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Squiggle Birds

Squiggle birds is a quick exercise that you can use to get people stretching their visual thinking muscles. It takes about five minutes and quickly, clearly demonstrates how little effort is really required to make meaningful, easy-to-read images. The main point of the demonstration is that our minds are already pattern-making machines, and very little drawing is actually required to convey an idea. The mind will fill in the rest.

I learned this exercise from my friend Chris Glynn, a fine teacher who teaches fine things.

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Draw Toast


 

Object of play
You can use the Draw Toast exercise to introduce people to the concepts of visual thinking, working memory, mental models and/or systems thinking. This also works as a nice warm-up exercise to get people engaged with each other and thinking visually. Plus, it’s fun!

Number of players
Any number of people can play this game.

Duration: 10-15 minutes.

How to play
On paper or index cards, ask people to draw “How to make toast.”

After a couple of minutes, ask people to share their diagrams with each other and discuss the similarities and differences. Ask people to share any observations or insights they have about the various drawings. You are likely to hear comments about the relative simplicity or complexity of the drawings, whether they have people in them, how technical they are, how similar or different they are, and so on.

Depending on why you are doing the exercise you may want to point out the following:

  • Note that althought the drawings are all different, they are all fundamentally correct. There are many ways to visualize information and they all enrich understanding rather than being “right” or “wrong.”
  • Although the drawings are different in content, they tend to be similar in structure. That is, most drawings of mental models tend to contain three to seven elements, connected by lines or arrows.

    Strategy
    The main point of this exercise is to demonstrate the power of visual thinking to represent information.

    Visualizations of this kind tend to be easily understandable, although they are visually as rich and diverse as people. Pictures can be fundamentally correct even though they are quite different. There is no “one right type” of visualization.

    When people visualize a mental model, they usually will include 5-7 elements, linked together by lines or arrows. The number of elements tends to correspond to the number of things people can hold in their working memory, also known as short-term memory (See The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two for more information).

    This is also a nice warm-up exercise that is fun and gets people talking to each other.

    There is an excellent TED talk by Tom Wujec which you may want to watch in preparation. It may also be useful to show to the group in sessions as a way to share insights after the exercise. Tom also has a page with ideas for extending this exercise into group problem-solving which you can find at DrawToast.com.

    The Draw Toast exercise was created by Dave Gray

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    Agile UX Sketching and Scrum

    Last-Import-09-300x300“Use a picture. It’s worth a thousand words.” That was the advice of Arthur BrisbaneEditor The Syracuse Post Standard March 28, 1911. Despite originally referring to newsprint, the adage still holds true in the digital age.

    Sketching for understanding” is an efficient and effective way to gather tons of ideas in a short period of time while cultivating shared understanding across agile teams. With the right structure and active participation, sketching with Scrum teams can really pay dividends throughout the release life cycle.

    Use the following guide to help plan and facilitate your next agile sketching session. Continue reading Agile UX Sketching and Scrum

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    Innovation Generator

    Object of Play
    Innovation drives business; without it, companies would remain stationary and get trampled by the competition. Whether altering our products or creating new ones, we thrive on advancements. Scott Sehlhorst, President of Tyner Blain LLC, has illustrated a way of forming fresh ideas that solve customers’ problems by using current or potential inventions in his article “Product Managers & Innovation.” Scott’s strategy inspired the game Innovation Generator, which helps teams identify and address customer needs. The combination of value and invention provides the fuel necessary for innovation.

    Number of Players
    5 – 8

    Duration of Play
    1 hour

    How to Play

    1. Begin by giving your players post-its and markers. Draw three columns on a large white board or poster and label them as follows:
    A. Customers’/Prospective Customers’ Problems
    B. Invention/Value
    C. Innovation

    2. Ask players to think of problems that customers within your market may have. After they write all their ideas on sticky notes and post them in the first column, discuss what the issues mean for your company.

    3. Work as a group to choose about five inventions your company has or could create. Write these on post-its of a different color and put them in the second column. Ask your players to explore the values these inventions have — other than their current purposes — and to post their ideas around the invention notes in the second column. Think of how these values can resolve the problems noted in the first section. Doing so ensures that your team’s innovations focus on meeting your stakeholders’ needs.

    4. Finally, collaborate to develop new innovations by combining the inventions with their values from the second column.

    Strategy
    Focus on innovations that address the notes from column one. This will ensure that the exercise leaves you with useful information that responds to customers’ needs.

