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The WIP Drinking Game

18 Jul 2022 | Agile Culture


The WIP Drinking Game is a quick and effective game for agile teams, either presencial or remote, to illustrate essential aspects for collaboration and workflow improvements.


When to use the WIP Drinking Game?

You should use it when you need to bring one or many of the following points across:

  • Limit Work In Progress (WIP);
  • Work with small batch sizes;
  • Prioritize based on Cost of Delay;
  • Calculate the Cost of Opportunity;
  • Collaborate towards faster Lead time;
  • Prove Little´s Law (WIP = Throughtput x Lead Time)


You need this

  • You need one 300ml water bottle for each participant.
  • You need a small coffee cup per participant.
  • You need a whiteboard or a place to write the results
  • If you are running the remote WIP drinking game, you will need to prepare your remote borads (available im Mural and Miro, links here soon)


How to facilitate the WIP Drinking Game?

Below I explain the game for two groups of five people each. Later I will explain how to facilitate it with more people.

Form two groups of five people. Everyone will drink.

Distribute 10 coffee cups, one for each drinker.

Place three water bottles for each group. 300 ml water bottles are best.

Bottles and cups ready for group I

Choose one person from each group to be the servant.
The servant must follow the servant rules, but must share the rules with the drivers (at least, until the game is over).


The rules for serving the drinks

Before starting the game you musty call both servants so you can privately tell them the rules:

Servant for group I

Servant for group one must limit the number of open bottles to one (Bottles WIP –Work in Progress– is 1). The servant starts the game by opening one bottle. The second bottle is to be opened only once the first bottle is empty.

On the first serving, the servant should serve person A with bottle 1, person B with bottle 1, person C with bottle 1, and so forth until bottle 1 is over, she. The bottle 2 is to be opened.

Servant for group II

Servant for group two must open all four bottles to start. And must serve each person from a different bottle.

On the first serving, the servant should serve person A with bottle 1, person B with bottle 2, person C with bottle 3, person D with bottle 1 and person E with bottle 2. On the second serving, person A with bottle 3, person B with bottle 1, and so forth.

Drinkers celebration

Super important: whenever a bottle goes empty, the drinkers in the group must celebrate (some people hit the water bottle on the table to make lots of noise).

It is really important to ask the group to celebrate really hard the completion of the task in hand — to finish a bottle.

The drinking ritmo

Servants should serve once the facilitator says so: “please serve your group”

Drinkers should drink once the facilitator says so: “please drink”


Facilitator note taking

The facilitator must annotate in a place visible to everyone (whiteboard or flip-chart). The notes are a visual representation that shows each group bottle status (opened, not opened, finished) as per the drinking round.

Below is a final result for a drinking game, for two teams (three bottles for each team, 5 drinkers, three drinking rounds).

Below is a step by step of the note taking for each round.

Round 1, serving (instructions: “please serve your group”):

Round 1, drinking (instructions: “please drink”):

Round 2, after serving:

Round 2, after drinking:

Round 3, after serving:

Round 3, after drinking:

Variations on the number of people

If you have only five people, run the game twice. The first time with the servant I rule, the second time with servant II rule.

If you have fifteen people. Create three groups. The servant III must start opening two bottles, only open another one if one finishes (WIP limit = 2).

If you have more people? You can make larger groups of drinkers. Keep a ratio of five drinkers for three 300 ml water bottles.

If you do not have groups with multiple of five participants? Adjust the difference by deciding if the servant is also a drinker or not.

It is important to keep the restriction: the groups must have the same number of drinkers, the bottle quantity and size are the same, the coffee cups are the same size and the serving sizes are approximately of the same amount.


Questions to make after the WIP drinking game

Make sure the result of the game is visible to all. Below are a few useful questions:

  • Which group has celebrated more often?
  • How long did group one take to finish the first bottle? And group two?
  • Did the drinkers drink the same amount?
  • Was the amount of water consumed by the groups equal?
  • Were the number of bottles equal for all groups?
  • What was different?
  • What if we changed from 300 ml water to 500 ml water? What if it was 1 liter bottles? What would be different?
  • Consider that I pay 100 dollars per minute for each empty bottle I receive? Which group would have made more money after 10 minutes (considering each drinking round takes one minute)? Could you calculate it?
  • Consider that I pay 100 dollars per minute for an empty 300 ml bottle, 200 dollars per minute for a 500 ml bottle and 300 dollars per minute for a 1 l bottle. Should you limit WIP to one bottle? If yes, which one? Why?


Remote WIP Drinking Game

I created this game in 2011 soon after I wrote a blog post about my whisky bar and flow parameters (the name: WIP –Whisky In Progress– Drinking Game. I do not recommend this game with whisky. Although the small beer bottles or cans are good options for people that drink beers (please make sure it is ok for the group before proposing it; change to juice, soda or whatever is the group preferred beverage).

In 2020 I created an online board for the game. At first I thought it would be boring. But, to my surprise, the results were really good. It did trigger the importar conversations on workflow, collaboration and prioritization.

If you like this game, you will enjoy the eBook on Cumulative Flow Diagram (available at Amazon). On this book I explore my whisky bar for ilustratign the diagram and important flow parameters.

>> Enjoy the remote drinking game board on Mural.


Below are a few images after running the game (WIP limits are respectivelly: 6 bottles, 3 bottles and 1 bottle).

More info

“Flow is essential to managing modern work and enabling customer satisfaction. The Cumulative Flow Diagram (CFD) is very efficient as it provides a lot of information in a single image. People often struggle to interpret and master the use of CFDs, but Paulo’s book provides step-by-step guidance to maximize your understanding and demystify this important tool.” – David J. Anderson, author of Kanban: Successful Evolutionary Change for Your Technology Business and several other books.

>> Get the Cumulative Flow Diagram book.

>> What about having a guided conversation with your delivery team about flow metrics? Even better, taking your team through a simulated agile team delivery where they will apply flow metrics to improve the way thery work. Check the Lean Delivery with Agile Metrics Training.

>> Interested in guiding the leadership on how to bring a few innitiatives from the strategic level to the tactical and operationa levels? How to prioritize (and limit WIP) of initiatives, projects, products and/or features? Check the Product Leadership and Strategic Alignment Training.



Paulo Caroli

Paulo Caroli is the author of the best-selling book “Lean Inception: How to Align People and Build the Right Product” (the first on a series of books on business agility). He's also the creator of FunRetrospectives.com , a site and book about retrospectives, futurospectives and team building activities. Caroli writes on this blog frequently. Receive the next post in your email. Sign up here.
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