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Kanban Pizza Game

This Pizza Game is a great way for new or established teams to understand the principles of Lean & Agile by diving into Kanban in a quick and fun way that is hard to communicate through words alone. It teaches you how to get from an existing process to a Kanban system, how to visualize the system, and start modifying it. The Pizza Game enables the teams to have a hands-on experience feeling the pains, gains, frustrations, and fun throughout the process - and to reflect on improvements that the participants can share back in their workplace. Bonus: you get to make (paper) Pizza!

  1. Step 1:


    Experience the learning-by-doing of Kanban, where you have a hands-on experience of Kanban that emerges from an existing process.

    Understand the impact "playing the game" can potentially make rather than simply looking at a Kanban board and the mechanics.

    Gain the ability to see that a board is a living system that adapts and works to the process/product and to the people using it. There's no perfect board.

    Understand the effects of limiting your WIP, Work in Progress.

    Experience self-organization and adaptation, as well as self-leadership.

    Have a bit of pizza fun!


    • Pink Post its: 2 blocks per team (Ham or vegan ham)
    • Yellow (gold, or orange) Post its: 2 Blocks per team (Pineapple)
    • Yellow A4 thin printer card: (pizza Base)
    • 2 Red markers per team: (tomato sauce)
    • 2 Glue sticks per team: (to stick post its once cut up)
    • 1 Masking tape roll per table
    • 2 Scissors per team
    • 1 paper plate (as an oven)
    • A4 White paper (For Pizza Parlour sign)
  2. Step 2:


    Create teams consisting of 4-6 people - and be sure that each table has their materials from above.

    Ask each team to choose their Pizza Parlour name (e.g. “Sloppy Giuseppe's!) and tape their sign to their table.

    Facilitator: Collect the team names, write up on the Scoreboard flip chart at the front of the room for all to see to create a sense of healthy competition!

  3. Step 3:


    1. Create an example of a ‘good’ ham & pineapple pizza slice to show the teams before they get started - to demonstrate what a ‘good’ standard pizza slice looks like.

    2. Show the participants the pizza slice and talk through ingredients: -A slice of pizza base (paper triangle) -Tomato sauce (red marker) -3 slices of ham (pink Post-Its) -3 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.

    3. The plate is their oven, there can be a maximum of three pizza slices in the oven at one time. Cooking time is 30 seconds. No adding or removing slices once baking has begun, the oven is shut until 30 seconds have elapsed.

    4. Their challenge is to produce as many pizzas as possible while avoiding waste. *Make sure this instruction is written in clear view along with what a good pizza slice looks like.

    5. Ask all participants if they understand.

    6. Shout “GO

    7. Do NOT tell them a set time. -Play fast music -walk around and drum up the pace subtly -time 8 minutes -do not tell them when it’s near the end

    8. Shout STOP when the time's up.

  4. Step 4:


    When time is up, get the teams to stand back to admire their work. THEN reveal the scoring system:

    • +10 points for a fully cooked pizza slice
    • -4 points for each pizza base
    • -1 points for each scrap of cut pizza or ham

    Collect the scores, and check for quality.

    Comment on things like:

    • if they have giant slices “putting us out of business!”
    • too much or not enough toppings “no continuity”
    • be sure to spread even the tomato sauce “customers are complaining!”

    TIP: Keep it light hearted!

  5. Step 5:

    Introduce Kanban (explanation of each principle below - in Step 8)

    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

    Talk through the principles.

    Ask the participants:

    • If they use Kanban at work and how does it help?
    • Ask the teams to center on these practices going forward.
  6. Step 6:

    ROUND 2

    Tidy and recycle the materials, top up the uncut materials.

    Give participants the same instructions as Round 1, but this time tell them they have 8 minutes to bake their pizzas.

    Give them 5 minutes to plan using the established Kanban principles.

    Near the end, tell them they have 1 minute.

    Play calmer music.

    After 8 minutes, stop and collect the scores.

    There SHOULD be a big improvement!

    Reward the teams who win/most improve with a prize (e.g. sweets/pizza)

  7. Step 7:


    5 minutes to reflect in teams

    10 minutes to share in the wider group (depending upon team/group size can be longer).

    Possible reflection prompts

    • How did you behave in the first round compared to the second round?
    • How did the first round make you feel compared to the second?
    • What did you learn as a team?
    • Was there a leader?
    • What else?
  8. Step 8:


    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 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.

    Make process policies explicit After the first round, each team documented their workflow by marking it on the table. Any changes to the system were made immediately on the table. We also set a common quality standard by selecting a Reference Pizza. How did this help the work? How about roles? Did people have clear roles? How did they appear? Who allocated the "resources" in this simulation?

    Implement feedback loops What did we collect feedback on? Ask the teams to think for a moment about what kinds of feedback loops there were in the game, and write these on post-its. You can either collect all post-its on a board, or ask people to give examples. During the debrief, ask them what would have happened without each specific type of feedback.

    Improve collaboratively and experimentally The game consisted of four rounds, with time for inspecting and adapting in between. What would have happened without the possibility to inspect and adapt? Who did the inspecting and adapting? What information was it based on? What did people in the tables talk about during pizza production?

  9. Step 9:

    Tips + FAQs from Agile 42:

    Please remember that the Kanban Pizza Game is first and foremost a learning experience and a teaching tool. Actually it's not even about (real) pizza, it's about (real) 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.

    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. 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 learn that they can complain about the bottleneck and have it magically removed. Oops.

    Also remember that whenever you remove the worst bottleneck, another bottleneck will pop up (see the Theory of Constraints for an explanation). It takes a bit of time before the system resettles and the new bottleneck emerges. In the four rounds of the game, we don't really have time for more than one, perhaps two changes of this kind.

    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.

    This team is ripping pieces of ham by hand and calling it "pizza artisane", what should I do? Teams quickly figure out that scissors are a bottleneck, and some proceed to rip toppings by hand. When challenged, they say that it's handmade pizza ham and thereby more desirable than factory-cut ham.

    Tell them that it's made from normal ham raw materials (i.e. pink post-its) and they might get feedback from angry customers who thought they were get artisanal ham but didn't. If all else fails, refer to the Reference Pizza and say that you can't accept ugly pizzas.

    Variations and extensions? If you develop a great extension that in 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, including:

    new pizza recipes ("now with triple cheese!") the pizza courier (somebody dedicated to taking orders and delivering pizzas) the quality-conscious customer (veeeeery picky with the pizzas) the FDA inspector ("and why are you ripping the ham by hand? tsk tsk...") 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. Actually it's not even about (real) pizza, it's about (real) 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.