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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.

    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

    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.

    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; 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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    Object of Play
    Scott Sehlhorst, President of Tyner Blain LLC, has developed an ingenious way to guide the development of your product by identifying your stakeholders. Before laying out a framework of requirements that your product must meet, it is necessary to know your most important users. Doing so not only allows you to prioritize changes based on what people will actually use, but also provides you with the opportunity to build loyal customers by addressing their needs. However, this is easier said than done, as many unidentified users are incorporated into your sphere of stakeholders indirectly through connections with those closer to the system (product). With Customer-Centric – based on Scott’s Onion Diagram in his article “How to Visualize Stakeholder Analysis” — you can peel back the layers of the ecosystem in which your customers operate and uncover those who benefit from the outputs of the system. Play this game to identify stakeholders who can give you the requirements necessary to make your product succeed.

    Number of Players
    5 – 8

    Duration of Play
    1 hour

    How to Play
    1. Start by giving your players sticky notes and pens. On a large poster or white board, draw four concentric circles and label them as follows:

    • Innermost: The product (ex. Pest Control Software)
    • 2nd: System – direct stakeholders (ex. Manager)
    • 3rd: Containing system – stakeholders of the system, even if they don’t directly interact with it (ex. Service technician)
    • 4th: Wider Environment – stakeholders outside of the environment (ex. Suppliers, customers)

    2. Work as a team to identify people that belong in each area. This requires you to think outside the box (or shall we say circle?), as each user persona will be connected to many others within the ecosystem.

    For further organization, you can draw arrows between personas to identify who communicates with whom; doing so will reveal the tangle of relationships originating from the system and bring attention to distant customers who use the output of the product.

    Play Customer-Centric Online

    You can instantly play Customer-Centric online with as many members as you would like! Clicking on the image above will start an “instant play” game at; simply email the game link to your team to invite them to play. In the game, the image to the right will be used as the “game board.” As with the in-person version, the chart organizes the various people who are impacted by your product. In the upper left corner, you will see a note card icon and people icons. Begin by dragging the notecard to the center of the chart and indicating the product you are focusing on. Then, work as a team to drag the people icons to the circles and describe who 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. After the game, the results will be organized in a spread sheet to maximize the benefits of the game.

    Key Points
    One reason products fail is because teams do not solve the problems that are important to the right users. These personas are not always obvious, as they may be associated with the product through indirect connections. With Customer-Centric, you can identify the vast web of people your product impacts and explore the complex butterfly effect; doing so reveals which stakeholders are most important and what your product requirements are.

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    SAFE-BOLD Framework

    Object of Play
    Corporate Executive Board’s Executive Director Matthew Dixon and Managing Director Brent Adamson have developed an insightful technique to help organizations develop customized pitches. This Commercial Teaching approach enlightens customers on a problem or value that applies to their needs, making them realize how they can benefit from your product. In their book, The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation, Dixon and Adamson describe a diagram created by Neil Rackham and KPMG that helps develop compelling pitches. SAFE-BOLD Framework – based on the diagram – provides stimulating organization, so you can brainstorm ideas based on four categories – Scale, Risk, Innovativeness, and Difficulty – to design a strategy that will capture your customers’ attention and increase your sales.

    Number of Players
    5 – 8

    Duration of Play
    1 hour

    How to Play
    1. Pass out sticky notes and pens to your players.

    2. Draw four linear scales and label them as follows:

    Scale 1: Scale
    Left – “Small” = ideas that do not make customers curious or intrigued; customers have probably already thought of these
    Right – “Big” = ideas that customers see as far-reaching

    Scale 2: Risk
    Left – “Achievable” = ideas that are not risky
    Right – “Outperforming” = ideas that are risky and innovative, push customers out of their comfort zone, and show that you can help them get ahead of their competitors

    Scale 3: Innovativeness
    Left – “Following” = ideas that are used, dull, not innovative
    Right – “Leading-Edge” = ideas that ask customers to take a risk by adopting your ideas

    Scale 4: Difficulty
    Left – “Easy” = ideas that customers can implement without your help
    Right – “Difficult” = ideas that are hard for customers to implement, so they will have to hire your company to help them

    3. Ask your players to write ideas on what can be included in the pitch and post them along the spectrums in their designated areas.

    4. Once all the notes are on the chart, work as a team to negotiate the locations and descriptions. Those that are closer to the “BOLD” end of the continuum are more compelling and effective.

