The velocity/wip game

While I was at Jerry Weinberg's Problem Solving Leadership workshop last week (which was truly fantastic) I showed a group of fellow attendees a very simple velocity/wip game I've invented. You simply create some cards and arrange them into columns. Each card has a number written on it which is it's estimate. The photo shows the setup for our game; the left column (eg Analysis) contained the numbers 1,8,2; the middle column (eg Design) contained the numbers 1,1,5; the right column (eg Testing) contained the numbers 8,1,2. We put one person on each column; Darrin on analysis, Ted on Design, and Tim on Testing. Play proceeds as follows:
  • each player gets N (eg 3) dice which they each roll over and over again
  • if a player rolls a 1 they add one to their running tally (which starts at zero)
  • if their tally reaches a number on a card in their column they can move that card one column to the right and reduce their tally by that number
  • that's it! (you can also add wip limits to the columns if you like)
Paul was on the timer and gave us one minute. After the minute was up we added up the...
  • work-in-progress: the total of the cards still in the three columns
  • velocity: the total of the cards that got moved out of the rightmost column (into an extra rightmost column called Done)

The first minute

The wip was 25 and the velocity was 11. This makes a total of 36 which is greater than the total we started with. This is because there is also an extra left-most column called Backlog which contains more numbered cards. Darrin was on the left Analysis column and after moving all three of his cards into Ted's middle Design column he pulled some more work into his column from the Backlog. Despite this Ted was starved of work for part of the minute.

The second minute

We reset the board back to it's initial position and decided to try and increase the velocity by smoothing the work. We split the high cards into multiple smaller cards. For example, the 8 was split into 3,3,2. Then we did another minute's worth of work. This time the wip was 18 and the velocity was 18. Once again this makes a total of 36 and once again Darrin pulled in more work from the Backlog after emptying his Analysis column. Because the work was less lumpy Ted wasn't starved and the velocity went up.

The third minute

We reset the board back to it's initial position from the second minute. This time we decided to try and lower the work-in-progress left over at the end. After all, if the project got canceled that wip would be waste. To do this we agreed not to introduce any new work from the backlog, and also that anyone's dice could contribute to the tally on anyone's column. Then we did another minute's worth of work. This time the wip was 9 and the velocity was 20.


Simply by smoothing the work and working together we increased velocity by a factor of ~2 (11 to 20) and reduced the wip by a factor of ~3 (25 to 9). Simple!