Software Methodologies Experiment – The Marshmallow Challenge

This is a summary of this meetup held on May 13, 2014 at YouILab

Ellen, Glenn and Caroline started the night with Agile 101s on different software methodologies.

Once Glenn pulled out his outstanding explanation of Waterfall, Ellen made a swift introduction to Scrum followed by Caroline who gently disclosed the secret behind Kanban.

Once the pizzas were distributed, bellies were filled and our minds were settled we were ready for action. It also occurred to me once again; YouILabs had an amazing lunch area. Well disposed, properly lighten up with comfortable chairs all around different types of tables. Some of them were round tables, encouraging a neutral collaboration whereas others where rectangular. A very Agile space…

The concept of the night was to experiment with using different software methodologies by solving the Marshmallow Challenge. You can read more about The Marshmallow Challenge here.


Our Setup:

  • 5 persons per team
  • 3 Kanban Teams
  • 2 Scrum Teams
  • 2 Waterfall Teams

Each team was given a simplified version of Kanban, Scrum and Waterfall to help them solve the Marshmallow Challenge…

The Kanban team was given two practices: “Visualize Work” and “Limit WIP” as well as three principles to help guide their effort: “Start with what you know”; “Evolutionary change”; “Leadership at all levels”.

The Scrum Team had to identify a Product Owner, a Scrummaster and a development team and had to complete the challenge in 2 Sprints, 6 minutes each.

The Waterfall team had to decide of the design first then implement the design. The designers were different than the developers and they couldn’t talk to each other. Interestingly, one team had 3 designers / 2 developers and the other team had the opposite. Their marshmallow tower had to be identical as the design document produced by the designers.


While the 18 minutes were flying by I could see some team struggling with designs, communication and some of them were quickly fighting gravity. 4 teams out of 7 successfully made a standing tower with the marshmallow on top. They were in between 20 to 22 inches tall.

Unfortunately, one Scrum team and none of the Waterfall teams were able to make it in 18 min. Although their designs were fantastic, there was no free standing tower by the end of the challenge. The Scrum team tried to make such large step as their last increment; once the marshmallow was placed on top: the tower simply couldn’t stand…

Challenge completed, the teams completed a quick survey to get a sense of how well they performed as a team, as individuals and how well their methodology helped them to solve the problem. This created some good discussion with the group and generated a few “a-ha” moments. For instance, as we were leaving, a participant pointed out how the Waterfall teams seemed to rate their performance as individuals higher than the team’s performance… whereas the Scrum and Kanban team members rated their team performance higher than their individual performances on the challenge.  Hum… sound familiar… ?

Thanks to everyone who came out to play and shared in the experience of building marshmallow towers… Agile Ottawa is lucky to have such a lively group  of experimenters!  Looking forward to seeing you all again at our next event!!!


I think the night wouldn’t have this immense success without the support of our sponsors:

While Agile Pain Relief provided this delicious pizza, YouILabs provided a great meetup space. Thanks to Mark Levison (Agile Pain Relief), Andrew Emmons and Phil Green (YouILabs) for their help.


A few words on the upcoming Agile events:

  1. Signup quickly to an Agile 110 course with Agile Pain Relief at the beginning of June. More details can be found here 
  2. You will also find Agile Pain Relief as a sponsor of the upcoming Agile Coach Camp that will be held June 6-8, 2014 at the University of Guelph, Ontario.
  3. YouILabs is looking for Agilists to fill many different positions.
  4. Glenn and Ellen will host a Back of the Room Training on June 5-6 in Guelph.

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