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Cost Benefit

This game is most probably the most simple collaborative cost benefit analysis ever.
It is applicable onto subjects where a group has expert knowledge about costs and/or benefits.

A group of developers is such an example.
Especially a customer or customer proxy will have interest when it comes to prioritizing work items.

Generation ideas

If the list of work items is not existent you can start this exercise by a silent post-up.
All individuals in the group start scribbling down about the work to be done. (one thing/sticky)
After 10 min or so ask the group to hang them on the wall.

Clustering
Ask the team to group items together by subject in silence. Items causing discussion you ask to park aside.
Explain that the only purpose is having a priority. So under what cluster it’s been put isn’t that important. What is important however, is all know where it’s under.
So on the exact scope (what-fits-best-where) there is no explicit consensus needed. A majority is fine.

In short:
* does everybody know the scope of the clusters?
* can the team proportionally estimate the size of the scope? (what is bigger/smaller then what)

Priories on cost

SortingCostBenefit-Sorting-Scaling
Next, ask the team to sort them top to bottom on cost. (5 minutes of work)
Park the items under discussion aside after all the others are done.
Discussion can only happen when the clustering did not clear things up or caused friction. This could indicate the team isn’t aware of the goal: putting priority.

Scaling
Next hang the lowest sticky way lower and the highest way higher then the rest of the sorted list.
Like that you’ll have room to position the stickies on a scale.CostBenefit-Y-axis
Write down on the board some marks of the scale.  E.g. (see image): 1, 5, 10, 15, 20.
Ask the team to position the other items on the correct place on the scale.
The sorted order must will stay ofcourse, a relative cost will emerge from the scale as they are positionned.

This all takes about 10 min: Sorting 5, scaling 5.
Depending on the position on the scale, write the relative number bottom left on the stickies.
E.g. stickies in the middle: 50%, top 0%, bottom 100%.
This will be your Y-axis coordinate to put your sticky on a 2D cost -benefit graph.

Priories on benefit

Do the same for the benefits with a product owner, customer if preferred.
Sort, relatively scale them, and write the number bottom right.

 

Cost Benefit Result

Putting it all together

Draw the X and Y axis with the top and bottom values from the exercise above:  the costs & benefits.
Hang the stickies according to the cost/benefit coordinates noted on them.

The low hanging-fruit and infeasible-expensive items are clearly found now.

 

Conclusion

Note that the same approach can be done with a Kano diagram or any other kind of 2D graph.
It’s a fun way of clearing things out and prioritizing is done through collaborative support.
Special attention on discussion starters is recommended. They are the time consumers, and can be stopped by guarding and communicating your goal: prioritizing.

Enjoy this game, feedback is mostly appreciated!

 

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35

Object of Play

This game has been designed to help prioritize different ideas or items in a quick and energetic way without getting stuck in endless discussions and avoiding any kind of influencing. It is similar to 20-20 game as it will compare items in pairs.

Number of players: 4 – 50

Duration: 15-45 minutes depending on the group size and items at hand.

How to play

  1. Organize or facilitate another game to generate items that require prioritization.
  2. Ask all attendees to put the items at hand in the middle of the group of people, one by one and shortly explaining the item at hand.
  3. When all items are in the middle of the group let each one of the attendees select their “Top”, “Most Important” item out of the pile and do this one person at the time. If their top item is gone then they could take their second, third… option out of the list, purpose it that everybody has 1 card at hand. (With a small group let them take 2).
  4. Now instruct the people to mingle amongst each other and find a partner in order to form pairs. Shortly discuss how to spread 7 points amongst the 2 items at hand with the 2 of them and add those points on the back of the card.
  5. Let the people take each others card and find another partner for a second round of weighting cards with each other.
  6. Do this 5 times (5 times 7 = 35)!
  7. Summarize all different weights to a single figure and sort highest number on top and so on…

Note: Even when the group does this a second time with the same items and interest at hand the sorting will be the same but figures might differ a bit.

Strategy

Getting a group consensus about priorities between different related items is not easy and 35 will give them an easy way to effectively and repeatedly prioritize items according the groups consensus. The technique is build in such a way that people can not cheat the system and influence the outcomes as you compare, weight items related to each other. By constantly changing cards from hands and switching from partners one is can never influence the outcome. A great way to achieve a fast consensus about the priority of the items at hand.