    Play Innovation Generator Online

    You can instantly play Innovation Generator online with as many members as you would like! Clicking on the image above will start an “instant play” game at innovationgames.com; simply email the game link to your team to invite them to play. In the game, the image will be used as the “game board.” You will see light bulb and sticky note icons in the upper left corner. The light bulbs represent the inventions in the second column, and the sticky notes symbolize all other ideas in the three columns. Simply drag icons to the chart and describe what they represent.

    Players can edit the placement and description of each icon, which everyone can view in real time. Use the integrated chat facility and communicate with your players throughout the game to get a better understanding of each move.

    Key Points
    Using creative thinking to uncover various ways to apply a product inspires teams to develop new applications for inventions and form solutions that address stakeholders’ needs. And by identifying customer problems first, all ideas will be geared toward helping those who hold the key to your success. Whether creating new inventions or reusing past ones,  Innovation Generation is perfect for teams to brainstorm ways to help customers and stay ahead of the competition.

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    Whole Product Game

    Object of Play

    In a competitive business environment, it is important to attract and keep customers by making your product stand out from the competition. Products are not just tangible items; they are a unique combination of benefits, services, and promises. The Whole Product Game — inspired by Ted Levitt’s “Whole Product Strategy” — categorizes aspects of products based on customer expectations in order to help companies uncover forms of differentiation. The goal of the game is to discover effective ways to set your product apart and to go beyond what your customers anticipate.

    Number of Players
    5 – 8

    Duration of play
    1 hour

    How to Play
    1. Before the meeting, collect sticky notes or 3×5 notecards. In a white space (a poster, whiteboard, etc.), draw four concentric circles, leaving enough room between each one to place the notes. Don’t worry about the layers being completely symmetrical; this activity is subjective, and, just like the future, the circles will not be precisely as you plan.
    2. The players can be your internal team taking the perspective of customers, or actual customers themselves. Tell the group what each region of the chart represents

     

  • Circle 1: Generic Product – the fundamental “thing” that you are marketing
  • Circle 2: Expected Product – the minimal conditions customers expect from your product
  • Circle 3: Augmented Product – aspects of your product that go beyond customer expectations
  • Circle 4: Potential Product – what could be done to your product to attract and keep customers
  • Feel free to add more regions to the chart to further organize the group’s ideas.

    3. Ask members to write ideas related to each category on the notecards and to stick them on the respective circle. Remove any repetitive cards and put together similar ones with the group’s input.
    4. Once all the ideas are posted, discuss the significance of the resulting chart with your group. How can you use this information to differentiate your product? What must you do to attract more customers?

    Strategy
    The Whole Product Game is widely applicable to any product or service; while the expected product may attract customers, differentiation is necessary to keep them. With the visual organization and critical thinking involved in this activity, your team can productively come up with new ideas on what can be done to make your product distinct.

    This game can also be used for more concentrated aspects of your company. For example, what makes your customer service unique? What can be improved about it to appeal to customers?

    Avoid “going in circles” by guiding your players and focusing on what you can do to go beyond the customers’ expectations. After all of the ideas are posted, work as a team to analyze which direction your product should move in to be one-of-a-kind. Encourage expanding on the ideas and coming up with practical ways to apply them effectively.

    Online Whole Product Game

    You can instantly play the Whole Product Game online with as many members as you would like! Clicking on this image will start an “instant game” at innovationgames.com

    As facilitator, email the game link to customers or your staff to invite them to play. In the game, this picture is used as the “game board,” and there is an icon of light bulbs at the upper left corner of the board. Each light bulb represents an idea, which players describe and drag onto the respective circle.  As with the in-person version of the game, the game board is organized into four concentric circles:

    • Inner circle: Generic Product – the basic item that you are marketing
    • 2nd Circle: Expected Product – what your customers expect from your product
    • 3rd Circle: Augmented Product – aspects of your product that exceed customer expectations
    • Outer Circle: Potential Product – alterations to your product that would attract and keep customers

    Players can edit the placement and description of each light bulb, which you can view in real time. Use the integrated chat facility and communicate with your players throughout the game to get a better understanding of each move.

    Key Points:

    • This productive game involves visual organization and critical thinking to gain insight on what can be done to make your product stand out from the competition. Expand your point of view to understand what your customers truly want from your product.
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    6-8-5

    Object of Play

    Rarely are ideas born overnight. And for an idea to become a great idea, it takes considerable work and effort to develop. Part of the reason we end up with under-developed ideas is that we stick with the first good idea we have — rather than taking the time to explore complementary approaches. 6-8-5 is designed to combat this pattern by forcing us to generate lots of ideas in a short period of time. The activity can then be repeated to hone & flesh out a few of the best ideas.

