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Applying the Impact & Effort Matrix

Recently, my team got stuck trying to choose from four different architecture options for our website.  We need to find a balance between near-term tactical goals and long-term strategic goals. When we focused on our strategic goals, the solutions that we came up with didn’t meet our short-term requirements, and vice versa. We moved the pieces around the board for a month, and then finally we gave up and called for a Big Meeting.

In the meeting we had tech leads, solution architects and developers from my company and from our vendor. We also had other stakeholders like administrators, product owners, a couple of consultants from a design company and our UX (User Experience) guy. There were 20 of us, which made lunches expensive, but which made the situation ripe for some Gamestorming.

On the first day, we did the Impact & Effort Matrix exercise (p. 241) for our long term product strategy. We were looking to see whether there were strategic goals we could meet while developing on technology and development practices that were already in place. The result was something like this diagram:

Caption: Each point is a strategic goal. For each axis, 0-5 is low and 6-10 is high.

Caption: Each point is a strategic goal. For each axis, 0-5 is low and 6-10 is high.

This exercise put to rest our dream of being able to meet our tactical and strategic goals using the same platform. Meeting our strategic goals would require developemnt of a new platform, and the time-to-market required by a new platform could not meet our tactical market needs. We now had two projects on our hands. I considered this a success because the visualization definitely made it very clear that we couldn’t kill two birds with one stone – in this case we definitely needed two stones.

We already had a good option for the strategic platform coming from our in-house development team, so what was left was to determine how we were to meet our tactical goals. Our short-term capacity is strained by the projects already underway, so we gamed out a hybrid approach with our vendor using the SWOT Analysis exercise (p. 212).

SWOT Analysis

We had a plan, and the exercise confirmed that our plan had many strengths. This was not unexpected. But the exercise also unearthed anxiety that some team members had about the long term viability of the vendor and the partnership, which we discovered while documenting threats. I found these issues to be particularly valuable, and we can use them to shape our partnership contract with our vendor.

With the help of exercises from Gamestorming, we got our project unstuck after a month’s worth of chasing our tails, we sorted our near and long-term goals, and now we are on our way to setting up a  partnership to address our tactical goals and building a new platform for our strategic goals.

Brendan Sullivan
Product Director, Elsevier

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Impact & Effort Matrix

 

Impact & Effort Matrix, originally uploaded by dgray_xplane.

Object of Play
In this decision-making exercise, possible actions are mapped based on two factors: effort required to implement and potential impact. Some ideas are costly, but may have a bigger long-term payoff than short-term actions. Categorizing ideas along these lines is a useful technique in decision making, as it obliges contributors to balance and evaluate suggested actions before committing to them.

Number of Players: Based on small groups, but can scale to any size

Duration of Play: 30 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the size of the group

How to Play
Given a goal, a group may have a number of ideas for how to achieve it. To open the exercise, frame the goal in terms of a “What to do” or “What we need” question. This may sound as simple as “What do we need to reach our goal?” Ask the group to generate ideas individually on sticky notes. Then, using Post-Up, ask them to present their ideas back to the group by placing them within a 2×2 matrix that
is organized by impact and effort: Impact: The potential payoff of the action, vs. Effort: The cost of taking the action

Strategy
As participants place their ideas into the matrix, the group may openly discuss the position of elements. It is not uncommon for an idea to be bolstered by the group and to move up in potential impact or down in effort. In this respect, the category of high impact, low effort will often hold the set of ideas that the group is most agreed upon and committed to.

The source of the Impact & Effort Matrix game is unknown.

Impact & Effort

Clicking on this image will bring you to an “instant game” at innovationgames.com, where you can play Impact & Effort Matrix online. The same image will be used as the matrix, which has a different impact-effort combination in each quadrant.

• High Impact, Low Effort: The best ideas go here!
• High Impact, High Effort: Further study is likely required.
• Low Impact, High Effort: Probably best to avoid these.
• Low Impact, Low Effort: Further study is likely required.

