are set out to do something. And you know, when the first, the second or the nth time, it actually went well. So we want to be there with you want to share that success, of a time with you.

Chris (6m 17s):
Sure. I’ll give you another story then. So, and this time around, it’s another game, it’s a game called the gauntlets of technical debt. If you’re familiar with technical debt in the software delivery world, it can be quite an abstract concept. And there’s a game that I had used to deliver it in-person as, as a training concept. And the way it would work is you have you split your participants up into either developers or testers, and there would be whiteboards on either side of the room. And they would physically have to run the other sides of the rooms to deliver one post-it note to the other board. And then the tests would grab it and put it on their own board. And it was very frenetic. And then over time, you start to introduce chairs in the way, the chairs representing technical debt.

Chris (6m 58s):
And obviously, it becomes more complex, more difficult to navigate your way around that room safely, because you’ve got these barriers in the way, these represent technical debt, they slow down the process and the same thing happens with software delivery. Now, this is a game you could run in person. Unfortunately, obviously what’s happened this year is we’ve been unable to be in person this day. So I had to adjust that game and make it into a virtual medium. So using an online whiteboarding tool, I basically adjusted this game. So rather than physically running back and forth, you still had post-it notes. You had quite large virtual whiteboards, and you’d have to drag these post-it notes from one side of the board to the other, but to introduce the technical debt on this occasion, I had to introduce amazes that you had to move the post-it notes through.

Chris (7m 39s):
And obviously, the more complex the maze becomes, the more technical debt has built up. And it culminated with, in the final rounds I was trying to introduce the importance of dealing with technical debt as you go along, rather than allowing it to build up. So in the final round, as you deliver one thing for the workflow, you get to introduce a pathway through that maze. So I, over time you started off more sustainable delivery practices and you start to reduce your technical debt enabling you to move faster. So that’s, that’s a particular favorite game of mine, a particular challenging abstract concept in technical debt, that I solved by creating a virtual game that was accessible to everyone. And it’s, it’s free on my website.

Chris (8m 19s):
You can download and access yourself. So it’s, it’s widely accessible.

Rob (8m 23s):
Yeah. It makes a lot of sense. And it’s a very, very interesting way to sort of physically and then virtually introduce a concept that is so abstract. It’s always those concepts that I, I would argue that many times get people and it’s like, well, yeah, but what is this really about? What is, what, what do you mean when you say that? What are the real consequences and technical debt as you very well, very well portray in your game is a very, very clear concept in that sense. So, Chris, we’ve been talking about some of your, your, your attempts, failures, and successes. We want to know when you, when you approach a problem that you want to solve using games using gamification, how do you do it? Do you have some sort of process? How do you, how do you approach these, these kinds of things?

Rob (9m 3s):
Let’s say you’re going to fix something or do something tomorrow that’s related to this. How do you approach it? What are the steps? If you have a process,

Chris (9m 10s):
I do have a process and it’s called the four Cs. Are you familiar with it?

Rob (9m 15s):

Chris (9m 15s):
Nope? Okay. So the four Cs begin with connections. So I will start by ensuring that not only do the attendees connect with one another on a personal level, especially more important in these days where we can’t be face-to-face and having those conversations. So it starts with some sort of icebreaker or a connection to the content. So for example, if I was doing a retrospective that was superhero or Superhero themes, I’d probably have a superhero theme icebreaker that connects the attendees to each other, but then also connect them to the subject matter. And each of my virtual games in particular follows this process as fast with connections. So if I was doing a game that was introducing outcomes versus outputs, I would first connect the attendees to the subject matter by asking them, what do they understand outcomes and outputs to be individual?

Chris (10m 3s):
How have they used those in that, in their working lives, we start to connect to the subject matter. Then we go into the second c, which is all about contextualizing. So why is this important to us right now? Outcomes versus outputs is a particularly challenging one because people often, particularly in the software delivery world end up being given solutions, they don’t get given problems to solve. They get given outputs to deliver, and it’s far less motivating, is far less enjoyable to be part of and that it stifles creativity. So having connected them to the subject matter, having contextualized, why it’s important, we then look to go do some concrete practice, trying to represent the importance of it and how we can think about it differently through a game and through a workflow.