 

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What could go wrong?

A while back I was working with a friend’s startup, building a web app that helps small businesses connect with their customers without having to pay for dedicated customer service teams. Still in the proof-of-concept stage, the developers had been wondering whether to introduce a handful of premium services to their product for a some time, but didn’t know how they should decide whether or not to take that leap.

(Because this startup is still a little stealth, I’m not allowed to say who it is, or much more than the description above. But that should be enough for this article.)

I tackled this problem by combining two activities I’d recently learned about, one from Gamestorming, which had just left the presses, and one my friends Barbara Holmes and Jeanne Turner at ISITE Design had been polishing and presenting at various meetings and IxDA events: user journeys.

Walking EVERY mile  in your user’s shoes

Considering each step your users will take toward a desired outcome—from awareness of the product or service to becoming a loyal customer—is instrumental in design a pleasant experience, as Barb points out in her article, Mapping the Customer Journey. The customer (or user) journey is a great way to visualize real-life scenarios that could potentially stand in the way between winning and losing a potential user.

But this wasn’t just about designing a great experience. It was about determining whether we should even start building a premium tier to validate a paid service. So I turned to Gamestorming, and found the Pre-Mortem game, a clever twist on the post-mortem summaries we’re all used to seeing at the end of a project.

Pre-Mortem is a simple, straightforward activity meant to identify potential problems before they happen, and start thinking about how they can be avoided. I decide to combine the concept with the user journey, and came up with something I’m actually pretty proud of.

The cyclical user journey

We decided to walk through the four phases of the user journey we’d identified, Awareness, Consideration, Purchase and Renewal, and came up with reasons throughout our personas’ journeys that might prevent them from becoming happy, loyal customers. We wrote short user stories to illustrate our customers’ desires and concerns along the way.

Cyclical User Journey

Why cyclical? Since this would be a recurring cost to our customer, we would need to make sure we’re addressing her needs even after she decides to start paying for the service. So after the Renewal phase, we revisit Awareness, considering not only new features we’d be implementing, but a shifting roster of competitors as well. You’re never finished selling to your users, even after they’ve paid.

Paving the way to engagement

After laying out the phases of the journey, we came up with reasons why the user would abandon the product at any time. Each cause for lost customers was countered with possible actions we could take to keep them around. While the cyclical journey implies all four phases cycle endlessly, with this diagram we treated the Renewal phase as the point where recurring payments come in, abandoning the cyclical approach for a step-by-step analysis of each phase.

Projected User journey

A quick illustration at each phase shows the path of a happy customer, who decides to stick with the product, and that of a customer who decides to leave before the next phase starts. Every destination has its story, and pinning down the stories that lead to abandonment is the first step in discussing how to better serve your users.

Sticking a fork in it

After determining how much work it would take to keep customers around, the team decided not to go through with this feature set, at least not for now. The service is still young, and while it seemed like an attractive option to have a premium tier with lots of extra features, this exercise convinced us that it wouldn’t be worth the initial investment.

While there’s a chance we could have been the next big thing with this premium tier, I like to think I saved the company a lot of time and money which might have other wise been wasted on this effort. We’re still on the lookout for a feature set that will be worth the effort and might pay off in the long run, but it’s good to know that we haven’t sunk a bunch of time and money into one with such a low chance of success.

Now that I’m running my own startup, Revisu, it’s important to me and my co-founder that we see as far as we can down the journey our users will take in becoming loyal customers, identify potential roadblocks, and deal with them before anyone actually reaches them. Hopefully, if we smooth that road out ahead of time, we’ll have much happier customers in the long run.

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20/20 Vision

Object of Play

The 20/20 Vision game is about getting group clarity around which projects or initiatives should be more of a priority than others. Because employees’ attention is so often divided among multiple projects, it can be refreshing to refocus and realign more intently with the projects that have the biggest bang for the buck.  And defining the “bang” together helps ensure that the process of prioritization is quality.

