Pizza KATA II Retrospect is a Mindset and Not an Action

People dining at pavement pizza restaurant

Not many songs refer to retrospective or debriefing. Instead there are albums using this concept for a collection of an artist’s best songs. For example I’d like to mention Ray Charles and his “Retrospect” album, published ten years after his death to collect his best songs. This reference however refers to what we are NOT using for helping out teams to improve. Teams need to retrospect when they want to get better and not as a celebration of winning results. Because if teams want to improve they need to change what was wrong, or maybe just not quite perfect.

This is the second part of an article published in the previous issue of Ludogogy about “Changes” , where we described Pizza KATA, a game designed to help people experimenting with a mindset on continuous improvement, which is a combination of Retrospective and Changes (now it is clear why this article spills over from “Changes” and arrives in “Debriefing and Feedback”).

In this second part we focus on a particular set of components of the game I called mini-boards. This is where the game is played but actually also where players decide how to implement changes discussed in the retrospectives between two “days” (rounds). Pizza KATA is a game played in different rounds (called “days”) and players are able to change strategy every day to achieve better results, like in real teams adopting Scrum.

The line of work of the restaurant

Mini-boards are the players’ world for the duration of the game

In traditional boardgames, you have a board where players interact with the system. However, in card games it is pretty common to place the cards directly on the table. This could work perfectly but for Pizza KATA we have a requirement: make the game both realistic and easy to set up. So I visited a real pizza restaurant for few hours over a couple of days and I was able to design a (simplified but realistic) workflow using a process we usually call Value Stream Mapping.

Pizza making process diagram

This image is interesting because other than the flow, it shows a couple of “dependencies”: the preparation of the ingredients (1) and the preparation of the boxes (5). Other than that, there is a starting stage (0) In Pizza KATA this is the source of orders and gives pace to the session. We have a very direct flow to last stage (6) where the pizzas are boxed and delivered to the customer.

This is the reality of the game and you cannot change it, but you can adapt and optimise your effort to maximise the attributes that are relevant for you: number of delivered orders, response time, minimise ingredients, maximise turnover,…

This reality is implemented through a set of mini-boards: each one is a step in the flow and has its intrinsic rules to perform activities. As an example, here you can see the “Kitchen”

Kitchen component of board game

Note. The kitchen actually uses two mini-boards and I hope you remember the tokens described in the previous article.

From now on, the images shown were taken working on a real order in a play session, and you will be able to follow it across all the stages, so you can see the game in action with all components. Notice the order is a “type III” order with five pizzas of four different types (see previous article for explanations of different types of orders).

Receiving orders

Phone calls are coming at a the pace of your main timer (or hourglass as I prefer).

The number of calls is defined by the number of order cards selected at the setup of the game (as described in the preparation of the order cards in the previous article).

Everything in the process is based on these incoming calls; and below you can see the mini-boards which manage them.

Pizza orders and timer

Here you can see the last received order of this session, which will arrive when the timer has finished.

Nothing really critical here, except that you could record timing using one of the tickets described in the previous article

Preparing ingredients

If you have ever cooked using a recipe, you will know how much time you must spend to prepare the ingredients. For the pizza it is the same, except that here time is critical and ingredients could be prepared in advance, or maybe by another player (this is a team decision), in the kitchen where there is a refrigerator and everything is safely stored.

Ingredients components of board game

The position of ingredients is pretty clear, the main rule is that you cannot mix ingredients that must be separated in their own area. This is by design to help you limit Work in Progress (WIP). However there are some icons which require explanation.

You will notice that each of the named food areas has a small circle with a number. This is to remind you that to prepare the ingredients you have to flip the tokens the given number of times, before placing them in the area. For example if you need one portion of onion you have to flip it five times; a portion of olives require three flips, ham just two and so on. The flip icon is different for tomato sauce (1+) and mozzarella (2+). Here the circle reminds how many flips you must do, but also that you can flip them in groups. This is faster, but also requires closer attention. This is a decision that a chef should make!

The dice icon is related to blockers that may come with events which occur when you draw an event card. These can be shuffled in with the orders.

