The Name Game

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by requests, without seeing the end of it, despite your best efforts? You are not alone and there may be a solution! This is what we are going to talk about today through the Name game: one of my favorite workshops to talk aboutoperational efficiency.

This game was originally popularized by Henrik Kniberg in short version titled " The Multitasking Name Game » (FR version). It was later revisited in 2015 by Alfred Almendra in more in-depth version.

I propose here the way I animate it today, inspired by these 2 versions 🙂


In this workshop, you will ask participants to write first names using 2 different strategies: multi-tasking and single-tasking. One person will play the role of scribe and all the others will play the role of customers. We will then measure the time of realization to compare.


In terms of materials, you will need:

  • 1 block of post-its (where the first names will be written)
  • 1 marker
  • Stopwatches (usually attendees' phones)
  • Flipchart or A4 sheets (to visualize the results)
  • Scotch (to display results)

Note: You can also print graphs and maps from Alfred's support. I just tend to do the tracings by hand for simplicity and flexibility.


The workshop takes place in 3 parts: an introductory phase of the context, the experimentation of the 2 strategies one after the other.

In terms of preparation, you can prepare something like this on Paperboard:

Depending on the number of people and your ease in facilitation, you can decide to make several sub-groups that will tackle the exercise at the same time. In which case, a paperboard as above per team will have to be prepared. For my part, I am starting to think about dividing the group from 8 people so that the imbalance between the number of customers and the scribe is not too great. 1 scribe for 5-7 clients seems pretty good to me.

Remember to put the chronogram and the CFD of each round well above the other, this will be useful for the final debriefing 🙂

Note: you will notice that I chose not to keep the control map in my animation (compared to Alfred's version). Indeed, unless the intention is also to present the Kanban method, I found that it did not bring much more visually than the chronogram / CFD combination. Let's see if I change my mind in the future 🙂


As you may have noticed, the "Game of First Names" omits the notion of multi-tasking which was initially present in the initial title. I like to keep this vague so as not to steer the participants in one direction and allow them to live the experience fully.

In this article I will describe the animation for a group of 5 people.

Now let's get into the heart of the animation 😉

Part 1: Introduction of the context

Part 1.a: Estimated completion time

To start the workshop, I ask participants:

How long do you think it takes to write a first name?

To avoid unnecessary debates at this stage, I suggest taking a first name of intermediate size and defining an average time on which everyone can agree.

Note: the answer “it depends” may emerge here. The idea is not to be precise, we just want to give an idea.

After some procrastination, we can generally agree on an average time between 3 and 5 seconds for writing a first name. I enter this number in the corresponding box.

Being a group of 5 people (4 clients + 1 scribe), we deduce together that the total completion time would be around 20 seconds. I enter this number in the corresponding box.

Note: we make an abuse here by considering that the effort of writing a first name is linear and therefore simply can be multiplied by the number of first names to be written. I suggest that you accept it because it matters little for what follows and for the conclusions we wish to reach.

Part 1.b: Factors affecting weather

We move on to the following question:

What are the factors that can impact time of achievement?

A bit like popcorn, I note what emerges from the participants in the space provided for this purpose.

Some examples : length of the first name, upper/lower case, origin of the first name, functional pen or not, writing of the dominant hand or not, knowledge of the first name, special characters, writing medium, etc.

Note : With experience, I tend to group the elements mentioned according to different themes as expertise, material, quality. The intention here is to bring some height on answers to make them applicable whatever the context.

Here is what emerged in this group:

I ask one last time if this seems to them to be sufficiently exhaustive and if so, I suggest that they experiment! 🙂

Before launching the activity, we need to define who will be the scribe and who will be the clients. I then ask who would like to volunteer to be a scribe. When a person identifies himself, I tend to say to him:

Thanks for kindly offering. Moreover, for the trouble, as a scribe you will have the right to sit down to write while the customers will remain standing!

After a few exchanges of smiles, we can finally start the first round 😉

Part 2: Round 1 – Multitasking

I introduce this first round by addressing the scribe directly:

You have just been hired in a company whose strategy is: customer satisfaction above all! For this, it is unthinkable to make him wait. That's why you'll have to process all the requests at the same time and show that things are moving!

Note: The last words (show that it moves) are chosen voluntarily because they are words that can resonate easily with the participants. 😉

I explain to the scribe that he will only be able to write one letter at a time for each first name. Indeed, you have to show that you care about the subject just enough to show that things are moving.