Number of Players

5–10

Duration of Play

30 minutes to 1.5 hours

How to Play

  1. Before the meeting, write any proposed project or initiative relevant to the players on sticky notes, one item per note.  And when you begin, it’s important that the initiatives you’ve written on the sticky notes are posted in random order during both stages of the game.  Shuffle them before the meeting starts—you can even blind-post or ask a player to post—so that from the onset there is no implicit prioritization on your part.
  2. Introduce the game by explaining to the players that 20/20 Vision is about forced prioritization based on perceived benefits. Verbalize the importance of building consensus on priorities to move the organization forward.
  3. In a wall space visible to the players, post an initiative and ask the players to describe its benefits. Write their descriptions on a sticky note posted next to that initiative. If there’s disagreement around the benefits of an initiative, write down both or all of the points made. Assume that there’s validity to multiple perspectives and let the group indicate the majority perspective through the ranking process. If the group already has a shared sense of the benefits for each initiative, don’t spend a lot of time clarifying them. Just move into prioritization and respond to questions around benefits as they organically come up.
  4. Repeat step 3 for all relevant projects or initiatives until the benefits have been thoroughly described by the players, captured on sticky notes and posted.
  5. Ask the players if any initiatives are missing from the wall. If so, request that they write them down, post them, and discuss their benefits so that you can capture them.
  6. Move into a neighboring wall space, pull down two random initiatives and ask the players which they can agree are more or less important to the organization’s vision or goals.
  7. Post the one that the group generally agrees is more important above the one they generally agree is less important.
  8. Move another initiative into the new space. Ask the players if it is more or less important than the two posted and post it accordingly—higher priorities at the top, lower priorities at the bottom.
  9. Repeat this process until all initiatives have been thoroughly discussed and prioritized.

Strategy

20/20 Vision is about asking players to thoughtfully evaluate priorities as a group. The first phase of the game—describing and capturing the benefits—is significant because it lays the groundwork for the hard part: determining priorities. It can be challenging to get a group to rank its projects, all of which seem important in some way.

The game works best if you can facilitate general agreement around the benefits and resist the temptation to let the group waffle on prioritizing. They must make the hard decisions. And when the going gets tough, take heart: the players who resist ranking the most may also offer a wealth of insight into the initiatives and ultimately help the players better refine the final ranking.

20/20 Vision is based on and adapted from the same-named activity in Luke Hohmann’s book, Innovation Games: Creating Breakthrough Products Through Collaborative Play.

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NUF Test

Object of Play

As a group is developing ideas in a brainstorming session, it may be useful to do a quick “reality check” on proposed ideas. In the NUF Test, participants rate an idea on three criteria: to what degree is it New, Useful, and Feasible?

Number of Players

Small group

Duration of Play

Short; 15–30 minutes, depending on the size of the group and the level of discussion

How to Play

Set up the game by quickly creating a matrix of ideas against the criteria:

  • New: Has the idea been tried before? An idea will score higher here if it is significantly different from approaches that have come before it. A new idea captures attention and possibility.
  • Useful: Does the idea actually solve the problem? An idea that solves the problem completely, without creating any new problems, will score better here.
  • Feasible: Can it be done? A new and useful idea still has to be weighed against its cost to implement. Ideas that require fewer resources and effort to be realized will score better here.

To play, the group rates each idea from 1 to 10 for each criterion and tallies the results.  A group may choose to write down scores individually at first and then call out their results on each item and criterion to create the tally. Scoring should be done quickly, as in a “gut” check.

A discussion after the scores have been tallied may uncover uncertainties about an idea or previously under rated ideas. The group may then choose to make an idea stronger, as in “How do we make this idea more feasible with fewer resources?”

Strategy

The goal of this game is to check big ideas against the realities they will face after the meeting is over. It is not intended to “kill” good ideas, but to identify possible weak points so that they can be shaped and improved before seeing the light of day.

The NUF Test is an adaptation of a testing process used for patents.

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Start, Stop, Continue

Object of Play

The object of Start, Stop, Continue is to examine aspects of a situation or develop next steps.

Number of Players

1–10

Duration of Play

10 minutes to 1 hour

How to Play

Ask the group to consider the current situation or goal and individually brainstorm actions in these three categories:

  • Start: What are things that we need to START doing?
  • Stop: What are we currently doing that we can or should STOP?
  • Continue: What are we doing now that works and should CONTINUE?

Have individuals share their results.

Strategy

This exercise is broad enough to work well as an opening or closing exercise. It’s useful in framing discussion at “problem-solving” meetings, or as a way to brainstorm aspirational steps toward a vision.

The source for the Start, Stop, Continue game is unknown.

