Using the game "Battleship" to demonstrate Agile

I found this idea posted on a blog ( and have used it in my class when we start to talk about Agile methods. You can read the details in the referenced link above, but the way I use it is as follows:

  • I arrive to class 10 minutes early and the first students that arrive are asked if they will play a battleship game as part of a demonstration. Never have any problem with volunteers!
  • I let them play a couple rounds of Battleship to remember the game.
  • I then tell them to reset the ships. But this time I tell one student to write down 30 moves that they want to make, in the order they want to make them. (40 seems too much).
  • Once the list is complete, they start to play.
  • Sometimes the person with the list gets lucky for a bit, but very quickly the game turns against them.
  • After it is clear that one student is going to win, I stop the game (usually about 5 minutes into class time at this point), and explain what has been going on to the entire class (who are all very interested when they see the game).
  • I also make it a point to interview the person who was playing according to a "plan." I asked them how they felt as the game progressed. Most report a high level of anxiety since they knew they would not be able to adapt. We then talk about projects that need to be able to adapt (phone app development) and those that don't (air traffic control system development). I try to always emphasize that the right tools for the project are what is important, and not that one method is always superior to another. ("Good project managers borrow, great project managers steal").

Note: If you don't have a Battleship game of your own, you can get them cheap on ebay.

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