Chris (10m 46s):
So in the outcomes versus outputs game, what I would do is I would divide people into different groups and I would say, right, you all your challenge, your brief is to draw a beautiful summer meadow. That’s the name of the game differences is that team one over here, you’re going to be given one brief and team two. You’re going to give, given a separate one and team one’s brief as is, is an outcome-based brief team. Two is output focused briefing. You just split them up, separate them into breakout rooms and allow them, to run the game. They get two minutes to draw this in silence. And then afterward you bring them back and look, and this brings you back to the last c, which is conclusions. So based on this game, what have you discovered? How was it, what did team one do better than team two, and what can we identify and draw conclusions from, from that and what you find because team two have been given this output focus brief, which is really requirements specific is really detailed.

Chris (11m 37s):
Whereas the outcome focus brief is, is more open and you can interpret it in your own way. The result of playing this game is that the team with the output focus brief often forget the outcome in mind. So they end up doing really specific drawings of certain things, but they don’t end up drawing a beautiful summer meadow. And then the conclusions they can draw from that is a case of how, how does this translate back to our working lives? When we are given outputs to deliver, we end up focusing on the detail than actually solving the problem. So the four Cs, is my approach for gamifying things

Rob (12m 6s):
That makes a lot of sense. Can you, can you do a very, very quick recap of the four CS?

Chris (12m 11s):
Absolutely. So it begins with connections, connecting the people and the attendees to each other, and the subject matter. We then look to contextualize why, why it’s important. So an example is we can contextualize the subject outcomes outputs within that to go through the third C concrete practice, trying to replicate the importance of that particular concept in the workflow. Usually through a game, in my instance, and the last is the conclusion, it’s almost like a retrospective on the topic. It’s what have we learned from that? And what can we do differently next time?

Rob (12m 41s):
It makes a lot of sense. So thank you very much for that, Chris. just a quick break before we continue, are you enjoying this podcast? If you’re listening through a podcasting app, please subscribe and rate us on the app. This will be of great help to reach more engagers so we can change the world together through gamification. And Chris, where we’ve been talking about, you know, all these things, all these processes, all these creations that we’ve had. But can you tell us if you, if you’ve found that there is some sort of best practice, something that when you’re, when you’re creating one of these things that, you know, again, it could be gamified could be a game? One of these agile learning experiences that you create, when you’re doing that, is there some sort of best practice or something that is close to being a, a silver bullet, or something that would definitely improve a project?

Rob (13m 28s):
If, if you apply it.

Chris (13m 29s):
So I’m a firm believer, there is no silver bullets or panaceas to many situations. And I think you do need to bear in mind the situation at hand and the people at hand because the problem with standardizing is that you don’t take into account the biggest variable, which is the people. Each people are different. Each person or group or team might have different needs. I guess the only thing that I would do, and this is my, my best practice approach is to understand them, listen first, understand them, and then tailor your approach accordingly. So an example, if I was working with a certain demographic, a certain group of people that I know, they, they like a certain type of music. I’d be more inclined to make an immersive experience around their preferred type of music than if I was with perhaps a different group that I knew were largely into video games.

Chris (14m 15s):
I’d probably introduce a game or an immersion experience around video games. Does that make sense?

Rob (14m 20s):
Absolutely. It’s thinking about your players, which are always central and fundamental in any creation that you are having. So getting into recommendations, you get your first one, that best practice of taking into account your players and, and creating, designing for them. Is there somebody that you think would be interesting to interview in this podcast, somebody you would like to listen to in an interview like this one in Professor Game,

Chris (14m 42s):
There is for me, I think this one might come a little bit out of left field. This guy’s name is Denis Dyak and he is the creator of a videogame I’ve played. When I was younger, it was released in 2002. It was games with total darkness. The reason for this is that it was the most immersive experience of a video game of this era that I ever came across. This game was called Eternal Darkness Sanity’s Requiem. And part of the experience was there. It started to make you actually feel like you were going a little bit crazy. So as an example, you would be navigating through a real-world map. And you would go through a door and then suddenly you start to experience things like the screen would flash up and say, Oh, your, your controller is unplugged.