    Number of Players
    2+

    Duration of Play
    5 minutes to play each round
    15-20 minutes for discussion

    How to Play
    1. Before the meeting, prepare several sheets of paper with a 2×2 or 2×3 grid. You want to create boxes big enough for players to sketch their ideas in, but small enough to constrain them to one idea per box. Prepare enough paper for everyone to have about 10 boxes per round.

    2. As the group is gathering, distribute sheets of paper to each player. Or instruct the group on how to make their own 2×2 grid by drawing lines in their notebook.

    3. Introduce the game and remind players of the objective for the meeting. Tell players that the goal with 6-8-5 is to generate between 6-8 ideas (related to the meeting objective) in 5 minutes.

    4. Next, set a timer for 5 minutes.

    5. Tell the players to sit silently and sketch out as many ideas as they can until the timer ends — with the goal of reaching 6-8 ideas. The sketches can and should be very rough — nothing polished in this stage.

    6. When the time runs out, the players should share their sketches with the rest of the group. The group can ask questions of each player, but this is not a time for a larger brainstorming session. Make sure every player presents his/her sketches.

    7. With time permitting, repeat another few rounds of 6-8-5. Players can further develop any ideas that were presented by the group as a whole or can sketch new ideas that emerged since the last round. They can continue to work on separate ideas, or begin working on the same idea. But the 5-minute sketching sprint should always be done silently and independently.

    Strategy
    6-8-5 is intended to help players generate many ideas in succession, without worrying about the details or implementation of any particular idea. It’s designed to keep players on task by limiting them to sketch in small boxes and work fast in a limited amount of time. 6-8-5 can be used on any product or concept that you want to brainstorm, and have the best results with a heterogenous group (people from product, marketing, engineering, design…).

    6-8-5 works great in the early stages of the ideation process, and are often followed by a debrief and synthesis session or by another gamestorming exercise to identify the most fruitful ideas given the team’s business, product, or end-user goals.

    6-8-5 has been used in design studio workshops for rapid ideation. This game is credited to Todd Zaki Warfel.

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    Do, Redo & Undo

    Object of Play

    When creating something, it’s easier to think in the affirmative. We think in a vector of taking actions and building things, and can forget that over time undoing those same decisions can be just as important. Do, Redo & Undo asks a group to focus on this, and to think through the implications of dismantling and altering.

    This is a useful exercise in developing any human-to-machine or human-to-human system.  Software provides myriad cases of undoing: users need to change configurations, fix mistakes, and remove software entirely. Business processes need to address this equally well: components need to change or dissolve, and often this flexibility is lost without clarity on how it is done.

    Number of Players

    Small groups

    Duration of Play

    1 hour or more, depending on the complexity of the existing

    How to Play

    The Best-Case Scenario

    Generally, the group would run this exercise after they have a concept or prototype as a starting point.  In the case of software, it may be a user story or feature list; in a process,  it may be a draft of the flow.

    The group should be given time to walk through and digest this example. The exercise opens with the group brainstorming answers to a simple question: “What mistakes can and will be made?”

    Using Post-Up, the group brainstorms a set of items on sticky notes and pools them to create a starting set of scenarios to explore “undoing and redoing.” It’s not unusual for a few humorous items to make the list. Other questions to consider asking in fleshing out the set include:

    • “What would happen if a group of monkeys tried to use it?”
    • “What happens if we pull the plug? Where is the plug?”

    The Worst-Case Scenario

    In generating the initial list in Post-Up, the group has identified at least one Worst-Case Scenario. Their task now is to address the items by focusing on three possible solutions:

    • Do: Change the design or plan to avoid the problem altogether. This takes the issue off the table.
    • Redo: Provide a means for altering action while it’s being taken. This may be a course correction or a buffering of the situation’s impact.
    • Undo: Provide a means for completely undoing an action and returning to a previously known state. This completely abandons the scenario.

    A group that has a large number of items in the Worst-Case Scenario may wish to prioritize them by likelihood and then focus on the hot spots. There is an implied order of preference in Do, Redo & Undo. A problem that can be entirely eliminated by changing the design avoids needing a “redo” or “undo” solution. For example, a feature that asks the user to enter her contact information might be eliminated entirely, if the information can be fetched from somewhere else.