Preparing pizzas

Preparing pizza is not easy, as you can imagine, even if you have prepared ingredients in advance. Pizza KATA is a fast paced game where you will receive an order every minute and so the queue of pizzas to be prepared sometimes gets large (and stressful).

The pizza preparation station is organised over two mini-boards: one to collect ingredients from the kitchen which you can use to prepare the pizza and another where you prepare the crusts on which to place the ingredients following the recipe.

Ingredients boxes in the kitchen

The ingredient boxes is similar to the kitchen but has an important difference. Ingredients placed here cannot be boxed back in the refrigerator for safety reasons, so you need to move the right quantities of ingredients to avoid penalty points at the end of the game. That’s why the team will need to calculate the resources needed, and not simply add stuff without planning.

Then you have the “bar” where pizzas are prepared.

cards representing bar where pizzas are prepared

In the image you can notice that a player can prepare no more than six pizzas at the same time (there is a physical constraint on the bar). For this particular order, we have to prepare five pizzas and it is not a problem, but sometimes…

To prepare a pizza you need to first manipulate the dough. To prepare the dough you need to take the card and flip it on the dough side; then use you hand as you would do in reality: you need to stretch each corner twice and at the same moment rotate the dough for the given number of times (two or three). When you have done, you can again flip the card to show the areas where you can place ingredients and, eventually, the extra cooking marker.

The below image shows this stage with the five pizza order (notice the Napoli preparation).

Cards representing pizzas in preparation

When they have prepared the pizzas, the player must put them in the oven for cooking.

Cooking pizzas

The oven is a limited space where you can cook no more than 3 pizza at once. You can buy a bigger oven during the game but this has a cost and also requires a certain level of turnover to pay it back. The team has to think carefully about that.

In the below image, the player decided to put two Napoli and one Margherita in the oven (maybe not the best decision, but this is part of the learning curve with the game).

Cards representing pizzas cooking

As you can see, next to the pizzas, you put a timer (the hourglass) to measure when they will be ready. Again note the Napoli pizza requires a specific timing for placing mozzarella….

Here the situation after the first timer: the Margherita is cooked and has been removed. The two Napoli have instead had extra mozzarella added and are ready for extra cooking time.

Cards representing pizzas cooking

The chef decided to place the second Margherita in after removing the first one: again maybe not the best decision in terms of flow, considering the extra cooking required for the Boscaiola. However, this has to be managed. Meanwhile a new order has arrived and so you need to prepare other crusts… There are a lot of points to debrief for the team.

Serving the pizzas

If you ever been in a pizza takeaway you would have noticed that the pizza is placed on a plate before closing it in the delivery box. The pizza, when it is hot, must “take a breath of fresh air” to avoid the ingredients taking the taste from the cardboard of the box (this was revealed by a pizza chef!). The problem is finding the room to make this happen. That, in a takeaway restaurant, is often very limited.

Another important activity in this stage, is checking the order is properly managed, and that all the  ingredients are there so we can meet the expectations of our customers.

As you can imagine this is going to introduce a new constraint into the system, but this could also represents a buffer before the boxing process. Given this situation, I have configured the mini-board so that a standard oven is normally the bottleneck, but if you add an extra oven (yes, you can buy a second one) the bottleneck is moved to the serving stage (yes! This is simulating when you are increasing capacity in the bottleneck stage, without considering the impact on the whole system 🙂 ).

Let’s see how the transition between the cooking and the serving is implemented in the game.

Pizza card in serving area

Here you can see what happens when the first pizza in our order is (already cooked and) placed in the serving stage. Note this order is spreading across 3 stages, because there is still a pizza on the pizza bar (the oven is full).

The next stage (after one minute of the hourglass) is the following

Full serving area with pizzas ready to box

As you can see now the pizza bar is free (a new order is probably already received), the oven has one pizza and the serving is full. We need to free space in this last stage and to do so we need to box the order.

Boxing the order

To box your order you need a new skill: you need an origami maker! (any thoughts about T-shaped people in your team?)

Box ready to be filled

The last mini-box is the set of instructions to create the perfect box to collect and safely transport our order. This is a 12 steps process that uses a (recycled) A4 paper sheet.