I then turn to customers:

As clients, the only thing that interests you is the time it will take for your project (first name) to be completed. You will therefore need your phone to measure the duration.

Each person then goes in search of their phone and prepares their stopwatch. At the same time, I invite them to choose a first name different from their own to add a little more spice to the exercise.

Then, to make the scribe's task easier, I invite him to prepare 4 separate post-its for his 4 upcoming clients. I also ask clients to put themselves in a certain order and to tell him which letters to register as they go along.

When everyone is ready, I start the activity.

When it's finished, we fill in the chronogram and the cumulative flow diagram (CFD).


The construction of the chronogram is quite simple.

On the abscissa, we have time. In our case, each time measurement corresponds to 10 seconds. It can thus be seen that the duration of the exercise has exceeded the minute.

On the ordinate we have each first name numbered from 1 to 4 (according to the order pre-established with the participants). Usually, the first names can be written directly. It is mainly for convenience that I used numbers. They will obviously be supported by the facilitation speech.

We see that the beginning of each first name is slightly offset. Indeed, it is time for everyone to start giving their first letter.

The red line corresponds to the first 20 seconds. We will use this data at the end of the workshop for the debriefing. You can also draw it only at the end if you wish.

Focus on the production system

We study here the production system as a whole as a zoom of the previous chronogram

On the abscissa, we always have the time with the same 10-second graduations as on the chronogram. This will make it easier for us to study.

On the ordinate, we find the number of first names processed by the system. Be careful not to confuse it with the first name number as mentioned above.

Here is how to draw this graph:

Operation (Input)Operation (Output)
Each time a first name is started, the graph goes up by 1.Each time a first name is completed, the graph goes down by 1.

Note: it is not necessarily the first started that will be finished first. We see here that it is the 2nd who finished first.

Links with the chronogram

Placing the timeline directly above helps to transfer measurements more easily.

Well, my eyes had a little trouble on the postponement of the 3rd and 4th outgoing but you get the idea, don't you? This is one of the limits of drawing by hand! 🙂

After drawing this, we are happy we have a visual. I then ask the participants what they think this area colored in red corresponds to. After a few exchanges, I share with them that:

This corresponds to the cost generated by the production system.

Indeed, it is the time spent working on a task and as the saying goes: “time is money! ". 🙂

Now, we can only really make sense of this graph by comparing it to the one we will have in the next round.

Cumulative flow chart

The cumulative flow diagram corresponds to the graph below.

To better understand its construction, you have to imagine that you are following 2 elements with 2 different curves. Indeed, in the previous graph we followed the number of elements in the system. This is why when an element enters we increment by 1 and when an element leaves we decrement by 1.

Here, when an element enters the system, the first curve is incremented by 1. When an element leaves the system, the second curve is incremented by 1. We will thus better see the “cumulative” side of the diagram”.

The cumulative flow diagram gives us a certain amount of information at a time t:

Number of current items3
Average cycle time (approx.)
from now on
Almost 40 seconds
(which turns out to be true for the 4th outgoing element)
Average flow (approx.)3 elements / 40 seconds

Now, what we are mainly looking to observe with the cumulative flow diagram is the trend of the 2 input and output curves:

We see here that the curves are moving away from each other, this means that the outstanding is increasing. So there are more elements going in than elements going out. This is therefore a warning sign to be taken into account to avoid overloading the system too much.

This is one of the key elements of difference with the graph of the production system 🙂

Debrief Round 1

I therefore take this opportunity to do a little debriefing of this first round by asking the scribe and then the clients how they felt during the exercise.

Here are some examples of what can be said:

" Stressful ""It feels like we're just waiting"
“No overview”"In addition, we must say what to do each time if we want to be sure that he is not mistaken"
"We don't really know when it's over because we're more concerned about switching""It's exhausting"
"I didn't know where I was anymore"“We have the impression that we are not really taken care of”

In other words:

No one is satisfied.

We then move on to the second round! 🙂

Part 3: Round 2 – Mono-task

For this second round, I again address the scribe:

You have just changed company and the latter has a somewhat innovative strategy. It's here customer satisfaction first ! It is therefore essential to take care of it from start to finish.

The rules are quite simple: the scribe finishes each first name before beginning the next.

I ask each client to change their first name to give a little suspense and then I start the exercise again.

Let's compare the results a bit.


This second round is going particularly quickly. A few details, however, deserve attention.

  • The duration of the exercise is less than 30 seconds this time. So we have multiplied by 2 the efficiency production compared to the previous round.
  • some first names started much later than in the first round but finished earlier.