The light bulbs you will see at the upper left corner of the chart represent ideas. Simply add an idea to the chart by dragging a light bulb to its corresponding quadrant and describing what it is.

All moves can be seen in real time by each participant, so everyone can collaborate to edit the descriptions and positions of the posted strategies. Communicate using the integrated chat facility to work together and form useful ideas.

 

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Manage What You Measure

Measures of success vary across an organization. Executives concern themselves with company-wide Objectives involving Revenue, Cost, Profit, Margin and Customer Satisfaction. Further down the org chart, management and individual contributors rate performance against more detailed Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) tracking customer behavior: a product manager may measure app downloads, or number of shopping cart items per visit. These customer behaviors clearly affect the larger corporate Objectives, but how? and which have the most impact?

Objective of Play
Understand how customer behavior impacts higher level objectives; direct organizational efforts on the most influential of those behaviors.

Number of Players
5 – 15

Invite participants across the KPI spectrum: individual contributors, management and executive leadership. A successful game will demonstrate how all levels of KPI’s relate and affect one another.

Duration of Play
30 minutes – 3 hours.

Material Required
Manage What You Measure works best when played on a whiteboard. To run a good session you will need:

  • Sticky notes (i.e. post-it® notes) of different colors
  • Dot stickers
  • Dry-erase markers
  • Camera to capture results

How to Play

1. With the group gathered, introduce Manage What You Measure by stating that the purpose of the game is to focus resources and strategies on the most critical customer behaviors. To get there, the group will map the relationship between high-level corporate objectives and customer behavior.

2. Write at the top of the whiteboard a corporate-wide Strategic Goal.

3. Below that, write on sticky notes the measures of success (KPIs) for that Strategic Goal. Use different color sticky notes when possible.

4. Ask the players to take five minutes for an individual brainstorm: list all the customer behaviors impacting the KPIs identified in Step 3; one per sticky note. If possible, match sticky note colors of customer behaviors and KPIs — this will help organize what may become a crowded whiteboard.

5. After the brainstorm, ask the players to come to the whiteboard and post their sticky notes under the appropriate grouping.

6. Take 5-10 minutes to review the sticky notes. Lead a clarification discussion. Ask participants to explain any potentially confusing sticky notes. Note any customer behaviors mapped multiple times.

7. Repeat steps 4 – 6 once. Use the first set of brainstormed-customer behaviors as the baseline: what are the behaviors that drive those behaviors?

8. Once everyone is comfortable with the customer behaviors, conduct a Dot Vote. Give each player five dots to place on what they consider the most important customer behaviors in light of the Strategic Goal in step 2.

9. Tally the votes.

10. Once again, take time for discussion. Note unpopular choices; ensure their dismissals have merit. Have any results surprised the group? Why? Recommendation: If the Dot Vote results and ensuing discussion dictate further prioritization, consider playing Impact & Effort or the NUF Test.

11. Once the group agrees on the prioritized areas of focus, assign each a baseline value (what is the measure of this behavior now?) and goal (where would we like it to be). Recommendation: Consider playing Who-What-When

Strategy
Employees understand organizational goals at different levels. By defining relationships between high-level objectives, mid-tier KPIs  and the customer behaviors that drive them you have created a map easily navigated.

This clarity creates a shared understanding across all levels of the organization. Now, each time a team reports progress on their specific KPIs, executives will have a clear sense of why the team is working on that and how it affects the Objectives they care most about.

Complementary Games
The Empathy Map will help you to more deeply understand your customers and their behaviors; play this game before Manage What you Measure

Manage What You Measure derives from Jeff Gothelf’s Medium post: Execs care about revenue. How do we get them to care about outcomes?

