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Slack, Paper, Scissors

Slack, Paper, Scissors is a simple game exploring three key concepts of capacity planning: slack, trade-offs and weighted shortest job first (WSJF). The game is very easy to run and requires just paper and scissors. It should take 15-20 mins including debrief.

Materials (for each team):

  • 3 pieces of differently colored paper (preferably letters or A4 size)

  • 1 pair of scissors

  • 1 marker

If you don’t have colored paper or scissors you can improvise.


  1. Distribute the scissors and 2 of the 3 colors of paper to each team (size 2-5). For example, if you have green, pink and white paper distribute the green and pink and keep the white (for now).

  2. Tell each team to cut each piece of paper into 4 shapes of different sizes. They don’t have to be different shapes so long as they are different sizes.

  3. Ask each team to randomly number the 4 shapes on the first piece of paper 1, 3, 5, 7 and on the second piece of paper 2, 4, 6, 8. Note: Make sure you stress that the shapes are labelled randomly, if they label according to size it will interfere slightly with an important learning objective.

  4. Share with the teams that the shapes represent initiatives, the colors represent two customers and the labels on the shapes represent the relative value of each initiative.

  5. Hand out the 3rd piece of paper and tell teams that this represents capacity for the next quarter. The goal is to plan as much value into the next quarter without overlapping initiatives or going outside the bounds of the given capacity. Don’t tell teams to keep both customers happy, you can leave that for a debrief discussion.


Go round the room and see who had the most value in their plan, remind people that because of the random nature of how we attached value there is a lot of luck involved

Some questions to ask:

  1. How does this parallel the real world?

  2. Did anybody prioritize one customer over another? How would this work in the real world?

  3. What does the empty space represent? Is it good to have empty space? What do Agile organizations call the empty space? [slack]

  4. Is the largest initiative always highest value? Is it the best economic decision to consider only value when planning for highest throughput of value? [hey, we just learned WSJF]

  5. Can we reduce the size of backlog items while still retaining most of the value? [yes if we cut in the right place]

  6. What can we do to increase the size of the paper? [more people, greater productivity, less uncertainty] What are some of the gotchas?

  7. What can decrease the size of the paper? [less people, less productivity, greater uncertainty]. How can we mitigate?


Slack, Paper Scissors presents a simple, tactile method of experiencing the tradeoffs made during capacity planning the value of slack for enabling flow and a really simple and straightforward introduction to weighted-shortest-job-first (WSJF).

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