Cumulative flow chart

Generally, here it is amazement. You may feel that the trick was more effective, but seeing it amplifies the impact: even more so when compared to the previous trick.

We can then debrief without too much difficulty with the participants by asking them what links they make with their daily lives and especially what prevents them today from going towards the second strategy.

To press even more, we can also plot the trend for the CFD of this round:

The 2 curves are close to being parallel. This means that the number of incoming items is close to the number of outgoing items. We can thus consider that our system is reliable and we can start talking about predictability 🙂

Debrief Round 2

I ask the scribe how he experienced this trick and generally the answer is like:

It was more comfortable.

By asking a little more about why, we realize that unlike the first round, it is the scribe who is in control of the flow of requests. Often, he even signals with a “Top!” or a “Next!” » the start of the next first name. He then works at the pace adapted to his ability to do.

When we ask the question to customers, the answers are of the type:

We feel that we are really taken care of. You can even manage quality issues in real time.

An element is added to this and this is where we will use our 20 second slider:

In Turn 1, at 20 seconds, nothing is over and the cost only increases. This can generate stress for customers and it does not give any visibility on a potential end date.

In Round 2, at 20 seconds, 3 elements have already come out with some regularity. We can therefore more easily hope that the 4th also comes out in this rhythm. This gives customers visibility on a potential end date and it helps to wait longer if the system is known to be reliable.

A remark that emerges at this time is often:

Yes, but customers do not always have the visibility of each other as in the exercise!

It is totally true. However, you as a production system will have the metrics that will allow you to be able to communicate with your customers. This is the whole point of metrics such as Lead Time, which measures the time it takes to complete an element from start to finish in a process! 🙂

A remark that often emerges at the end of the workshop:

It should be done to the managers!

I actually think that might be a good idea. Unfortunately, I think it's the very top stratum that we should be able to reach. Indeed, I had the opportunity to do the exercise to managers of a large French company and you know what they said to me at the end of the workshop?

We should do it to our managers!

Jokes aside, let's start where we can and that's it 🙂

Factors affecting the weather?

Finally, I return to the space of factors impacting time to specify that:

All the elements mentioned have an impact on time, but less than multitasking.

I then add an element around the initial time estimate.

When we are asked to estimate something, we assume that we will do just that and without being interrupted. When does this happen?

You can imagine the answer 🙂

I finally conclude by taking the times for lap 2 which are indeed close to the initial estimate.


Le Jeu des Prenoms is an extremely powerful workshop to address the subject of operational efficiency and in particular multi-tasking. It requires little material and is therefore easy to draw 🙂

Participants are generally marked visually by the graphs and can hardly question the results because they have obtained them themselves. This is a great strength of exercises where measurements are taken because you can then easily rely on them to debrief and learn from them. THE Penny Game is another example.

Finally, a big thank you to Henrik and Alfred for these always high quality inspirations! 🙂


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Picture of Olivier MY

Olivier MY

Trained as an engineer and passionate about people, I quickly turned to the world of Agile coaching and Professional coaching. Today, I support individuals, teams and organizations towards creating value adapted to the constraints and challenges of today's world. I am committed to contributing to the professionalization of the profession, in particular through detailed feedback and inspirations highlighting the importance of an open, curious and respectful posture.


3 responses

  1. The second CFD looks fake to me. As the scribe deals with one task at a time, we should have a "bar" of 1 in height rather: the scribe writes a name, we increase by 1. He finishes the name, we decrease by 1 and immediately he continues on the second name , we increase by 1, etc.
    This will also make it possible to approach the outstanding limit which here, with a scribe, is equal to 1. The loop is closed by understanding that this limit is visible with the second CFD.
    Thank you again for your always interesting article to read and practice!

    1. Hello Benoit,

      Thank you for your message. There are actually 2 errors on my part, mea culpa!

      The description I make to build the CFD is actually wrong. Indeed, by following this instruction, what we build is not a CFD but a zoom of the chronogram (thanks Alfred). However, this still allows us to observe the overall cost of first name production.

      The second CFD chart is in fact correct (in the real CFD sense) because you can clearly see the “cumulative” side of the chart. Thus to each successive first name we add 1 to the total. On the other hand, and as you have well noticed, if we take the instruction that I had made at the start, the graph should cap at 1 (because only 1 element in progress at a time) even if that does not will not change much to the observed overall cost.

      I modify the article accordingly and thank you again for your remark 🙂

      Beautiful day.


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