A DevOps simulation with toothpicks

January 8, 2022
This 15-minute exercise demonstrates the silos problem DevOps aims to solve, and serves as a great conversation starter.

Last year I did a half-day DevOps workshop for a group of Scrum masters. I started out the workshop with a little group exercise I want to describe here. The goal of the exercise was to demonstrate the silos problem that DevOps aims to resolve.

  1. Set up

    • Split into two groups of aprox. 2-4 people each

      If you have a large group, say 12 or more people, you may wish to run the simulation in two groups simultaneously.

    • Supplies

      Group A gets: A box of toothpicks and a roll of masking tape

      Group B gets: A kitchen scale and a 12 inch/30 cm ruler

      The facilitator needs a time keeping device, such as a kitchen timer or mobile phone with alarm function.

  2. Phase 1, 5 minutes

    Group A is instructed to build a tower with the toothpicks and tape. It must:

    • Be exactly 20cm tall
    • Weigh exactly 40 grams / 1.5 ounces
    • Not fall over when someone blows on it

    When the timer sounds, the group must stop working.

  3. Phase 2, 2 minutes

    Group B inspects the tower, using their ruler, kitchen scale, and lungs. They may do this in isolation/out of sight of Group A, if desired.

    Group B offers a simple pass/fail grade to Group A, with no further commentary

  4. Phase 3, 3 minutes

    Group A has 3 minutes to make any necessary modifications to their tower to pass inspection.

  5. Phase 4, 2 minutes

    Once again, Group B does an inspection, and offers a pass/fail grade.

  6. Discussion

    Then of course, discuss the exercise!

    Traditional IT often puts Devs (aka Group A) at odds with Ops or even QA (aka Group B).

    • How did the exercise make you feel?
    • How could the outcome (a tower that passes inspection) be improved by a different approach?
    • How many different ways can you think of that Groups A & B could be structured to work together?
      • What if the groups are joined?
      • What if the groups remain separate?
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