Kanban Pizza Game

With the Kanban Pizza Game from agile42 you can find out what Kanban feels like

It’s difficult to teach the principles of Lean and Agile simply by lecturing. People have to experience the principles by themselves to get a feeling for how it all works. By playing a game, you can gain experience without messing up your daily work or getting engrossed in the technical details. This is why we use games and simulations extensively in our trainings. If we can find no suitable game we’ll create one... like the Kanban Pizza Game!

While other Kanban games are usually focusing only on the mechanics of the board and on the flow in a pre-defined Kanban system, our Kanban Pizza Game teaches you how to get from an existing process to a Kanban system, how to visualize it and start modifying it.

Based on Paper and Pizza

Like our agile42 Scrum Lego City Game we wanted our Kanban game to be based on something that everybody knows about and everybody can do. We tried to stay away from IT scenarios so that the participants wouldn’t think too much about the similarity to their current work environment. We think that the idea of using paper pizza is great — everybody loves pizza, and everyone knows how a pizza is made (at least in general terms).

When and how to use the Kanban Pizza Game

If you want to understand what Kanban is and practice some Lean concepts in a safe environment outside of your daily work, then the Kanban Pizza Game is for you! We start our Kanban trainings with this game, in order to introduce the whole method and its principles and practices in one tight package. Software development teams and process development teams use this game to get acquainted with Kanban.

The game has been designed for a half-day workshop. It takes at least one hour at the bare minimum, if you rush through the principles and practices and don't wrap up much at the end. Two hours is enough to cover the theory adequately and allow for reflecting and summarizing.

Learning Objectives

What are the goals of the game from a training perspective? We want participants to:
  • Experience how a Kanban system emerges from an existing process, as it does in the real world
  • Experience a whole Kanban system, as opposed to focusing only on the Kanban board and related mechanics
  • Understand that boards are context-dependent: for any given process there are many different board designs that are adequate and useful, but the perfect board doesn't necessarily exist
  • Understand the effects of limiting your Work in Progress
  • Experience self-organization and adaptation
  • Have fun!

Each team gets paper of different colors, scissors and other materials (the full list of materials is at the bottom of this page). They will cut, shape and tape these together to form pizza slices according to the given recipe.


kpg scissors
  • The slideset follows the game from the beginning to the end
  • Make sure you have adequate materials! See the list at the end of this page
  • There should be at least four persons per team
  • The game can be played with one team, but is more fun with more teams and a little healthy competition
  • (OPTIONAL) If there's an uneven number of people, consider asking somebody to act as an observer, perform quality assurance and measure lead time

The Flow of the Game

1. Create an implicit process

Kanban always starts where you are, from an existing process. At the start of the game we let the teams to get to grips with the paper pieces and constraints by building as many pizza slices (Hawaiian) as possible.

kpg pizza

Present a ready-made slice of Hawaiian pizza to the teams and explain what goes into the pizza: a slice of pizza base (paper triangle), tomato sauce (red marker), three slices of ham (pink Post-Its) and three slices of pineapple (yellow Post-Its). The tomato sauce covers the pizza bottom nicely and the toppings are carefully cut and distributed evenly across the pizza. Yum!

Show the oven plate and explain how it works. There can be a maximum of three pizza slices in the oven at one time. Cooking time is at least 30 seconds. No adding or removing of slices while baking!

Then ask the teams to produce as many pizzas as they can while trying to avoid waste i.e. raw materials prepared but not used. When you decide that time’s up (after 5-7 minutes or so) clap your hands and tell them to stop.

2. Introduce Kanban

At the end of the initial round, introduce Kanban and the core practices of Kanban:

  • Visualize the Workflow
  • Limit your Work in Progress (WIP)
  • Manage the Flow
  • Implement Feedback Loops
  • Make Process Policies Explicit
  • Improve Collaboratively
kpg points

Next, explain the scoring system and let each team calculate their score. The scoring system is designed to promote limiting the WiP and also serves as an indirect measure of flow (in our case, it correlates with the lead time as long as people don’t know the exact length of the round, and thereby produces the same behavior). Collect the scores and write them down in a matrix on a whiteboard or flip chart. At this point you can also ask the teams to pick names for their pizzerias.

kpg tape

Ask the teams to visualize the workflow and make the process explicit by introducing storage for production materials (pizza bottoms, slices of ham etc.). Don't try to optimize the workflow now, just document it as it emerged during the first round.

