Agile Principles Seen Through Paintball

Episode 23

August 03, 2011




The Agile Weekly Crew discuss playing paint ball and how it applies to Agile principles.

Episode Notes

Clayton Lengel-Zigich, Roy van de Water, Derek Neighbors and Jade Meskill talk about an experience playing paintball as a team and how it relates to agile principles.

Inspect and adapt

Iterations felt natural

Focused on us not external factors

beat ourselves not the other team

exposing vulnerabilities

bite size




hitting impediments before they show up through using “i feel exposed” during standups

getting to point where vulnerability is okay

core protocols – check-in protocol

perceptions can be reality

feelings aren’t facts

shared vision minimizes politics

learn healthy conflict


Clayton Lengel‑Zigich:  Welcome to another episode of the Scrumcast. I’m Clayton Lengel‑Zigich.

Derek Neighbors:  I’m Derek Neighbors.

Roy Van de Water:  I’m Roy Van de Water.

Jade Meskill:  I’m Jade Meskill.

Clayton:  Last week we as a team went and did paintball. Wooh. It was a lot of fun, and one of the things we noticed that a lot of the principles that we use day to day really translated pretty well into paintball. We were all surprised by that, as we talked about it more and more, at the end of the day.

Roy:  How nerdy is that! [laughs]

Clayton:  Yeah, I know.


Clayton:  As we talked about it more after lunch, after we did paintball, we were pretty surprised. One thing that’s kind of funny, to give a mental picture to everybody, is that the opponents for paintball were a bunch of 13 year olds.

Roy:  At best. [laughs]

Clayton:  Yeah, at best, so think about that.


Derek:  With pro gear.

Clayton:  That’s true.

Jade:  They did play everyday.

Clayton:  One of the principles that I think we kind of discovered that we did…As we went through the different rounds, the format was basically, we played three games with two matches each or something like that. We did a pretty good job of inspecting and adapting. Who wants to jump in and comment on that one?

Roy:  I thought one of the things that’s pretty cool is that it felt natural. We didn’t even realize that we were trying to adopt, inspect, and adapt principles until way after we went home, after the paintball event, right?

Like it just came natural that “All right, we did this, that didn’t work. Let’s try something else.” We were constantly reflecting and spending the time between matches, coming up with what we were going to do better to follow the match.

Derek:  I think the thing that stuck out to me the most is we didn’t really talk at all about the other team. When we had success or failure, every time we were looking for improvement, it wasn’t anything about “They’re doing this. We need to do that.”

It was all, “These are the things we need to do and to improve.” I thought that, that was kind of interesting. Our focus wasn’t like, “Oh, they’re killing us at this. So, we need to respond to that.” It was like, “These are the little, itty‑bitty incremental things that we need to do to improve how we’re doing things.”

Jade:  Which was interesting because when we first started, this is the first time that almost all of us had ever played paintball. We did end up playing against a bunch of 13‑year‑olds, but they really did have pro gear. They came in every day like this is what they did, but our focus really wasn’t on them at all. We were a little worried we’d get our butts kicked the first time in, but we just didn’t sweat it, man.

I thought that was really cool when you pointed that out afterwards, Derek. We just never even mentioned them. It was all focused on ourselves.

Clayton:  One of the thoughts that I wrote down was that, ultimately, the first game we probably tried to beat the other team and then after that it was just how can we beat ourselves from the last round. I thought that kind of encaptures that thing.

One of the other things that we’ve started to do after we did the paintball, it was easier to describe in a kind of a paintball you’re talking about being shot at and those things, but was the concept of exposing your vulnerabilities. There was times where you’d say, “When I go over here, there’s a guy that can shoot me from that little window or whatever.”

We talked about that a lot, and we found ways as a team to solve that problem. How does that really relate to the software side of things?