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Innovation Ambition Matrix

Object of Play
Innovation Ambition Matrix was inspired by the May 2012 Harvard Business Review article, “Managing Your Innovation Portfolio,” written by Monitor’s revolutionary co-partners: Bansi Nagji and Geoff Tuff. The productive game helps teams develop a holistic view of how to get ahead by organizing initiatives and goals based on three innovation levels: core, adjacent, and transformational. Play Innovation Ambition Matrix to clarify the ambition of a project, develop a cohesive operation rather than a scattering of competing advancements, and identify how to balance your team’s effort allocation.

Number of Players
5 – 8

Duration of Play
1 hour

How to Play
1. Start by drawing a graph on a large white board or poster. Label the axes as follows:

  • X-axis: “How to Win.” This is designated for the novelty of the product that you are offering to customers. Are you using existing, adding incremental, or developing new products?
  • Y-axis: “Where to Play.” This measures the novelty of your customers. Will the innovation serve an existing, enter an adjacent, or create a new market?

2. Next, draw three curves within the axes as seen in the picture below to divide the chart into the three levels of innovation ambition.

  • Core (closest to origin): optimize your current products for current customers (ex. make faster technology)
  • Adjacent: add a new feature to your existing business (ex. create an app version of your website)
  • Transformational: create breakthroughs for markets that do not currently exist

3.  Pass out sticky notes and pens to your team members. Ask them to write current initiatives that they are working on and to post them in the respective area on the chart. Playing with multiple people will help identify what initiatives are being made and reveal different perspectives on how to succeed.

4. When all the initiatives and ideas are posted, discuss how to unify them so everyone is working toward the same mission. Doing so will eliminate competing developments and help everyone understand the overall goal for the innovation.

Strategy
The game works best when the players are team members who have different responsibilities within the project. This will will enable the group to understand the various initiatives being made and eliminate counteractive efforts. After getting rid of competing notes, organize who on the team will be responsible for specific tasks.

While Innovation Ambition Matrix is useful to outline current efforts of the team and to clarify the ambition of a project, it can also be used for your company’s long-term goals. Identify where you want your company or team to end up and what balance of innovation levels is needed to help you get there. For instance, if you would like to maintain your company’s position in your industry, focus on core or adjacent innovations. If you need to make an impacting change to get ahead in the market, think of transformational innovations. Planning where efforts are needed will help achieve the company’s innovation ambition efficiently.

Play Innovation Ambition Matrix Online

You can instantly play Innovation Ambition Matrix online with as many members as you would like! Clicking on this image will start an “instant play” game at innovationgames.com; simply email the game link to your team to invite them to join.

In the game, the image to the right will be used as the “game board.” As with the in-person version, the chart graphs the novelty of the company’s offerings vs. the novelty of the customers. Players will see light bulb icons in the top left corner, which represent the initiatives team members are taking and the ideas they have about future accomplishments. Simply drag the light bulbs to the matrix and describe what they represent.

Players can edit the placement and description of each light bulb, which everyone can view in real time. Use the integrated chat facility and communicate with your players throughout the game to gain a better understanding of each move. The results will be organized in a spreadsheet to maximize the benefits of the game.

Key Points
A company’s survival depends on its ability to innovate and advance. However, ideas to do so often become diluted by poor management strategies. This leaves your team with a chaotic scattering of competing attempts rather than a unified innovation effort. By identifying how to allocate innovation activity, teams can strike and maintain their unique balance required for sustainable growth. Innovation Ambition Matrix helps identify this core:adjacent:transformational ratio, which enhances a team’s understanding of where to put efforts and how to unify endeavors. Also, the game helps managers survey the initiatives of their team and provides a chance to discuss the overall ambition of a project.

To learn more about Bansi Nagji and Geoff Tuff, and the importance of a balanced innovation profile, click here.

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Gamestorming for Distributed Teams

Gamestorming is an amazing way to improve the performance of teams. Unfortunately, Gamestorming doesn’t work too well when your team is distributed. In this guest post, written by Luke Hohmann (who also wrote the foreword to Gamestorming and his own nifty book, Innovation Games), Luke will describe some of the tools his company has created to enable distributed teams to gain the benefits of serious, collaborative play.