Ask the teams to limit their work in progress. Did they have materials piling up and becoming waste at the end of the round? What would be a sensible WiP limit for that step and for the other steps?

How about the pizza quality? Did the teams cut corners (perhaps literally)? Pizza bottoms should be the same size and well covered with tomato sauce, and the toppings should be nicely cut and distributed evenly.

Before the next round, throw away the delivered pizzas but keep the unused raw materials up to and including unbaked pizzas on the table.

3. Second round with established Kanban System

Now run one round with your newly established Kanban system. Again, don’t give any indications of when the round will end, just end it when you feel like it (after 5-7 minutes). At the end of the round run a debrief and count the points.

Then give the teams one minute to reflect upon what worked well and what didn't in their system, and another minute for rebuilding the workflow. Tell them to play around with the workflow and try different WIP limits.

4. Third round, extending the system

Make the game a bit more complex by introducing customer orders and a new Pizza Rucola recipe. Orders can contain more than one piece and type of pizza and the team gets points only when the order is fulfilled. Pizza Rucola contains no ham and no pineapple, only tomato sauce and seven pieces of rocket salad (green Post-Its). Unfortunately rocket salad burns easily and should therefore be added only after the pizza has been taken out from the oven.

Allow the teams some minutes to discuss and improve their system. Run the round. Debrief, measure the points. Give the teams one minute to reflect upon what worked well and what didn't in their system, and another minute for rebuilding the workflow and adjusting the WIP limits.

5. Fourth and final round

Allow the teams some minutes to discuss and improve their system. Run the round. Debrief, measure the points.

6. From the game to a real Kanban Board

The final step in the game is to visualize the process that is currently drawn on the tables using painter’s tape and create something that is closer to a real Kanban board.

Ask the teams to look back at the game, draw the flow on a flipchart or whiteboard (including WIP limits) and make it look nice using paper materials and pizzas produced during the game.

kpg flip chart

7. Debriefing

Having the experience of the Pizza Game in fresh memory and some nice Kanban boards on display, it’s now really easy to anchor the Kanban practices.

Visualize the workflow

With the physical production of the Pizza the workflow is always present, and by drawing the workflow we create a model that we can use for reflecting on the current process. Remember: all models are wrong, but some are useful. The workflow is a simplification and can never match reality perfectly, but it allows us to study and understand our work.

Note that the workflow can be represented in multiple ways. The fact that some pizzas go into the oven with toppings and some without can be described using tags, swimlanes, non-linear workflows, directed networks, cadences (alternating between hawaii and rucola in the oven) or a number of other methods.

Over the course of the game, each team created a workflow that made sense in their own context of people, resources and bottlenecks. While it is likely that other teams could pick up a board and make it their own, it doesn't mean that any one of the boards is necessarily "more right" than the others.

Limit WIP

kpg limit wip

Throughout the game, the built-in bottlenecks caused queues to pile up. This is intentional. During the game the teams introduced limits on the work in progress (WiP) to make sure that they produce the right things and to avoid losing points for unused materials. The participants experienced that WiP limits are more than simple limitations: they drive and change the behavior of people. People tend to interact more on the overall production, communicate more and help each other when needed.

Manage flow

Kanban works best when work is flowing nicely through the system. Normally you would increase the flow by measuring and minimizing the lead time. Unfortunately this takes too much time away from the facilitator, and so in the Pizza Game we use a scoring system that is set up to penalize inventory and trigger similar flow-optimizing behavior.

In the first rounds of the game there is a tendency to prepare small stockpiles of materials in advance. In later rounds the team learns to keep inventory down and maintain flow by tightening the WIP limits.

Measuring the flow in the Pizza Game can be very instructive, but you will need a co-facilitator to do this.

Other things worth considering:

The physical environment: Did the table arrangements affect the initial workflow? The way the workflow evolved?

Group dynamics: How did the different team members participate in design of the workflow?