Chris (15m 25s):
And you’re like, my controller isn’t unplugged. What’s going on. There was, there was genuinely a sanity meter along the top. And, and that’s that decreased. The more crazy things would happen, suddenly your screen would disappear and you’d be like, what’s going on. Or his body parts will start falling off one by one and you’d be attacked by something invisible. That was just all sorts of random effects that would happen. And to me, that was such an immersive experience that is just, I think it was one of the things that inspired me to create and gamify things because I was so immersed inside it that I enjoyed it. And it helped me connect to the game even more so,

Rob (15m 56s):
And understand what was going on and what may be, have a glimpse into what that insanity could look like, which I guess was one of the purposes of that creator. Right? So that sounds like an amazing potential guest. And maybe we could have this person on the podcast in the future. We’ll see. But it would be quite interesting to see those perspectives of that immersion because again, sometimes games, as you were saying, are used for a purpose and you want people to experience something. So that makes sense, actually. So again, with recommendations, is there any book that you would tell this audience that you would, you would recommend something that we maybe should read

Chris (16m 31s):
There is, there’s a, there’s a book called Gamestorming. It’s by Dave Gray, Sonni Brown and James Macanufo. It’s a book, a bit of a playbook for innovators, rulebreakers and changemakers is how it’s described, but it’s a game that’s about innovating. It’s about how you can create an immersive experience, includes a lot of games you can play to improve communication, break down barriers, create ideas and strategies and all sorts of things like that. Overcome conflict, there are various things and options you have in that playbook. But for me, that was one of them, one of the things that it’s, that I, I read. I, I liked, and it enabled me to think about other ways of doing things in particularly gamified from more

Rob (17m 10s):
Gamestorming. So there you go. Very interesting has a very nice teaser from Chris. So Chris, what would you say is your superpower in this world of gamification that sweet spot, that thing that you do, you probably do better than most?

Chris (17m 25s):
Well, this is an interesting one. My superpower, I think, has to be the fact that I am completely fearless. It’s either that or have this regenerative ability. You think Deadpool, Deadpool loses a limb and it grows back. This is the same with me. I am fearless or I’m able to reach or able to regenerate. Even if I’m damaged, even if something goes horribly wrong, I just, it doesn’t bother me. It doesn’t phase me and I carry on and do something different. So when I, for example, in the, in the gaming context, if I fail miserably, I don’t mind it doesn’t bother me. I’ll just bounce. It’ll bounce back off of me. And I’ll just, I’ll just create another game and do it again, or learn from it importantly,

Rob (18m 1s):
Very useful, very powerful, especially in this world where I would argue in the end. It’s one of the lessons that we have from the creation of games and game design. It’s not about getting it right the first time. It’s about actually being able to get it really right by probably iterating more than once. So that is definitely a superpower. What would you say, Chris? And this is probably one of the most difficult questions of the podcast for many of the interviewees. What would you say is your favorite game?

Chris (18m 28s):
Oh yeah. It’s, it’s so difficult because it just like, just like with books and they don’t ask me that the best I can give them as a top-five, rather than any individual game because there are, there are so many, I mean, I’m going to go back to video games now there’s going to be final fantasy is in there, final fantasy seven. Year. A nice role-playing game. There’s probably Skyrim in there somewhere. There’s Mario Kart. There’s Goldeneye for Nintendo 64. Yeah. There are just so many games. I just bring it from my mind right now. I can possibly,

Rob (18m 53s):
Oh my goodness Goldeneye of the Nintendo 64, those sweet times.

Chris (18m 57s):
I know. And yet if you try and play it nowadays, it just, it’s just not the same. The controls feel clunky at the end of the pixels spread so much. It’s just, awe, I think it’s just, it’s perfect in my mind as it was. I don’t want to play it again.

Rob (19m 9s):
I’m playing, I’m playing Fortnite out of 007 nostalgia.

Chris (19m 15s):
Right? Cool.

Rob (19m 16s):
That makes sense. That those are great, great games. Then, Chris, we have time today and we will approach this random question that we get every now and then, especially when we do have some time left in an interview, and I will pick a question randomly from the audience that they have sent it beforehand. And hopefully, you’ll give us an insightful answer. So here it comes. Okay. How do you find out if your game idea will be right for your learners, the learners, your players, I’m guessing, and I guess it also makes sense with your recommendation’s.

Chris (19m 48s):
Well, how I find out quite simply, I’ll ask them, I’ll test it with them. As I said, I’m fearless in that approach. So as long as you approach it with a bit of vulnerability and just admit this isn’t perfect. It’s not final, but I’d love to hear feedback. I thought if I’m most people are very on board with that. The other alternative you have there is to test it with perhaps some other, other gamers beforehand. And this is something I learned from my failure. We talked about previously where I did that game, that playtesting, we talked about, I didn’t playtest it. That was a failure. And I put it live with people before it was ready. What I tend to say now is as part of my agile arcade meetup, that is one of my forums to say, right, guys, got this new game, experimenting with it. Not quite ready for the general public yet. It’s not quite ready for real play, but I’d love to hear your feedback.