Framing the Games: Computer Supported Cooperative Work

Researchers in the field of Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW) typically organize work as a grid in two dimensions. The first is time: either your doing work at the same time or at different times. The second is the physical structure of the participants: you’re either co-located, standing or sitting next to each other; or distributed, in different offices, buildings, or continents.

Here’s a sample picture. Happy gamestormers in the top left playing Prune the Future. The games described in our respective books occupy this quadrant as they are same-time, same place games. A Scrum team’s taskboard is shown in the lower left. In the lower right, we have a standard mailbox. And in the top right? Well now, that’s a problem for the our intrepid Gamestormer: you can’t easily put a sticky note or index card on your monitor and play games with other people.

But My Team Is Distributed!

Yup. The realities of the modern workforce means that you’re likely to be working in a distributed team. And while it is trivial to say that we’re working in an increasingly global set of team, it is not trivial to say that we’re working with a pretty crude set of tools to help us accomplish our goals. Unfortunately, that leaves people who want to Gamestorm in distributed teams with a lot of questions and not enough answers.

Consider, for example, this post that Dave and Luke wrote together. We agreed to write this together through a combination of email and tweets. Luke then wrote the first draft directly in WordPress. Dave edited this. And this cycle continued until we published it. According to the CSCW grid, we used  a different time/different place technology. And it worked well enough.

But what if we had wanted to work together on the same document at the same time? CSCW researchers have been working on this for quite some time. For example, in 1968 Doug Engelbart gave an amazing demonstration of shared, collaborative editing over a wide area network (see a great presentation on this, including cool videos, here). In the early 90’s researchers at the University of Michigan created ShrEdit, a shared (collaborative) document editing platform. A more recent example is EtherPad. These systems, and many others like them, provide excellent platforms for one kind of collaborative work – collaborative text editing.

Unfortunately, shared document editing is not the right kind of solution for distributed Gamestorming teams because each of the games has a unique set of goals, rules, and contexts. However, by understanding the kinds of collaborative goals that motivate Gamestorming, we can design a solution that meets their needs.

Visual Collaboration Games

Let’s focus on one class of Gamestorming games: Visual Collaboration Games. These are any game that:

  • leverage visual metaphors to serve as the “game board”, a guide to participants on the goals / objectives of the game, and a way to provide real-time feedback on the game;
  • use simple rules for structuring the placement “game tokens” (such as post-it notes), including how many tokens can be placed, the meaning of the tokens, and where and/or how the tokens can be placed.

This is an abstract definition, so let’s use two games to illustrate these concepts.

Empathy Map

Empathy Map

In this game, the visual metaphor is a stylized head that helps player develop a deeper, more empathetic, and more personal understanding of stakeholder’s experiences in a business ecosystem. The head is divided into sections based on aspects of that person’s sensory experiences, such as what they are thinking, feeling, saying, doing, and hearing.

Tokens are post-its or other artifacts that are placed on this visual metaphor represent the players best understanding of the person’s real, tangible, sensory experiences. For example, anything placed in the “hearing” section represents what that person might hear and how might hear it. While it is common to use Post-Its for this game, Luke has encouraged in-person players to add physical objects to the “empathy map game board” as a way to capture as much “empathy” as possible.

Prune the Product Tree (also known as Prune the Future)

Empathy Map

In this game, the visual metaphor of a tree is used to represent traditional product and/or service roadmaps. The evolutionary growth of the product or service is captured in the tree, with branches representing broad product capabilities or areas of service, and apples and leaves representing discrete roadmap items. Trees can be identified via various growth areas – “sooner” and “later” or “this year” or “next year”. The physical metaphor of pruning a tree to ensure healthy growth enables players to “prune” unnecessary features from a product or offers from a service portfolio.

