Agile Learning Game – 52 Card Pickup




Cards Participants will quickly learn about how adding some basic structure to tackle problems can help teams self-organize and become more effective. The lightweight structures introduced included iteration planning, iteration review, and retrospective. The team should be able to take away that by having these small meetings, they will be in a cycle of continuous “innovate and adapt.”


30 Minutes. Will depend on the number of iterations; however, keeping it short 15 minutes of activity followed by 5-10 minutes of debrief.


(# of Teams) X Deck of Cards, white board or flip chart, a visible timer (e.g. , and situation cards (see below). If you like, get some prizes for the winning team.

Hint: Get your cards from a dollar store, no need for great cards.

Number of Participants:

Minimum of six (two teams of three), but ideally you will have multiple teams of 4-7 team members. If you have teams of more than 7, have some play the role of observers and change out active team members during iterations.


The basics of the game are simple – you’ll conduct a two-minute iteration where the team must drop the cards on the floor, pick them up, place them on a table, and then sort them in the order based on the objectives of the iteration. At the end of the two-minute iteration, the team reflects on how things went and what can they do to improve, then we do it all over again.

There are a few things to do to prepare:

  • Shuffle the cards – yep, no brainer, but they should be shuffled each iteration.
  • Create a scoreboard — have the teams come up with names. At the end of each iteration, you’ll write down the amount of time it took for a team. At the end of the game, sum up the total seconds and the team with the lowest wins (NOTE – the competition helps the chaos of the game, not to mention raises the pressure the teams feel — and it’s fun!).
  • Prep the room – teams will need table space and space to move around, so move chairs out of the way.

Some key things to do as the facilitator — you are the Customer or Product Owner in this game. So, when a team says they have the cards sorted correctly, you will need to verify the team followed the instructions. Be picky if necessary — I always like either nice neat stacks as well as make sure they are in the correct order. If not, make them re-do it. If they get it right, the team captures the amount of time it took them to make the stacks (in seconds).  At the end of each iteration, update the scoreboard.

For the first iteration, simply start – no planning. After the first iteration, give the teams one minute to review and retrospect, then show the next iteration objectives, and then give the teams a minute to plan. Keep the time boxes crisp and rapid.

Now here’s where the fun comes in, after the first iteration — ask one team member from each team to come up to the front of the room and randomly select one of the situation cards. Each team member should read their card, put it back in the deck, and during the iteration – do what the card says. And most importantly tell them, “do not tell anyone what your card says or your team will not be allowed to do this round and automatically get hit with a 120 second iteration.” Do this during the planning minute.

I recommend doing four to five iterations. Below, you’ll find links to download an example presentation with four iterations.

Key Points:

At the end of the game, have the team reflect on what they learned. Point out the key areas of improvements that you observed. Also, discuss where teams innovated (e.g. I had a team put post-it labels for each number card, and they had one team member take the role of tester). Ask the teams how they dealt with team members acting out their scenario cards. This points out self-organization of the team and point out that sometimes, it is necessary for teams to make hard decisions surrounding other team members.


  • Change requirements (sorting specifications) right after planning (e.g. make King high or change sorting to colors versus suit).
  • During the last iteration, have two team members per team do a situation card.


Thanks to my good friend and colleague, Steve Paro for helping on design and making this game a good one!

See this game on

My career journey has had me wearing many hats ranging from Systems Analyst to Programmer to IT Manager to Programmer to Director. Today, I work as a coach and instructor to the leadership and team members of organizations on their agility journey. I'm constantly practicing to be a good learner, aspiring to be an inspiring leader, and I'm constantly walking the line between pragmatism and conviction when it comes to the application of lean and agile principles and practices.

Matt’s purpose is simple, “I believe in working with teams to help them get better, learn, and be successful in building stuff while having fun.”

At the end of the day, Matt believes in integrity, hard work, curiosity, people, and faith.

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