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A Fun Marshmallow Challenge Debrief

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You can find a lot of praise for the Marshmallow Challenge. It is a good warm-up for workshops and training sessions and you can learn a lot from it. Usually, the learning people talk about is iterative development: the game lasts around 18 minutes and people will usually start doing something with the marshmallow itself in the last five or six minutes, to discover that it is rather heavy. Usually, we say that when kids play it they take the marshmallow at the beginning and start playing with it.

While this is all true I like to take something else out of the exercise. Immediately at the end, when some groups are ecstatic with joy while others are looking in disbelief at a pile of useless spaghetti and ropes scattered before them on the rug, I ask the audience whether they had fun.

The answer will always be “Yes!”

So I ask why did they have fun. At the end of a short discussion we reach the conclusion that it was fun due to the following:

  1. We worked as a team
  2. We had the same tangible, short-term goal
  3. We learned and improved throughout the exercise

I use this recognition to start talking about agile, or scrum, showing how the various practices encompass what would be “fun”.

I remind the teams about this exercise throughout the implementation: “remember the marshmallow challenge? Remember how fun it was? This is what we want to have here, every day!”

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