    As the group works through Do, Redo & Undo, they should capture their solutions and revisit the original Best-Case Scenario. Their draft of solutions should accompany the design as it matures, eventually proving itself in user testing and the real world.

    The Do, Redo & Undo game is credited to James Macanufo.

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    Design The Box

    Object of Play

    Before you begin, focus on the end. In this exercise, teams create the physical “box” that sells their idea—whether that idea will ultimately become a tangible product or not. By imagining the package for their idea, the teams make decisions about important features and other aspects of their vision that are more difficult to articulate.

    This game is popular among software developers when setting out to capture the customer’s view of a new application, but its use doesn’t stop there. The game can help facilitate any vision-oriented discussion, and has been used to describe topics ranging from “our future methodology” to “the ideal hire.”

    In all cases, the box is a focusing device: it wraps up a lot of otherwise intangible information into a nice physical object, prompting decisions along the way. When teams present or “sell” their boxes to each other, a number of things come to life, including the natural translation of features into benefits. Also, it’s fun to do. The results of the exercise may be simple drawings or an actual box, which may live on well after as a friendly reminder of the big picture.

    Number of Players

    Although the exercise may be done with a small group, teams working in parallel on different boxes will result in a more robust discussion during the “selling phase.”

    Duration of Play

    1 hour or more, depending on the number of groups and depth of discussion.

    Setup

    Although paper and markers will work for drawing a box, don’t hesitate to bring heavier craft supplies to bear. Consider acquiring blank white cardboard boxes from an office supply or mailing store.  Markers, craft paper, stickers, tape and scissors are all worth the investment.

    It may help get the group’s creative gears moving by having sample boxes handy.  Cereal boxes, with their free prize offers, bold imagery and nutritional information, are good thought starters. Likewise, plain “store-label” boxes, gift boxes and toy boxes offer a range of voices. A group that is heavily entrenched in the business-as-usual paradigm will benefit the most from having this inspiration at hand.

    How to play

    The exercise moves through three phases: an introduction, box creation and sharing by “selling.”

    Phase One: Fill the Box

    Before a group can jump into creating a box, they need to reflect on what could be in it. To get people oriented, consider laying out some building blocks:

    • Possible names of the idea
    • Possible customers, end users, or buyers
    • Possible features, functions, or other important defining details.

    This may be familiar ground, or it may be entirely new to the group. They key in setting up the exercise is to give teams “just enough” information to feel comfortable starting.

    Phase Two: Make the Box

    Give the teams a set amount of time, 30 minutes or more, to create the box for their idea.  Ask them to imagine coming across the box on a retail shelf, shrink-wrapped and ready for sale. In designing the box, teams may be helped by a few of these prompts:

    • What’s it called?
    • Who’s it for?
    • What’s its tagline or slogan?
    • What are its most compelling features? Benefits?
    • What imagery would make it stand out to you?

    Teams may self-organize naturally; most participants will want to create their own box regardless of how they’re arranged. Make sure you have ample supplies for them to do so, and make sure they know that there is no wrong way to create their box.

    Phase Three: Sell the Box

    Each team or individual should be offered the chance to stand up and “sell” their boxes back to the group. It may be worthwhile to keep a timer for these stand-up presentations, and consider offering a prize to the team that does the best job “selling” their box back to the group.

    Look for a naturally occurring breakthrough as they present back their boxes. People put features on the box, but when they sell them, they translate those features into benefits.  Listen for the phrases “so that” or “because,” which bridge otherwise mechanical features into living benefits.

    The exercise works well as an open-ended, divergent process, but may be run so that the teams converge on an agreed-upon, shared box. If agreement and alignment is a desired outcome of the exercise, note the differences and similarities in how each team interpreted their box. Build on the common ground captured in the similarities, and isolate differences for discussion. Consider running a second round, this time incorporating these agreements into a final shared box.

    In any case, if there is a prize to be awarded for the best “box seller,” make sure it’s the teams that cast the votes. And have enough prizes so that if the box was created by a team everyone on the team will have a prize.

    Strategy

    Keep the boxes and display them in a prominent place. These may be more valuable (and visible) artifacts than any other documentation that comes out of the exercise. It may also be beneficial to record the presentations the teams give around their boxes, if it is not disruptive to the flow of the group.

    The core act of “designing the box” may be altered to work for different contexts and participants.

    This exercise goes by many names, and there are a number of good sources to look to for its variations. This version is based on and adapted from the game Product Box in Luke Hohmann’s book, Innovation Games: Creating Breakthrough Products Through Collaborative Play. Other sources point to Jim Highsmith of the Cutter Consortium, and to Bill Shackelford of Shackelford & Associates with the origination of the concept.

