Pizza KATA or “Change is a Mindset and not an Action”

Happy people making pizza

“Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes”, David Bowie has been singing since 1972, probably never thinking this could start an article on serious game magazine (  🙂 ). But, in my opinion, this verse is a perfect synthesis on what CHANGE should be: a series of tests before running the effective change. However sometimes it is not easy to make experiments, because we need realistic, failsafe and quick situations. Here is where games could support people. Games are able to create situations and let people test their behaviour.

This article is the story about how this game was born and about applying changes principles to a game talking about changes. This shows the very same approach we should follow when facilitating changes in organisations, which we call Transformation. This article is about a new game designed to help people in experimenting with changes; in their way of working, in collaboration protocols and in their innovation mindset. However, we will talk also about how change impacts the game itself, because this game was actually designed as an evolution of another game, and step by step it became something unique.

Originally this was written as a series of small posts, published on linkedIN on a weekly basis, so there is a lot of information there. For Ludogogy I revised the material into two articles: one published in this number and the second one in the Feedback Issue. I hope you will like them.

This is not my first submission to Ludogogy magazine. In past I talked about other games such as “DSbuilders”, a game about scaling collaboration, that will be presented in June at XP2021, and “PDCA elements”, an icebreaker game about scaling innovation. Follow this link to access Corrado’s author page

The reason behind the game

Change must start with “WHY?”

Kanban Pizza is an amazing game you can play with your teams to introduce most of the attributes of the flow of change and how you can use kanban principles to survive an evening in a pizza restaurant. You can also integrate a retrospective (between rounds) to help team understand the impacts of  improvements in the process.

If you want to know more I suggest that you watch the following video, which, in particular, shows you how you can manage the session virtually (really useful in these times).

I have played this game many times and facilitated a few less sessions, and this game has a lot of good points. However (IMHO) this game has also some pain points which we could describe with the following questions: Is the work realistic of a true team? What is the competence needed to copy & paste or to cut paper? Where is the collaboration in the team? Are teams really working following such confused norms? And are our teams working in such a confused environment? Maybe these are the reasons why this game often “degenerates” into a chaotic room where people cut coloured paper sheets and run across desks screaming about timing.

My hypothesis when starting this experiment, was we could add new perspectives to the game, inheriting some mechanics from card and board games, and, at the same time, keeping the (challenging) time presure that gives the fun. And, obviously, to find a way to help preparation, debriefing and learning. That’s why I started designing a Real Time Card Game (RTCG) version of the game.

WHAT should be different?

Define criteria to identify the value of your game

In the original version of the game, there is a small level of uncertainty, because we have very few pizza types, few situations to be managed, few blockers… This makes the game predictable and sometimes not challenging except for the manual activities. But maybe this is not the situation we want to create: we would like to put people in challenging situations where the process is the core, not the activities or the material.

People making pizza

Unpredictability is one of the key attributes for a card game, where the unexpected let you take the best of yourself and the fun. Clearly you have to properly balance the game (I mean build a balanced deck of cards and a decent rule set) so that people are focused on the “serious” goal of the game. Keep in mind this is a serious game, that some facilitator could use with a specific intent, so we should provide some guidance to help create the required situations, so uncertainty should be also controlled if needed, maybe creating different scenarios, maybe to enhance one or few of the above attributes.

Finally, the new game should help with its own setup, minimising the time and effort for organising a session, providing some components that you can simply distribute to players or place on desks, and reuse for many sessions. These components should be considered as the constraints for the mechanic of the game because reality has constraints: for example if you are working in a large company, software architecture is not controlled by the team (I know this is against 11th principle of the Agile Manifesto, but, again, this is life!). So these “limitations” should be in place to put players in the position to adapt their improvements considering their current situation.

Another valuable attribute of the game could be “scalability” (working well also in the original game). A game is normally designed for a defined number of players (not always true…), but it could be interesting to create a situation when we have many teams competing or (why not!) collaborating, or maybe create large learning sessions with players coming from different teams.

So our new game should:

  • Consist of a balanced deck of cards to create the right level of uncertainty
  • Have different configurations of play to create different experiences
  • Create constraints to mimic real world experience
  • Be scalable to make a multi-team
  • experience possible.

Now it is time to talk about the name of the game: Pizza KATA, where “kata”, other than the Japanese word for “model”, is coming from “KAnban TakeAway” which is the actual payoff of the game. Note that “kata” is also a martial term strictly connected with the practice to perfection, a true lean metaphor (also Toyota uses in this way in its TPS, Toyota Production System).

Diagram showing progress from current situation to goal

I want to mention that this name was decided after a few tries and experiments, so this process also used the evolutionary approach. It was generated later in the process of game creation, but I need to put it here for obvious reasons.