Questions, Answers, Tips and Tricks

Can we take unused raw materials and use them in the next round?

Yes, you are supposed to do exactly that. The unused slices of ham, pineapple, rocket salad and pizza bottoms on the table will of course give you negative points at the end of each round.

Why can't we have a big stopwatch and rounds of exactly six minutes?

If the team knows how much time is left, they will start ramping down the process ahead of time, in order to minimize waste. While minimizing waste is good, we want the teams to do it while work is still going on. In practice, something between five and seven minutes seems to be fine.

The team asks for an extra oven, should I give it to them?

No. For each bottleneck you remove, it takes some time before the workflow resettles and a new bottleneck emerges (see the Theory of Constraints for an explanation). In the four rounds of the game, we don't really have time for more than one, perhaps two changes. If you magically "fix" a bottleneck for the team by handing them extra resources, they don't learn to actually identify and cope with bottlenecks by themselves. Instead they learned that they can complain about the bottleneck and have it magically removed. Oops.

The game is too slow, the teams need more pressure to get things done.

All teams are different and lack of visible pressure is not necessarily bad. Let the game emerge and don’t push the teams into a fixed script. Observe what is happening and gently strengthen good behavior and suppress unwanted behavior. That said, if you feel that the teams are not doing their best, try to create a bit more competition between teams. You could also ask the teams to measure and improve the lead time.

Some teams are working too fast and making ugly pizzas. How should I approach that?

Make it visible, make it explicit. Point out the quality difference to all teams and ask them to agree on the quality level. They could for example nominate a joint QA person to examine and accept pizza deliveries, or draft a Definition of Done, or make a Standard Reference Pizza.

I want to introduce more pizza recipes, can I do that?

The keyword in this game is actually "Kanban", not "Pizza". The game contains two simple but slightly different workflows, introduced one at a time, and this is fully sufficient to bring out all the Kanban practices. Adding more recipes doesn't improve the learning experience; in fact some teams already struggle with the two overlapping workflows and would not cope well with the complexity of additional pizza recipes.

Can I measure the lead time anyway?

Yes, measuring and plotting the lead time can be very interesting and constructive. If you want to do this, keep a visible timer running throughout the whole game. This is your "wall clock" or "Pizzeria Mean Time". You can pause it between rounds, but don't reset it! Ask each team to note the PMT time stamps for accepting and delivering orders on their order cards. They will then have to calculate the number of seconds needed for each delivery, and calculate the average.

Variations and extensions.

If you develop a great extension that in your opinion works well and enhances the game, we’d be delighted to hear about it and possibly also include it in a future version. However, we’ve seen and heard of facilitators introducing things that don't work particularly well, such as new pizza recipes, the pizza boy, the snotty customer, or a money system for buying ingredients and selling pizzas. Please remember that the Kanban Pizza Game is first and foremost a learning experience and a teaching tool. It's not even about pizza, it's about Kanban! Don't let the game degenerate into mindless entertainment, a cut-throat competition or total chaos. Keep the game tight and focused on the learning objectives in your intended way.

List of Materials

  • Post-Its in three colors: yellow (pineapple), pink (ham*) and green (rucola i.e. rocket salad)
  • Printer paper to cut pizza bottoms from (A4/Letter works fine but you can also use other sizes)
  • Red markers as tomato sauce
  • Glue or transparent tape (to make the Post-Its stick better)
  • Masking tape (aka. painter's tape)
  • Scissors (one small + one large per team)
  • Stopwatch
  • Order cards - one set per team
  • Oven plate - one per team
  • The Kanban Pizza Game slides
  • Rule Sheets
  • Kanban Overview Sheets

* In case the team doesn’t like ham on pizzas, the pink Post-Its can represent e.g. shrimp. :-)

Read more about the game on our Facebook page!

Would you like to get professional help introducing Kanban and playing the game? Please contact us!

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We wish you fun.

The agile42 team

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Type Lang. City Country Date *
Applying Kanban (Foundation) training English Johannesburg S. Africa March 5, 2018 Details
Type Applying Kanban (Foundation) training
Lang. English
City Johannesburg
Date March 5, 2018 Details

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