Agile Games: Paper Airplanes

Paper airplanes aren’t just for kids. They can also help cement agile concepts for small or large groups.

The Overview

Teams will compete against each other by creating paper airplanes. Each team scores points when their airplane makes it past a set distance.

All of the teams will have three rounds made up of:

  1. Planning (3 minutes)
  2. Building (3 minutes)
  3. Retrospective (3 minutes)

The team with the most cumulative points through the three rounds wins!

Why?

Even something simple like paper airplanes can help teams understand some core concepts of agile processes. I’ve found this game helpful to explain:

  1. Definition of Done (DOD)
  2. Estimation
  3. Incremental Improvement
  4. Usefulness of Retrospective
  5. Timeboxing (Sprints)

Materials

  1. Paper… a LOT of paper.
  2. Whiteboard, flip chart, or large TV to keep score.
  3. Tape or something to mark the throwing line and the “finish/point” line. The distance should be hard to achieve, ideally 10+ meters (30+ feet) apart.

Rules

  1. Only planes that cross the finish/point line count as a point. I typically allow planes that both fly and slide across count as a point. It’s up to you to define what “crossing” means. Is it any part of the plane or does the entire plane need to be fully across?
  2. Each team has the same amount of paper.
  3. A plane can only be thrown once. If it passes the throwing line in one round, the team cannot use it again in a different round even if it didn’t make it to the finish/point line.
  4. Planes cannot be crumpled into a paper ball.
  5. Planes can only be made of one sheet of paper (no paper clips, tape, etc.).
  6. Each team provides an estimate of the number of points they will get before each round.
  7. Each team should add a logo/number on the plane (helps keep track of points).
  8. Optional: Planes can’t have a pointy end (safety first 👷‍♀️).
  9. Optional: Add something to the Defenition Of Done (DOD) like adding a logo or name to each paper airplane.
  10. Optional: Teams can either have an unlimited supply of paper, or they have a set amount of paper, which they can use however they want throughout the three rounds.
  11. I prefer a set of paper so there isn’t excess waste and it gets the same agile concepts across.

Game Time

Round 1

Explain the rules and allow for questions. Have people move into teams of 4 to 10, then go through the 5 steps below:

Step 1: 3 minutes for the teams to plan for their paper airplane building, throwing, etc.
Step 2: 3 minutes for building planes.
Step 3: Get each team’s point estimate. Record it on the point board.
Step 4: 3 minutes of throwing (all teams can throw at the same time). Record the points for each team.
Step 5: 3 minutes for each team to do their retrospective.

Round 2

Repeat the 5 steps from round 1.

Round 3

Repeat the 5 steps from round 1.

Debrief

After all three rounds are done, tally the points up and announce the winning team (who had the most points). Then, bring up some questions from the list below based on how much time you have for the debrief.

Estimation

  • How did your estimates change over the three rounds? Better/worse/why?
  • How did your group decide? Single person, team effort? Why?

Incremental Improvement / Retrospectives

  • What were one or two things that came up during a retro, that had a positive effect?
  • How did you incorporate other team’s successes and failures into your team?

Timeboxing (Sprints)

  • Instead of three rounds, you had 9 minutes to plan, then 9 minutes to build, then 9 minutes to throw (waterfall method), would your team have more or fewer points?
  • Instead of planning, building, and throwing in timeboxes, what would happen if there were simply 3 rounds of 9 minutes (planning, building and throwing totally combined).

Definition of Done (DOD)

  • Was the DOD clear? If not, why?
  • Were there any planes that were disqualified? Why?

Brent