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Mind your tech debt

Below is the latest version of the facilitation guide. Since it is online, it might evolve and enrich over time. Good luck in facilitating this serious game and wishing you all the playful learning!

What’s up…
… if it takes longer and longer to bring new features into the software?
… if the number of reported errors does not decrease, but rather increases?
… when everyone is clamoring to redevelop the product rather than continue working on it?

When any of the above occurs it might mean you are in technical debt. This game will help you experience what happens when this occurs and what you could do to sustain a constant pace indefinitely.

This game is a simplified version of the  ‘Technical debt game’ created at Play4Agile 2019.



  • Use the masking tape to set an area on the table which is big as about 2,5 sheets of landscape oriented A4 paper. This is the working area.
  • Shuffle all the cards and remove 6 cards (keep them in your pocket)
  • Deal all the remaining cards to all the players.


You are a software development team that, as always, wants to deliver value as soon as possible. Once your feature is in you move on to the next feature that will surely please the product owner and boost the teams morale. Or won ‘t it? Come and find out!



The goal is to deliver approx. 100 Cards on the table in ascending order in the working area.


  • Cards may not exceed the working area.
  • Each feature card you get, you have to keep in your hand and play from hand into the gaming area
    card by card.
  • Cards may not touch the masking tape.
  • You are allowed to communicate as much as you want.
  • It is not allowed to touch or move cards placed on the table
    (=refactoring) beforehand. Only your own last played card is movable. And only by yourself.
  • You use one hand to hold your cards and one hand to place the cards. (So don’t use both hands placing cards)
  • The software will be deployed after development. This means the cards will be picked up in one go. So be sure the cards can be picked up in this manner
  • Now start development of round 1 and keep track of time to see how long it takes (according to the team) to complete the development.

After development stop the timer and write down the time it took. Tell them not to touch the cards anymore and let them a point someone (and only one) who will deploy the software.


In the deployment phase the deployer is allowed to grab up the cards from left to right but only in one go! So one sweep from left to right. Before this is done cards touching the masking tape will be removed and are considered bugs.

Removing bugs and adding features

The deployer now has one deck of cards in hand. Start the timer again and tell the team a bug is found in a feature and remove that card. You can name any random number between 1-100. Repeat this another time.

Now get 3 cards out of your pocket and ask them one by one to implement these features.

After they have removed the 2 bugs and implemented 3 features stop the timer.

Now Debrief Round 1 (See Debrief)

Round 2

After the debrief repeat for the second round but change one rule.

  • It is now allowed to touch cards with 2 fingers placed on the table beforehand
    anytime. You are still not allowed to pick them up though and thus rearrange the cards (the cards still touch the table at all time).
  • Other may help you this way to make it easier to place a card on the table

Now Debrief Round 2 (See Debrief)


Technical debt

You could add some theory on different kinds of technical debt with your team. More info here.

Make it small, make it easy

If you raise the speed or amount of work, the only axis the team has control over is quality

Give the team space to do their work appropriate

Is the team aware of or trained in other ways to develop; like pairing, mobbing, swarming, etc?



Round 1
  • How do you feel about the work you delivered? Are you proud? don’t care? How come?
  • What would you like to change?
  • Are we a team or is everyone on their own?

Round 2
  • How long did you think development took compared to round one? How proud are you now? What do you think the product owner will think about these times?
  • And how about fixing bugs and implementing new features?
  • What the teams probably experienced is that in round 2 the development took longer, but fixing and implementing new things where much quicker. You can use this to open up a conversation with sales or product managers to push back on the drive for new features continuously and work on refactoring and improving technical capabilities.


In both rounds ask them to remove a feature that  isn’t implemented yet (because it’s in your pocket)


Play the original game described here. It introduces the role of QA and observers.

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