When the box is ready, you can put the order card inside along with its related pizzas and ingredients.

Box filled with completed pizzas

In the above image you can see the four pizzas were in the serving area, now placed in the box. We have the possibility to serve the fifth pizza, that will be boxed (with the order card) in the next time slot.

This is the last stage of the process. Now you can deliver the pizzas, you can mark the order as completed and collect times in the provided ticket.

Completed box containing pizzas

But a new order is very likely already in the line and more orders will come in the next minutes….

The importance of Kanban Principles

Mini-boards are designed for the players to experience true Kanban

As you can see in this scenario there are a lot of pitfalls but also opportunities to improve, and this is the reason why this game works. But you can also see the real time effect that is the basis of the game. This creates a really fast paced situation which is hard to manage but also fun to face. Finally, given that a day is 10 to 15 cards, you have 15 to 20 minutes each round, so you can play different days experimenting with all the Kanban Principles:

  • Visualise the work: mini-boards are designed to visualise the work.
  • Limit WIP: some mini-boards have explicit limitations.
  • Manage Flow: you can follow and measure flow of the system on the mini-boards.
  • Make Process Explicit: the game rules are transparent and visible. The team can define their own strategy.
  • Implement Feedback Loops: even if the customer is not visible, you need to manage a budget.
  • Improve Collaboratively, Evolve Experimentally: you have tools to collect data to analyse and improve by taking informed decision and verifying them.

How many people does it take to prepare pizzas?

People playing the game is the main goal of every game designer

This is the first question a facilitator could ask to people in the workshop: how many people can manage a pizza restaurant? Now that we know how the assembly line is composed we can understand how many people could manage it. But we need to consider another attribute of the game: the turnover. In fact the goal of the player is not only to deliver all received orders, but achieve this result with the minimum number of people, because the value delivered must be divided by the number of people that touch the line.

Pizzaiolos working in real pizza restaurant

Maybe we can start from a real pizza takeaway where normally there is one person to prepare and cook pizzas and a second person doing all other the activities (receiving calls, preparing ingredients, preparing boxes and boxing pizzas). In this way we have the basic approach.

There is another person required in the game: the timekeeper who manages the pace of incoming orders and tracks all metrics using the tickets described in the previous article. This observer cannot interact with players or components or any artefact of the game. They just track times on tickets, or maybe on a board where the system can be represented. This is not an easy task and the value can bring is massive, so do not underestimate this role. The timekeeper is not to be counted in the turnover if they didn’t touch any component except the tickets.

Clearly, team composition could be different. Maybe you could have two pizza makers, or one person in the kitchen dedicated to ingredients, or any other way of working that the team themselves decides to adopt to be more effective. And this situation reinforces the principle that the team is empowered for  self-management and self-organisation. That is a strong attribute of real agile teams (at least four principles of the agile manifesto touch these topics).

In summary we need at least three players (two + timekeeper), and my suggestion is to play Pizza KATA with no more than six players per restaurant: one time keeper, one observer of the behaviours, one or two pizza bakers, one in the kitchen, one for reception and boxing.

What if we have to manage workshop for 10 or 20 people? These are too many for a single pizza shop, so we need to scale the game. Pizza KATA provides two different opportunities. We can create a competitive situation or a collaborative situation.

The competitive scenario is where you have different pizza restaurants with their own deck of orders (that maybe the facilitator can prepare in the same way), starting together, same pace, same ending and at the end of the day we can compare final result (value, orders, pizzas, rounds, metrics, ….). This is the scenario that players normally prefer.

The collaborative scenario is where you have one deck of orders and many assembly lines (like a big pizza franchising brand), starting and ending together and managing orders in parallel. This is the scenario I prefer because teams have to deal with real scaling dynamics and understand also how to work together as a team of teams.

