Facilitating Product Development through Innovation Games – Part One


As Project Managers we are often tasked with uncovering what our customers need vs. what they want when developing products.  Sometimes this creates tension because the desire to create the right high value items for the organization can come into conflict with the desires of departments and/or individuals.   Furthermore, our ability to maximize business value for a product relies heavily on a strong relationship and high level of collaboration with our customers.  Activities that diffuse this tension and create an environment that fosters greater customer collaboration are high value in themselves.  This is why I found Innovation Games so fascinating!

I was recently exposed to the power of Innovation Games through a two (2) day training session delivered by Kumido Adaptive Strategies.  Our instructor, Derek Wade, provided a very balanced and interactive experience.  We had five people in our class, which led to a more intimate and personalized experience. Not only did we learn creative ways of working through real world business problems, but we also had fun doing it, the latter of which in my view makes Innovation Games remarkably powerful!

We played eight (8) games out of the twelve (12) available.  We did not play Show and Tell, Me and My Shadow, The Apprentice, or Spider Web primarily for logistical reasons.  If you are interested in learning more about these games; as well as, the ones I’ll cover in this article, I encourage you to visit the Innovation Games website.

In this first post, I’ll cover the following games: Start Your Day, Prune The Product Tree, 20/20 Vision, and Remember The Future.   I’ll give you the game name, its primary purpose, how we used the game in the two (2) day course and a picture from our session (if available).   Our product under study was either a software development process we were currently using or have used in the past.  I hope you enjoy!

The Games

Start Your Day

Purpose:  Understand when, how, and where your customer uses your product

Using print outs of calendars in the day, week, month, and year format, we wrote down which aspects of our software development process we practice regularly (ie. Daily standups, release blackout dates, etc).  By visualizing these items on the calendar, we were able to better understand our current process.  It's not hard to see how potential waste can quickly bubble to the surface using this method.  At the very least you will get some clarity on why your organizations does certain things.

Here are some photos:

Prune the Product Tree

Purpose:  Evolve your product so that it reflects your customer's needs

Using a print out of a tree, we uncovered how our process would need to evolve over time.  The apples we pinned to the tree represented features.  By visualizing the apples on the tree, we got a better understanding of how our process would evolve and in what order.  In other words, the symbolism means something.  For example, the roots represented the must have features in order for the product to be successful.  As we progressed up the trunk and defined the tree canopy, various themes emerged.  We then identified zones around the tree that represented releases.

Here is a photo:

20/20 Vision

Purpose:  Understand the priorities of product features, market requirements, and product benefits

Using the names of games printed on oversized note cards, the class prioritized the games they wanted to play during the two (2) day course.  The Y axis represented the priority of the game.  The X axis represented whether we wanted to Discuss, Play, or Facilitate a particular game. Our instructor asked us what was more important and then moved the cards either above or below existing ones based on our responses, to show priority.  Some games naturally fell to the bottom since they were not logistically possible.  For example, in Me and My Shadow, the players are supposed to shadow a customer using the product.

Here are some photos:

Remember the Future

Purpose:  Understand your customer's definition of success by seeing how they shape their future

I had played this game before under the name "Futurespecitve".  Like a Retrospective (reference Scrum), the players reflect back; however, they imagine first that they have traveled into the future and use the future as their basis for reflection.  In other words, we imagine that our present is the future and we discuss the steps we took to reach where we are today (with a successful product).  Using a long sheet of paper, we created a time line and placed post it notes at various intervals.  The time line started with Now (or present state) and ended with Outcome (or future state).  In between is the future’s past.  Looking back from the perspective of the future can often present activities and/or challenges that might not be visible by looking forward from the present.

Here are some photos: 


 This concludes the first installment of our Innovation Games discussion.  In the next installment I’ll cover some additional highlights from the class.  I’ll wrap up with Speed Boat, Buy a Feature, Give Them a Hot Tub, and Product Box.  All exciting games in their own right! 

If you have any feedback you’d like to share, please add to the discussion through this blog or email me directly.  You’re feedback is welcome!