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Build The Checklist

Object of Play

In all work of reasonable complexity, there is a moment-to-moment risk that equally important tasks will overwhelm the human mind. In knowledge work this may be doubly true, due to the intangible “fuzziness” of any particular task. For groups that are charting out how they will work one of the most practical and useful things they can do is build a checklist.

Although creating a checklist may seem like an open-and-shut exercise, often it uncovers a manifest of issues. Because a checklist is a focusing object, it demands that the team discuss the order and importance of certain tasks. Team members are likely to have different perspectives on these things, and the checklist is a means to bring these issues to the surface and work with them.

Number of Players

A small team that has deep experience with the task at hand

Duration of Play

1 hour or more, depending on the task to be analyzed

How to Play

It’s most useful to create the checklist in order of operation, from first to last, but in some cases a ranked or prioritized list is more appropriate. Consider which the group would benefit more from creating.

  1. To begin, introduce to the group the topic at hand: “You will be creating a checklist for doing [fill in the blank].” It may be useful to prime the group into thinking about a particular situation or duration of time, as in “Getting from A to B” or “Dealing with an Angry Customer.”
  2. Have the group brainstorm tasks to put on the checklist using sticky notes. Guide the group to create items that are concrete and measurable, like a switch that is turned on or off. For example, “assess arrival readiness” is not as useful as “deploy landing gear.”
  3. Once the group has generated a pool of ideas, they may use Post-Up and affinity mapping to remove duplicate tasks. In discussing what has been added to the list, two things may be done:

 

  • Have the group order the tasks into a procedure. Use sticky notes so that the individual tasks can be moved. Given a space with a beginning and an end, the group can discuss and debate the ordering while creating the list in real time.
  • Have the group force-rank the tasks. In this case, the group must decide the order of importance of the tasks. By doing this, the group may be able to agree to cut items from the bottom of the list, making their checklist shorter and more direct.

In all cases, the discussion and reflection that come out of the initial brainstorming will be where the most progress is made. It is likely that new ideas will surface and be added to the checklist in the discussion. Coming out of the discussion the group’s next step is to capture the checklist as an artifact and share it with others who can test it and improve it.

The Build the Checklist game is credited to James Macanufo.

 

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Who/What/When Matrix

Object of Play

It’s common for people to attend meetings, voice strong opinions, and then waffle and dodge responsibility for follow-up actions. We have all been guilty of this at one point or another; it’s a built-in, easy assumption that the person who called the meeting bears the responsibilities coming out of it. We may do this for a number of reasons: we don’t have time to commit, we don’t believe in the purpose (or people) involved, or there is no clear direction on what needs to be done next.

Many meetings end with a “next steps” or “action items” discussion. These discussions are often abstract, starting with a list of tasks that are then handed out to possibly unwilling participants with no particular deadline attached. By focusing the discussion on a Who/What/When matrix, you can connect people with clear actions they have defined and have committed to.

Number of Players

1–10

Duration of Play

15–30 minutes

How to Play

On a flip chart or whiteboard, create a matrix that outlines WHO / WHAT / WHEN.

Although instincts may be to start with the “WHAT” (the tasks and items that need to be done), this approach starts with the “WHO” (the people who will be taking the actions). Put every participant’s name into the matrix in this column.

Ask each participant what concrete next steps they can commit to. Place this in the WHAT column. Each participant may have a number of next steps that he thinks are required or feels strongly about. For each item, ask that person “WHEN” he will have the item done.

Actions don’t take themselves, and people don’t commit as strongly to actions as they do to each other. By approaching next steps “people-first,” a few things change. First, it becomes clear that the people in the room are the ones who are accountable for next steps. Second, by making commitments in front of their peers, participants stake their credibility on taking action, and are more likely to follow through. And third, it becomes clear WHO is going to do WHAT by WHEN—and who has volunteered little or no commitment.

Strategy

In completing the Who/What/When matrix, you are likely to find that there is a lot to do. This is a good time to ask if there is any way for participants who have committed to little or nothing to step up their contribution. They may be able to assist others in completing their tasks—or their attendance may have been unnecessary.

Although participants are more likely to commit to actions they declare in front of the group, ultimately you are accountable for following up with them after the meeting. You may ask participants to email you their commitments, and you may send the group the full list as an update.