No End In Sight To Visual Collaboration

Visual Collaboration Games are one of the most powerful classes of games that exist. And the supply of these games is inexhaustible: every visual image that we use in business can serve as the foundation of a visual collaboration game. Some examples:

Disappointed that your favorite game isn’t listed? Don’t be. While we’re trying to collect all of the games that we can into the Gamestorming wiki, the reality is that if you’re a good gamestormer or Innovation Gamer, you’re going to be inventing visual games as needed for special circumstances. And once you play them in-person, chances are pretty good that you’ll want to play them online.

Sounds Great! I Want To Play ONLINE Right Now!

Empathy MapExcellent! We were hoping you’d say that! Here is another image of the Empathy Map. But this one is special – clicking on this image will start an “instant play” game at www.innovationgames.com. In this game, there will be three icons that you can drag on your online Empathy Map:

  • Smiley Faces: Use smiley faces to indicate what would make your persona happy.
  • Grim Faces: Use grim faces to indicate what would make your persona concerned.
  • Frowns: Use frown faces to indicate what would make your persona unhappy.

Keep in mind that that this is a collaborative game. This means that you can invite other players to play. And when they drag something around – you’ll see it in real time!

Playing Visual Collaboration Games

The benefits of playing in-person, co-located visual collaboration games are considerable. The visual metaphor guides the group in solving a critical problem. You have a shared artifact that captures key aspects of your collective understanding. The results of the game play can be used and shared with others. And many times you don’t have to tell the participants that they’re playing a game, which can be important when introducing serious games to organizations who might be resistant to change. Players can just smile and compliment themselves on having a good time solving a problem.

And now, the power of online games means that we can use the same visual metaphors to enable distributed teams to solve complex problems. We can add semantics to the images so that we know where items are placed. The system acts as a perfect Observer, silently recording every event, so that we can analyze the results of multiple game plays with many distributed teams. And the flexibility of online, visual collaboration means that we’re only limited by what we want to try.

We’re going to be adding more instant play, online collaborative games to the Gamestorming wiki over the next few weeks.

To learn more about how to convert any Doodle or image into an online, collaborative game, read this post.

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Forced Ranking

Geneva workshop

Object of Play
When prioritizing, a group may need to agree on a single, ranked list of items. Forced ranking obligates the group to make difficult decisions, and each item is ranked relative to the others. This is an important step in making decisions on items like investments, business priorities, and features or requirements—wherever a clear, prioritized list is needed.

Number of Players: Small group of 3–10 participants

Duration of Play: Medium to long; 30 minutes to 1 hour depending on the length of the list, the criteria, and the size of the group

How to Play
To set up the game, participants need to have two things: an unranked list of items and the criteria for ranking them. Because forced ranking makes the group judge items closely, the criteria should be as clear as possible. For example, in ranking features for a product, the criteria might be “Most important features for User X.” In the case of developing business priorities, the criteria might be “Most potential impact over the next year.”

If there are multiple dimensions to a ranking, it is best to rank the items separately for each criterion, and then combine the scores to determine the final ranking. It is difficult for participants to weigh more than one criterion at a time, as in the confusing “Most potential impact over the next year and least amount of effort over the next six months.”

In this case, it would be best to rank items twice: once by impact and once by effort. Although there is no hard limit on the number of items to be ranked, in a small-group setting the ideal length of a list is about 10 items. This allows participants to judge items relative to one another without becoming overwhelming. By making the entire list visible on a flip chart or whiteboard, participants will have an easier time ranking a larger list.

To play, create a matrix of items and the criteria. Each participant ranks the items by assigning it a number, with the most important item being #1, the second most important item as #2, and so forth, to the least important item. Because the ranking is “forced,” no items can receive equal weight.

Once the items have been ranked, tally them and discuss the prioritized list and next steps.

Strategy
Creating a forced ranking may be difficult for participants, as it requires they make clear-cut assessments about a set of items. In many cases, this is not the normal mode of operation for groups, where it is easier to add items to lists to string together agreement and support. Getting people to make these assessments, guided by clear criteria, is the entire point of forced ranking.

The original source of the Forced Ranking game is unknown.