Chris (20m 29s):
Could it be better? Could we do this differently? How I had missed something? So for me, it’s definitely either just explore it with some like-minded professionals first, some other fellow gamers and get their feedback or be vulnerable and open. Just start with it, admit that it’s a bit raw. It’s not quite ready yet and learn from it from that. A great quote that I learned from a colleague of mine, Carl Adamson. He said, if you release something and you’re not a little bit embarrassed about it when you release it, you’ve probably released it too late

Rob (20m 56s):
I think. And I’m not sure if that is the original quote, but it’s from the founder of LinkedIn. I think that that quote of, if you’re not embarrassed by the time you ship it, you’re, you’re, you’re probably shipped too late, something like that. And it is fantastic. I do think, especially again, in this, in this agile world and this world of game design, so many things that we’ve learned from that is one of them is that playtesting has to happen as early as possible. That is the best way where, where, where you can find out if, if, if what you’re creating is right, but I would even take it a step, a step behind because that’s something that Chris mentioned before. Think about them, analyze them as much as you can understand them as better as you can.

Rob (21m 36s):
And then, of course, go ahead and reach out, test it with friends and family, then test it out with people who are close, akin to, to that final potential user that you would have there. And of course, before you launch it live, test it may be with one, two, or more final users. If you can to see if there’s anything that’s still left around, that you can fix that you can improve. And then, of course, the big launch, it doesn’t mean you can’t improve. You can’t change and, and make, make things better. But of course, you’ve gone through all these steps and your success is going to be closer to you hopefully, and you will be able to have gone through many of the hoops that you probably would have needed to go through after the launch, which is not what you want.

Rob (22m 16s):
So, Chris, is there anything that you want to leave the engagers with any final piece of advice before you tell us as well, where to find you?

Chris (22m 23s):
So if you, if you’re keen on trying gamifying things, if you’ve never done so before come and join the agile arcade as, as a free meetup, there’s currently just, just working in the GMT time zone, but I’m looking to expand out to other times in as well, a bit more, a bit more inclusive there you can meet with fellow gamers, you can practice in games, you can suggest your own. There’s also a lot of resources online for gamifying things. So try there are a lot of agile focused games on there where you could, most of them are in fairness face-to-face, but they can be with a bit of creativity, converted to remote ways of doing things. Those would be my starting points. And I guess that to reflect back on the previous question, just, just try it, just do a quick feedback loop, do an experiment, learn from it and iterate from there.

Rob (23m 11s):
Absolutely, absolutely. And Chris, where can we find you again, whether it’s in the world of the internet, social media, how can we get in contact and know more about Chris, the agile coach,

Chris (23m 21s):
Various ways? So you’ve got that That’s my website on there. There are lots of free templates and resources about making agility work virtually, including that’s where we’re very hosting my book, which has been delivered in an agile way, by the way, there’ll be chapter by chapter delivery with feedback source and even allowing the audience to prioritize the next chapter. So it’s going to be different in an agile way. So we get a lot of feedback inserted as we go along. LinkedIn is the virtual agile coach. Again, and same with YouTube. You can find me on the virtual agile coach on YouTube,

Rob (23m 56s):
Interesting many places to find you a lot of information for us to digest a lot of free resources as well, which is always very well appreciated. So thank you very much, Chris, for investing this time in this audience in the engagers and sharing your experience, your, the things that you’ve done, your, your process so much knowledge and, and things that have happened to you, which are always useful for us to get inspired. So thanks again, Chris. However, for now, and at least for today, it is time to say that it’s game over. Hey engagers, thank you for listening to Professor Game podcast. And I hope you enjoyed this interview, and I’d like to know if you have any questions that you would like to ask future guests.

Rob (24m 36s):
Like the one that we asked here, all you have to do is go to and ask that burning question that you have, if it is selected and you have pretty good chances, it will come up in a future episode and you will receive your answer live. And before, of course, before you go onto your next mission, remember to subscribe using your favorite podcast app and listen to the next episode of Professor Game. See you there.

End of transcription

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