The Who/What/When Matrix game was designed by Dave Gray and inspired by the business-coaching methods of Mike Berman.

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$100 Test

Object of Play

In this method of prioritization, participants assign relative value to a list of items by spending an imaginary $100 together. By using the concept of cash, the exercise captures more attention and keeps participants more engaged than an arbitrary point or ranking system.

Number of Players

Small groups of 3–5 participants

Duration of Play

Medium; may take up to 1.5 hours for a group to decide how to spend its money and to reflect on outcomes, depending on the length of the list and size of the group.

How to Play

To set up the game, you will need a list of items to be prioritized, set up in a matrix with space reserved for the amount spent and reasoning why.

To begin the game, explain the challenge to the group: they have a collective $100 to spend on the list of items. The dollars represent importance of items, and they must decide as a group how to allocate the dollars across the list.

Give the group sufficient time to assign their values, and ask that they also write a brief explanation for the amount. It is possible that groups may bring up the literal cost or effort of items on the list; this may confuse the primary issue of importance and it may be best addressed as a separate discussion, or as its own $100 Test.

When the matrix is complete, ask the group to explain their decisions and reasoning.  The matrix can then be used as a guidepost for future decision making on a project;  specifically, what items are important and of higher priority than the others.

Strategy

This game is commonly used in software development for working with users to create their prioritized feature list.  However, it can be applied in any situation where a “false scarcity” would help focus a group’s wants and needs. For example, an HR group polling employees about new benefit plans may use the $100 Test to uncover what options would be best received and why.

The $100 Test is known by many names, including Divide the Dollar and the short-form variation, the $10 Test.

The source of the $100 Test game is unknown.

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Spectrum Mapping

Visual thinking school

Object of Play

Spectrum mapping is designed to reveal the diversity of perspectives and options around any given topic and to organize them into a meaningful spectrum. This game gives players an opportunity to express their views without having to assert them vocally or even take ownership of them in front of the group. It’s valuable because it unearths information that plays a role in attitudes and behaviors that otherwise may not be visible.

Number of Players

5–15

Duration of Play

30 minutes to 1 hour

How to Play

1. Before the game begins, brainstorm topics around which you want insight from the group. Write each topic on a sticky note.

2. Introduce Spectrum Mapping by stating that the purpose of the game is to illuminate the team’s range of perspectives and to organize those perspectives into a continuum so that everyone gets a view of it.

3. Post the topic sticky notes in a column in the approximate middle of a space on the wall visible to the players. Ask everyone to silently generate a point-of-view preference option around that topic and write it on a sticky note. They are welcome to offer more than one.

4. Ask the players to come to the wall and post their sticky notes in a horizontal line on either side of the topic. Reassure them that the relationships between the sticky notes aren’t yet of interest. The visual may look like the following figure.

5. Once the sticky notes are posted, work with the group to sort them into a horizontal range of ideas. Sticky notes that express similar perspectives or options should go next to each other. Sticky notes that seem to be outliers should stand alone; they may sometimes end up defining the limits of the range.

6. Continue sorting until the group agrees that the sticky notes are in their appropriate places on the horizontal line.

7. Repeat this process if you have more topics to evaluate.

Once the spectrum for each topic has been laid along the horizon, ask for observations and insights on the lay of the land. Discuss the findings with the group and ask if any perspective or option has been excluded. If so, add it and re-sort as necessary.

Strategy

Not only does spectrum mapping reveal individual ideas around important topics, but it also tells you how many members of your group have certain types of views and where their endpoints lie. After spectrum mapping, the players are likely to discern a more holistic view of where they stand. In other words, spectrum mapping indicates whether the group tends to lean a certain way—perhaps it’s fiscally conservative, oriented toward growth, or reticent about change. Either way, as a team leader, it’s good to be aware of the group’s natural inclination and openly acknowledge it to enhance future team building, problem solving, and planning.

Assure the players that they’re free to write up honest perspectives and preferences around a topic even if those preferences may be considered outlandish by the other players. Tell them that outlier ideas still make it onto the continuum. This play is about mapping and displaying the spectrum, not evaluating ideas for validity, innovation, or popularity. This game has the effect of letting groups see if their behavior skews too far to one side or whether they’re taking a reasonable approach when a radical one may be better.

The source for the Spectrum Mapping game is unknown.