Derek:  I think a lot of times we go into standup and we really only talk about, “What did you do yesterday, what did you do today, and what are your impediments?” While all of those things are really relevant, I think the things that are usually the largest risk to a team are the things that the team is actually afraid of or exposing themselves to.

I don’t think we really talk about risk during a lot of our different ceremonies inside of Scrum, and I think that that’s something that we need to, as teams, as we become more trustworthy with one another and become more vulnerable with each other that we start to say, “These are the things I’m worried about,” or “Hey, by doing this, we’re leaving ourselves open to that.”

During paintball, one of the things I saw was we were doing something like duck and cover type of maneuvers where, “Hey, you’re going to send somebody out and I’ll cover you.”

The first time we did that, we were fairly successful except at one point when we advanced almost all the way to their base, our guys got nailed. When we came back, the adjustment was, “The problem is when you’re covering me, you’re covering me from the wrong angle and therefore, you’re leaving me exposed. When I get to a certain point, your angle was no longer effective cover for me and so I’m exposed, could you adjust and give me a slightly better angle so that I have more cover.”

I think we don’t do that enough as teams to say, “Hey, if I take this risk, I’m going to be exposed and if you could just shift over and do this thing for me, it would really cover and help me manage the risk that I’m taking to take that risk.” I don’t think we do that.

I think that’s why a lot of teams don’t take risk. The second part during the last game we had I thought we were super aggressive and it had everything to do with trust meaning that, by the sixth game, I knew that if [inaudible 00:05:24] said, “Go ahead and advance, I’ve got your back,” I could pretty much just stand up and run right to the target and stick a gun in their face, and not have to worry about getting hit because I knew he had my back.

When as teams you start to provide adequate cover to each other to take risk, the amount of risk you can take is monumentally huge compared to the cover‑your‑ass perspective of, “I’m not going to take any risk because I can only take care of myself.”

Roy:  I think what’s important there too is that when you have somebody covering like that, the risk becomes less of a risk.

Derek:  Correct, that’s correct.

Roy:  There’s is less chance of this going wrong because I know there’s somebody that’s got my back.

Derek:  Absolutely.

Clayton:  So one of the other things I think we did a good job of from game to game we kind of improved on small things, so it’d be kind of do some incremental improvement. We all had our own ideas of what those things were, but I was curious what you guys thought. What are some things you thought we did better incrementally over time?

Roy:  So I think one of the things that we started doing was splitting off into [inaudible 00:06:27] of teams. So we’d start off at six and split off into three, and then eventually we decided actually do pairing where we would have each person buddy with another person and kind of work from that perspective because that gave us more flexibility and it was really difficult to keep track of three people [inaudible 00:06:41] . Like we actually split up into smaller chunks, but we realized every man for himself was not practical, or feasible.

Derek:  Yeah, I think the other thing that was interesting is I thought we did a fair amount of self organization and self direction within. So after the I think it was the first game or the second game, and we kind of decided to split up into pairs, we kind of did direction where we said, “OK this pair you guys get the right flunk, this pair you get the left flunk, this pair’s going to hold and cover the base or do whatever.”

But that was as far as the direction went, and then it was really up to each pair to say, “This is how we plan on attacking to the right, or attacking to the left, or holding position.” The rest of the team didn’t even have to know what was going on from that perspective.

It then kind of goes back to the trust issue for me, right. If I say, “OK, Clayton and Jade, you guys have the right side, Roy and I are going to take the left side,” we’re not worried about are you really going to take the right side. Right, you’ll let us know, you’ll scream at us if you lose your position, you’ll let us know that. Until then we just trust that you are doing that, we don’t have to worry about it.

Clayton:  Kind a good parallel was the team, maybe this was just because they were 13, but the other team I noticed that they were pretty much everyone for themselves, and when something would go wrong it was always like, “Oh man, why didn’t you see that guy, or why…”? It was always someone else’s fault.

But with our team we did a pretty good job of when someone got out it was a…OK now that we’re starting this g