Agile@University - 1st Lesson: How to handle complex project situations

Software is getting more and more complex and a lot of projects fail. The students experienced this problem simple exercise: The marshmallow challenge. The students had to build a tower out of spaghettis, cover-tape, a string and with a marshmallow on top in a fixed timebox of 18 minutes.

24 October 2011
agile, hamburg, haw-hamburg, lego, marshmallow, scrum, university

Best Team or Last Tower standing ;-)

Well, the exercise worked out as expected. Three of four teams had no tower at the end. Pretty comparable to real software projects  :-)

What happend?:

I gave them a complex environment with fixed circumstances and rules. Instead of trying and failing fast and often, they discussed nearly until the timebox was over or they added the marshmallow in the last second and the tower broke under the weight.

After also some other interactive sessions like the well known ball point game the students got the message and learned:

  • Assumptions lead to wrong results - proof them fast and often
  • Build your products incremental
  • Learn by failing

Impressions of the Ball Point Game

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Discussion 3 Comments

That was fun!
And we learned a lot of these simple games.

Hi Kruse,

I don't think that this little experiment proves that not managing the project incrementally lead to failure. The problem is that none of your students actually planned for the project. All of them started with executing it immediately...

Hi PM hut,

the problems is, that students are trained to create a single right plan, then execute on it. When they put a marshmallow on top and the structure topples over, there's no time to fix it and that creates a crisis!
They have a 18 minutes time-box. This isn't much time. In my experience a long planning phase lead to worse results.
You get better results with Kindergarden Students. They start small. They build prototypes each step of the way, always keeping the marshmallow on the top. Like in incremental development you have more often a fully integrated result and less suprises at the end ;-)

Here is blog posts where my college Dave Sharrock plays the game at an elementary school:

Further Informations to the game could be find at:


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