Now we have a goal and we have requirements. We can describe how this game works.

First of all we need to clarify what a RTCG is: this is a card game where the turns are defined by a time pace and not by the players. This means that time overides the potential time required for all action a player needs to play. This is a completely different logic from a turn-based game (like traditional tricky  games, for example or most board games). The reason behind this decision is about keeping this realistic and similar to our working situations where we have to perform our activities in a world, where timing is not waiting for us.

This is a true constraint players have to deal with, but this is also the main reason for fun in the game, together with the uncertainty that is mainly based on the menu.

The menu of our restaurant

Pizzas must be the most relevant component of a pizza game.

One of the attributes of this game was to create a menu with a certain level of uncertainty and so many more options (instead of the two in the original). Obviously we cannot have a real menu with all possible options and ingredients. However, after some research with some friends we were able to define eight main ingredients that can help to create a decent (in terms of variety) menu. Our pizza restaurant can deliver eight different pizzas:

Pizza pattern









However, if you ever have been in real Italian pizza restaurant, the strength is the possibility to modify your pizza according to your special taste. For our restaurant this is exactly the same. In fact we are able to accept fifteen different special variations. So actually, the menu is composed of 23 pizzas, with just eight ingredients!

Pizza variations with prices

Above you can see pizza MARGHERITA card that has 3 variations on the ingredients:

A. is with double mozzarella

B. is with ham and mushrooms

C. is with artichokes

The circled number on the top right corner is the price for the pizza and for each variation you can have different prices.

Clearly as you can see there are some tweaks of the real ingredients, however I think you can understand that this is not really impacting the goals of the game.

Below you can find the menu with all pizzas and “most” of the variations.

Game cards

Two more comments about pizza cards:

  1. The last card is a recap of all ingredients (read “tokens”) that we are going to use in our restaurant (read “game”).
  2. I mentioned, in the list you can find “most” of the variations. Actually there is one more variable the customers can control: the cooking time (did you notice the “flame” icon?). As you can imagine this is something which deeply impacts the dynamic of the game, as we will see later.

We just introduced one of the components of the gam. Now we will focus on all other components needed to play Pizza KATA.

Components of the game

Components let you manipulate the reality of the game

Pizza ingredients card

Pizza KATA has cards and boards. We will explore them in detail later in the series. But first of all, we need some tokens to play the game. Most of these tokens are related to ingredients for our pizzas. Sure, you remember the pizza cards shown above. One of the cards (the ninth) shows all the components and variations, so we can use this card as a guideline for our introduction.

To make a wonderful pizza you need tomato sauce and mozzarella (line A) and then, to create different pizza recipes you can use ham, salami, artichoke, mushrooms, olive and onions.

These are the basic 8 ingredients and you need a type of token for each of them to add them on the pizza.

Then you need two more tokens (line C) if a pizza requires a “well done” extra cooking and when you have some impediments in the restaurant (be prepared!).

Line B is for removing some ingredients from the basic recipes, so no token is required.

Finally you need a d6 dice and a bunch of timers.

When you are preparing a PnP (print & play) game, tokens are the most “complicated” to create. Actually in the package you can find a paper version of them you can print, however I always suggest to work with 3D objects because these are easier to manipulate, and you need to manipulate them, because this is part of the game (again, be prepared!)

Here you can see the tokens I am using in my sessions and an example with a pizza Capricciosa ready for cooking (with another preview of the crust card used to prepare the pizzas).

card with tokens onCard with tokens on and ccapricciosa recipe

As mentioned above, you need timers, because this is a Real Time card game.

You can use the timer on your smartphone but keep in mind, you will need more than one timer at the same time. We will see later how they are used, but for the moment keep in mind the following sequence 1-3-3 (you need from 4 to 7 timers). Maybe you can use a “multi-timer” app that can have many timers running on the same screen.

However, if you want to increase the fun, I strongly suggest using hourglasses. You can use the one suggested for children while brushing their teeth. They are very cheaply available on every marketplace on the web.

sand timers

I use one minute timers, to create a fast-paced game. You can also use two minute timers to create a more quiet (but frankly, less fun) situation. As mentioned, you need at least four of them.

The specific set of component makes Pizza KATA a true game, complete and “out-of-the-box” as it is. But this approach bring another difference with the original. Game preparation absorbs energy and time that actually should be dedicated to conversation and experimentation.

We have already seen different types of cards available in the game but now it is time to describe the reality where the game is played: the restaurant.

Cards required to play the game

Cards are the essence of a card game.

So far, we have already presented two types of cards.

The Pizza cards describe the ingredients of each pizza and all possible variants. You can find also information about the value of each pizza and instruction for baking it.