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    Synesthesia

    Object of Play

    By its very nature, knowledge work can be a head-heavy, deeply analytical activity.  Even when the results of the work are sensory, the process of getting there is often the opposite:  we think our way to solutions and filter out the five senses as irrelevant or frivolous. Through Synesthesia role play, participants examine a topic through a sensory lens, and let this inform their decisions and designs.

    Number of Players

    2–5

    Duration of Play

    15–45 minutes

    How to Play

    Participants may choose to examine an existing topic or explore a new idea. It may be something as simple as “the interface for our new site” or as complex as “the user experience.”

    Participants choose or are randomly assigned one of the five senses: see, hear, taste, smell, and touch.  Also consider including as choices temperature, position, and motion.

    Participants are given a few moments to interpret a topic from the perspective of their sense and to move on to the other senses as they see fit. They then describe to the group what they perceived.  For example:

    • “The interface is warm to the touch.  And it tastes like oranges.”
    • “When the app launches, it’s as if I can hear an orchestra tuning up to perform.  But I can’t see anything;  I’d like to see what they’re doing.”
    • “The user experience stinks.  It smells like a stack of dusty papers, and there is no motion.  I wanted to move forward but kept getting slowed down.”

    Strategy

    The Synesthesia exercise gives participants a chance to describe in visceral, memorable terms how they feel about an object or how they imagine it to be. It can uncover overlooked aspects of an idea or product or lead to new ones.

    The source of the Synesthesia game is unknown.

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    Speed Boat

    Object of Play

    Speedboat is a short and sweet way to identify what your employees or clients don’t like about your product/service or what’s standing in the way of a desired goal.  As individuals trying to build forward momentum on products or projects, we sometimes have blind spots regarding what’s stopping us. This game lets you get insight from stakeholders about what they think may be an obstacle to progress.

    Number of Players

    5–10

    Duration of Play

    30 minutes

    How to Play

    1. In a white space visible to the players, draw a boat with anchors attached and name the boat after the product/service or goal under discussion.  This picture is the metaphor for the activity—the boat represents the product/service or goal and the anchors represent the obstacles slowing the movement toward a desired state.
    2. Write the question under discussion next to the boat. For example, “What are the features you don’t like about our product?” or “What’s standing in the way of progress toward this goal?”
    3. Introduce Speedboat as a game designed to show what might be holding a product/service or goal back.  Ask the players to review the question and then take a few minutes to think about the current features of the product/service or the current environment surrounding the goal.
    4. Next, ask them to take 5–10 minutes and write the features of the product/service they don’t like or any variables that are in the way on sticky notes.  If you’d like, you can also ask the players to estimate how much faster the boat would go (in miles or kilometers per hour) without those “anchors” and add that to their sticky notes.
    5. Once they are finished, ask them to post the sticky notes on and around the anchors in the picture.  Discuss the content on each sticky note and look for observations, insights, and “ahas”.  Notice recurring themes, because they can show you where there’s consensus around what’s holding you back.

    Strategy

    This game is not about kicking off a complaint parade.  It’s designed to gather information about improvements or ambitions, so be careful to frame it as such. Tell the players that the intention is to reveal less-than-desirable conditions so that you can be empowered to move the product/service or goal toward an improved state.

    That being said, be aware of the fact that many groups have a tendency to move immediately toward analysis of an improved state. They shift into problem-solving mode. However,doing so disrupts the nature of this game play. After the activity, it’s probable that you won’t have all the information or the right stakeholders to respond to the challenges comprehensively.  So, if you hear the players critiquing or analyzing the content, gently tell them that problem solving is for another game—try to keep their attention focused solely on description, not solution.

    Speedboat is based on the same-named activity in Luke Hohmann’s book, Innovation Games: Creating Breakthrough Products Through Collaborative Play.

    Online Speed Boat Game

    Here is another image of the Speed Boat Game. But this one is special – clicking on the image to the right, will start an “instant play” game at www.innovationgames.com. In this game, there will be icons that you can drag on your online Speed Boat Board:

    • Anchors represent what is preventing your product or service from being as successful as it could be.

    This metaphorical game can be altered to suit your needs. For example, Jonathan Clark’s Speed Plane uses an airplane instead of a boat and replaces anchors with luggage. Customizing the game will make it more relatable to your business and can result in more valuable feedback.

    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!