4 ways to use the Perfection Game to help your Agile teams

perfection game Agile teams

in this post I will show you 4 ways to use the Perfection Game to help your Agile teams. That’s right, perfection.

What if you could chase after perfection and have fun while being serious? What if the process could be positive and lightweight for you and for your teams?

Perfection Game is a technique for that.

Although perfection on anything is impossible, the pursuit of perfection is what lead us to improvement, to quality and to sophistication in our skills and in whatever we produce. Using perfection to dream big and visualize the best outcome for their work is extremely positive for agile teams. As an Agile Coach or Scrum Master you should consider introducing them to the Perfection Game.

In this post I’ll do my part: I want to invite you to consider 4 ways you could be playing the Perfection Game with your agile teams.

But before that let’s get clear: what is this game? And how do we play it?

Wanna listen or watch instead? Here is Youtube for ya!

How to play the Perfection Game

The perfection game is a tool for feedback, made known by the book Software for your Head, by Jim and Michele McCarthy. It is a tool that uses positive and possibility thinking to advance vision, ideas, and solutions.

To play this game with your teams you need only 2 things:

An object, something to be evaluated: an idea, a process, a problem. And a score system: 1 through 10, 5 stars, fist to five, a scale.

The steps

  1. The person who proposes the interaction must ask clearly “would you play the Perfection Game with me”?
  2. If the team says yes, it’s then the person proposing the game gives the team a scale and an object. They ask: “On a scale of 1 to 5, how do you rate this [object]?”
  3. One by one people will respond. The first responder will first rate the object and then say what they like about it. They literally say “I’ll give it a 2. What I like about it is…”
  4. Then the person who proposed asks: “What would have made it perfect?”
  5. Then the responder will answer it: “What would have made it perfect for me is…”
  6. Finally, the person who proposed the object thanks the respondent: “Thank you”.
  7. And repeat the process with all the other team members in the session.

Other than following the steps, the rules of the game are simple.

First, this is a positive disruption, so no negative comments allowed. You are free to give whatever score you judge right, but your feedback and your thinking must be geared towards perfection. You want to achieve the top of the scale for whatever you are evaluating.

Second, in a scale of 1 to 10, you don’t give a score of 1 as in “I totally dislike” and 10 as “I totally like”. It’s not about personal taste. It’s about value. So, when you give a score of 1 you must be recognizing and stating that the proposed idea has little value. Even so, you must acknowledge what you like about the idea that has very little value. And then you must state everything that is needed for completing the remaining 90%. You must really contribute.

As you can see, this brings feedback deeper than the shallow world of opinions. It’s about assessing and collaborating to build something; it’s about finding solutions instead of faults. It’s about letting personal taste and judgment aside and engaging in actual constructive feedback.

Now, when or how would you use Perfection Game with your agile teams?

Here are some ideas that I’ve utilized myself.

Perfection Game for better product development

Why? Perfection Game can help them achieve better clarity in scope and articulate value.

User Stories are hard for most people to wrap their heads around in the first try. Scope elasticity, the ability to remain focused on the outcome, while letting details emerge, is not a trivial skill. But it is the kind of thinking that is essential for agile product development.

I’ve used s a lot of Perfection Game to have teams improve the quality of their User Stories or any other way in which they represent their work items. By co-writing them with Perfection Game they gained more clarity on the scope, on the process of writing their scope and in defining when it’s enough, aka, great acceptance criteria.

So the question at hand in here is “what could make this Story better?”. I definitely recommend this approach for challenging pieces of work, the one where no one is sure to understand things entirely. I also recommend having a team member or the responsible for the backlog (a Product Owner if Scrum) introduce the first version of the Story instead of starting from a blank canvas.

Perfection Game can also be used in ideation for the product and in refining what’s coming next in the roadmap. You know “what could make feature or module ABC better?” because remember, we are not talking about personal wishes, but talking about value articulated.

Perfection Game for better problem solving

Why? Perfection Game can help agile teams build a “Yes, and…” mentality, engage in collaboration faster and truly accept diversity.

When problems arise, it’s not uncommon team members will engage on mild to moderate disputes about their ideas on how to solve something. Yet they are a team and more than agreeing, it’s best when they all feel confident about the solutions they will implement.

Integrative solutions are those that we call win/win, where no compromise is needed; where individuals can combine their geniuses into one single, solid idea. I love using Perfection Game in those situations (when the team accepts it, remember step 1) because all team members have to then integrate their thinking to someone else’s. They do not have a blank canvas to work with, which naturally is more challenging and spikes creativity.

When teams are in the solutioning phase of the problem-solving, follow the steps of the technique (starting with the permission). Everybody is on their own turn giving their additive suggestion without interruptions. Everybody is getting the same airtime.

And even when we reach the last team member, when it all might look already solid, the challenge continues, of thinking how to make it all even better. By the end of it everybody will have contributed to validate and increase the value of the proposed solution.

Perfection Game for team improvement

Why? Perfection Game can offer an environment of positive reinforcement for thinking and learning.

I’ve always loved a good agile retrospective based on Perfection Game. And once the team gets used to it, it can become a quick, powerful way for them to decide on the next improvement they want to make.

Real constructive feedback builds on something. What most people call constructive feedback out there is usually a rather destructive approach and is just a euphemism for criticism. But with something like Perfection Game, the team members can have a chance to think forward about their process or about the team progress because they have to say what they like about something plus how to make it better. They have to practice a generous, grateful view.

Remember, the team member always have to state:

  • what was valuable about it.
  • what could have made it even better.

The “object” to be appreciated, scored, and improved can be:

  • The iteration, for iteration-based teams like Scrum or SAFe.
  • The team itself, their progression so far.
  • Some piece or idea they selected from another moment in the retrospective.
  • The team processes in general or a specific process.

Perfection game for team bonding & trust

Why? Games and fun are a powerful way to learn, especially soft skills such as collaboration.

Whenever the team is new or you are new to the team, I love to introduce Perfection Game moments when having team building sessions. It can be as simple as trying to create a story, a theme in an improv style (nothing work related) and have the team improve it collectively.

A lot of laughter might fill the room or sometimes just some awkward smiles, but the reality is that it’s a very meta way of helping the team learn how to de-personalize an idea as they all build it together and it therefore belongs to them collectively.

It makes the team get used to having fun and positivity associated with problem-solving and with collaboration and collective design. It’s a great way to start teams and relationships because like Maya Angelou said, “people will never forget how you made them feel”, and you want for your team to have the best feeling possible when working together, especially in what seems challenging.

Perfection Game can be an ally technique to help your agile teams to bond and gel and heal faster.

Let it be another tool in your facilitation toolkit

As you can see, you can apply Perfection Game in different moments of the team’s life.

And I hope you can also see and I’m going to call it out, that Perfection Game is not a tool you have to use in isolation. It is a perfect tool (pun intended) to combine with others to make interactions more powerful.

You can definitely combine Perfection Game with Liberating Structures to help your agile teams. You can use them before the game to decide how to select the idea the team is going to perfect. You can use Liberating structures after the game to know better what the team will do with these perfected results.

And of course, this is not a silver bullet or something to be overused. Like most techniques, they offer important learning for teams when used for a while, and you can and should move forward once that meta-learning has solidified for your team.

Which of the ways introduced in here you find more compelling to use with your teams?