People dining at pavement pizza restaurant

The number of components required to manage a large scale session is based essentially on how you are scaling. Pizza KATA in fact lets the facilitator decide how to scale, and essentially this process is related on how to scale the WIP (not the people). So we can understand why scaling could be not directly related to teams but to the number of mini-boards used in the session. All rules for scaling are available in the facilitator guide. What we want to highlight now is that the facilitator could apply different approaches to scale the game. This is based essentially on the outcome of the session, but this possibility enables the facilitator to create different sessions with different objectives, simply adapting the scenario.

Having a Print&Play game is an enabler for scaling components, because you have all the material in the package, you need just to print multiple copies of what you need. It also lets the facilitator be creative in  experimenting with new scenarios that can be shared with other facilitators.

Retrospective of the day

People have the opportunity to improve every day, also in the game

Do not forget that this is a serious game and the goal is not only having fun but letting people experiment with how to improve their ways of working given a well defined goal. So we need to consider in the structure of the workshop, to include moments to analyse behaviours and change the processes in the restaurant. This is, IMHO, the most important moment of the session and it is strongly connected with the idea of the Kata. That’s why this is in the name of the game.

Retrospectives should happen at the end of every “day”, when the team discuss about what happened in the last day and take decision on what/how to change to improve. The time for discussion I normally recommend is 15 minutes, which is the duration of the “day” in the game (with 10 order cards).

I want to underline the role of observers. These watch the dynamics of the players and take notes during the session so they can share during the retrospective. Given the external perspective, they are in the best position to help the team to understand what worked and what didn’t.

Finally remember that playing this game without a retrospective for the team is useless (except for the fun, but maybe in that case it is better to play a ‘real’ board game).

Empty tables in a pizza restaurant


Also the best games must end

We have initially identified some reasons why the existing pizza kanban game (a great game!) is not fitting for all situations and we have also identified some requisites an eventual new game should have. We could summarise this as “Before and after the execution, focus on the outcomes and not on the preparation. During the execution, focus on fun and not on boring stuff.” This goal has been achieved adopting a “board game design” approach and introducing game mechanics (components and rules) to enable a different level of game dynamics (player(s) interacting with the game). That’s why at the end this is an original game.

The game is articulated in different “days” where every team tries to improve its performance and increase performance and predictability of the activities to deliver pizza take,away: from order receiving to boxing.

This specific set of components, to Print & Play and reuse, helps facilitator to create the game session and at the same time expands to a lot of new possibilities. In fact, Pizza KATA has a deck of order cards and mini-boards which are able to create an infinite number of different sessions, but above, we define a few rules so the facilitator can create custom sessions focused on a particular situation the team should be able to deal with. We have also described how the game could scale creating situations where multiple teams compete or collaborate.

Pizza KATA has been created as a mindset improving experience. This emerges from the name (the word “KATA”), the way the game has been created (different experimental rounds), but also from the roles (the timekeeper) the mechanics (every “day” has a retro) and the components (the time tracker tickets). Everything has been designed to help the team focus on the real goal of the game: “having fun while experimenting with the effects of continuous improvement”.

Finally, the result is based on a financial perspective similar to our daily life where we do not have infinite resources. The team can buy a larger oven but that impacts their turnover. These are not constraints or limitations but enablers to achieve the best results possible in this scenario, with limited resources like our teams have to face in the real world.

I hope you enjoyed these articles on a game that essentially is about change and retrospectives. The last piece of information is the link to download the game: Pizza KATA, with all other P’n’P games I have designed, is available on DriveThruCards portal at the following link

DISCLAIMER. Notes presented here are personal and cannot be related in any way to any of my employers.

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Senior Agile Coach / Learning Game Designer at Agile Game Factory
Corrado De Sanctis is Senior Agile Coach in Lloyds Bank and has been involved in some of the largest enterprise transformations at international level and in different industries during the recent years. Corrado is a well-known member of the Agile community in London; he is a speaker on Agile topics and the convener for the Lean, Agile Delivery and Coaching Network and Digital Transformation in London meetup groups (~4000 members) . He is also the founder of SAM (Scrum Agile Milano) meetup group directly supported by Agile Alliance and Scrum Alliance. Corrado strongly believes in experiential learning and he is a creator, facilitator and player of agile serious games.

“To help people, teams and organisation in their agile journey”
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