Facilitating Product Development through Innovation Games – Part Two


This post is part two of a two part series discussion on Innovation Games.  In part one, I talked about the games Start Your Day, Prune the Product Tree, 20/20 Vision, and Remember the Future.  For more information on these games and why I found Innovation Games so fascinating, please read Facilitating Product Development through Innovation Games - Part One.                

In this second post, I'll cover the following games:  Speed Boat, Buy a Feature, Give Them a Hot Tub, and Product Box.    I'll give you the game name, its primary purpose, either how we used the game in the two day course (to shape our software development process) or how I have used it elsewhere, and a picture from the sessions (if available).  Again, I hope you enjoy!

The Games

Speed Boat

Purpose: Understand what your customers like and/or dislike about your Product or Service.  Stated another way, what is holding your Product or Service back and what is propelling it forward, in the eyes of the customer.

During the two day course we used the online version of this game.  The online version makes it very easy to run the game with participants who are not co-located.  At press time, registrants of the Innovation Games class get a free one year subscription (a $1,995 value!) to the online games.  Additionally, I recently facilitated this game at the APLN Houston Midyear Checkpoint in June, using a manual process.  Since the pictures I'm showing here are from the APLN Houston Midyear Checkpoint, I will describe how we used Speed Boat during the Checkpoint.

Using a boat as a metaphor for APLN Houston (our product), we wrote characteristics that are propelling APLN Houston forward and holding APLN Houston back onto colored Post It notes.  Blue/Green Post Its represented "Wind" and Red/Pink Post Its represented "Anchors".  Like Prune the Product Tree, the symbolism has meaning.  Wind was placed above the water line and anchors below the water line.  The further ahead of the sail the Wind was, the stronger the characteristic propelled APLN Houston forward.  The deeper the anchor, the more the characteristic held us back.  It's easy to see how Speed Boat allowed us to visualize our strengths and weaknesses relatively quickly.

Here are some photos:

Buy a Feature

Purpose:  Prioritize features by channeling your inner capitalist!

Using an online market place, participants were given a set amount of money to spend on product features.  Product features were listed for all to see and through the course of the game, we put money down on features that we wanted to "buy". One of the key strengths of this game is that it encourages collaboration because, when setup correctly, participants won't have enough money (individually or collectively) to buy everything.  For an added twist, features can be priced so that they exceed the amount any one participant can afford to purchase, requiring them to collaborate with other participants to purchase the feature.

I found this game particularly applicable to situations where the Product Owner is not the sole expert for the product.  I've seen this in several large organizations where an enterprise class application spans multiple departments or lines of business.  While I am firmly a champion of the one Product Owner rule for Agile projects, the reality is, the Product Owner may not have the expertise to correctly prioritize all the features going into the product.  In this case, Buy a Feature is a great way for the experts to come together to help the Product Owner correctly prioritize the product features in a way that makes sense for the organization.

While we played this game online, it could be played manually very easily.  Unfortunately, I don't have any photos from this exercise.  But, if you would like to play a free online demo to see how it works, please contact us.

Give Them a Hot Tub

Purpose:  Use outrageous features to find hidden breakthroughs.

Using outrageous features, this game capitalizes on a condition called "cognitive dissonance"; which means that your participants will become uncomfortable in the face of something that defies their logic and/or belief system.  If a feature is outrageous enough it should make the participant uncomfortable enough to either dismiss it entirely or transform the idea into something more practical.  However, the key is to encourage a transformation.

During the game, participants are given a preselected list of features to choose from.  Most of these features will be very practical (i.e. "ability to view year over year sales trends"); however, some will be outrageous.  For example, a feature might state that every time a sale is lost, the song "Another one bites the dust" plays on the user's machine.  Outrageous right?!?!?  A transformation of that might be that the sales tracking system sends an email to the sales team notifying them of a lost sale.  It's easy to see how Give Them a Hot Tub encourages more out of the box thinking than your typical brainstorming session.

Product Box

Purpose: Identify the most important Product Features.

Using a blank cereal style box as a metaphor for our software development process, each person in the class decorated their box with writings, stickers, and magazine clippings that describe the benefits of their product.  As you can imagine, this exercise generated some friendly competition among the participants. At the end of the session each of us presented our Product Box's to the class in an attempt to sell our product.

While the creation of the boxes was fun, I found that the real magic happens during the presentations.   We all saw features on each others boxes that we wanted on our boxes.  My suggestion is to not vote on who's box is best, as this encourages an individual reward system which is an Agile anti-pattern (in other words, contrary to Agile values).  Instead, use this exercise as a starting point for future collaboration in understanding how you can take the best features from each box and prioritize those into future product releases.

Here are some photos: 


This concludes the second and final installment of our Innovation Games discussion.  I hope I have provided you with some new ideas on how you and your team can unlock the creative potential of your customers and your organization, thereby allowing you to take your product or service to the next level.  Again, Innovation Games creates a FUN environment for stakeholders to come together for some serious discussion around how to improve your product or service.

What has been your experience with Innovation Games?  Do you have additional questions about Innovation Games?  Share them here!