Dough cards are very specific double face cards that have been designed to simulate pizza preparation. Preparing the dough is a real manual activity, inspired by true pizza baker: you have to slap on the table with the first side up, then you must roll and stretch for a given number of times. When the dough is ready you can flip the card and place ingredients (tokens) following the specific pizza recipe.

game card showing time for dough rollinggame card with spaces for ingredient tokens

Order cards are the source of the flow and the core dynamic of the game, because this should create realistic, challenging and fun situations. That’s why designing and testing this deck is one of the essential tasks of the whole game creation.

Each of the order cards is designed to show the list of pizzas and the total value. It also has a special marker to easily identify the different types, and an ID to indicate the level of difficulty of the order.

There are seven different order types, organized in decks to be shuffled

  • Three decks (I, II, III) of common orders differentiated by size and pizzas: we have basic orders with the simpler pizzas in small quantities, which are actually the most common in a pizza restaurant. We have family orders with all pizzas and medium quantities. These comprise the largest set of the three. Finally we have party orders where we have big orders of all pizzas. These are the most valuable.
  • One deck of special orders (S), where some of the items have special variations ofthe eight pizzas in the menu.
  • One deck of extra-cook orders (K) where some of the items requires extra time in cooking.
  • One deck of urgent orders (X), where delivery in the given time can bring extra value.
Order cards

Finally, there is another type or cards, event cards mixed with the orders that creates unpredictability with situations that impact on the flow of work: missing orders, double orders, missing ingredients….

All of these cards are designed to create well defined impact on the flow and, as a consequence, increase difficulty but also the fun for players. So let’s see how to use order cards and how Pizza KATA is a unique game.

A session is a sequence of “days”. Each of the days has a sequence of orders and at the end of the day the players have the possibility to discuss and introduce some improvements that can be applied in the following day. Using the order deck cards, the facilitator can apply his/her strategies to create the situations the team has to deal with. Example of strategies are:

  • increment the number of cards from one round to the next one,
  • mix cards from different sets to increase difficulty with the same number of cards,
  • add one or more events to break the flow
  • shuffle (or not) the cards to control the sequence or to add unpredictability,
  • reuse the same sequence to verify improvement
  • a mix of the above strategies in a single deck.

As an example, find below one of my favourite strategies, which you can apply in a 90 minute workshop:

  • define 10 cards as a standard day of work and shuffle them every day
  • continue the rounds in a day to complete all orders (to empty the queue) and count extra rounds
  • Day 1: this is a warmup, with 10 cards from deck I
  • Day 2: 2 cards deck I, 7 from II and 1 event
  • Day 3: 2 from I, 5 from II, 3 from III and 1 event
  • Day 4: 2 from I, 3 from II, 2 from III, 1 from S, 1 from K and 1 event
  • Day 5: same as Day 4 but with max 3 extra rounds

As you can imagine, this deck provide the facilitator with a lot of opportunities for experimentation but above all it lets the facilitator design the workshops for the team’s needs, without having to worry about the material because everything is in the game box.

Tracking performance during the game

“Without data, you have just another opinion”

Another asset of the game available in the package (even if this is not exactly a card or a component) is the set of “tickets” you can use to track how the team is doing the job.

The first type of ticket is useful to collect when an order enters the system (collection) and when the order exits from the system (delivery).

Performance tracking ticket

This is perfect to calculate the lead time of an order but also the average and helps the team to understand their performance and make predictions on time to deliver a potential future orders. This is the basic statistical analysis a team can perform on their job.

But if you want to understand better the behaviour of the system, you need to analyse the “stages” (i.e. sub-systems), because actually each stage tells a different story. So in the package you can find a second type of tickets

Work in Progress performance tracking ticket

While the first ticket is for all orders in a session, this one is for a single order and let the team track all intermediate times: you can understand bottlenecks, calculate different cycle times, and obviously here you can collect the same information you have in the first ticket.

These tickets can be placed close to each stage, or maybe on a dedicated kanban board that visualises the flow into stages. So, using this second ticket, you can also visualise the Work In Progress (WIP), simply counting the tickets in a given stage.

As you can recognize, these are KANBAN in the strict sense, because “Kanban”, in Japanese, means “card” and these are the perfect prototype of tickets that teams are using to track their real work, so that they can measure their performances.

Note that both tickets can be used to track the orders (as described above) but also to track the pizzas in an order. The difference will be in the number of tickets and in the analysis you can perform with them. It is a team decision how to use them, maybe evolving the monitoring session by session after realising what information they need to track.

This is the end of the first part of this article. In the next issue, we are going to talk about the line of work of the pizza restaurant and how this has been implemented in the Pizza KATA. Finally we introduce the different play modes available: one team, more teams collaborating, and one team competitive.

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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