    Work as a team to transform SAFE ideas into BOLD ones to make your pitch more effective.

    This game should be played with members of both the sales and marketing teams, as it is necessary that they work together to perfect the Commercial Teaching strategy. The marketing team can provide the insight for reps to use as teaching material for their customers, and the sales team can ensure that reps have the skills required to use the insight to its full advantage.

    Play SAFE-BOLD Framework Online

    You can instantly play SAFE-BOLD Framework online with as many members as you would like! Clicking on the image above will start an “instant play” game at; simply email the game link to your team to invite them to play. In the game, the image to the right will be used as the “game board.” As with the in-person version, note cards represent ideas for each of the scales. Simply drag the icons to the chart and describe what they represent.

    All players can edit the placement and description of each note card, 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. After the game, the results will be organized in a spread sheet to maximize the benefits of the game.

    Key Points
    The visual organization and simple scales of SAFE-BOLD Framework provide the organization needed to effectively brainstorm sharp ideas that will teach your customers of a new problem, be tailored to their business needs, and allow reps to control the sales situation to change customers’ thought processes and behaviors. By developing a provocative Commercial Teaching pitch that is big, risky, innovative, and difficult to implement, you can demonstrate your knowledge of your customers’ problems and provide a unique solution while separating yourself from your competitors.

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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.

    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; 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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    Job or Joy

    Object of Play:
    This game helps you discover what you and your colleagues like best and least about your jobs. When doing something you love, it is easy to get lost in the activity for its own sake, which stimulates creativity and commitment to the task at hand. This can be applied to your work to make it more enjoyable and productive. With Job or Joy, participants share their favorite hobbies, tedious chores, and what they like or dislike about work. This enhances your understanding of your colleagues while uncovering ways to make work more fun.

    Number of Players:
    5 – 8

    Duration of Play:
    1 hour

    How to Play:
    1. Before your meeting, draw a graph with four quadrants. Write “not-work” on the left of the x-axis and “work” on the right. Then write “play” above the y-axis and “not-play” below it.

    This gives each quadrant a specific meaning

    • Quadrant 1: Joy – work activities that people enjoy (ex. conferences)
    • Quadrant 2: Hobbies – activities outside of work that people enjoy (ex. reading, biking, cooking)
    • Quadrant 3: Chores – activities outside of work that people don’t enjoy (ex. cleaning)
    • Quadrant 4: Job – work activities that people don’t enjoy (ex. mundane office meetings)

    Job and Joy (work) = external to the individual; liking of the activity depends on the situation or attributes of it
    Hobbies and Chores (leisure) = internal to the individual; self-motivated activities outside of the workplace

    2. Pass out sticky notes and pens to your team members. Ask them to write activities they do that apply to each of the quadrants.

    3. After about 5 minutes, have your participants place their sticky notes where they feel the they belong on the chart. For instance, if someone likes cooking, they would put that in the “Hobbies” quadrant. If they don’t like cooking, they would place it in the “Chores” section. Things that people like to do at work go under “Joy” and work activities people don’t like go under “Job.”

    4. Ask each person to explain the activities they wrote and why they placed it where they did. Use this discussion time to learn about each other and collaborate on how to make work more enjoyable for everyone.

    The writing and discussion time should begin with activities people love to do outside of work and move to more work-oriented activities. This will help everyone think of ways to make their jobs more enjoyable while creating a fun environment.

    Online Job or Joy

    Start playing Job or Joy immediately online! Clicking on this image will take you to an “instant play” game at, where you can invite participants to play. Here, there will be two icons:

    • Happy face: what you enjoy to do
    • Frown face: what you don’t enjoy to do

    Simply drag these to the chart and collaborate about the moves in real time. When finished, your results are organized onto a spread sheet so you can get the most out of your game.

    Key Points
    When people enjoy what they are doing and become engaged through self-motivation, they can push themselves to form innovative ideas and breakthroughs. Their participation is catalyzed by the activity they are involved in and they channel their personal commitment toward achieving the goal. Discover what your colleagues like/dislike to do in order to better understand who they are and how you can all maximize your joy — both during and outside of work.

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    Learning Matrix

    Object of Play
    Iteration retrospective activities are tricky; it is often difficult to think of practical improvements, and reflecting on negative aspects of the project can leave your team feeling upset and unmotivated. A great way to prevent these from occurring is to play a game that focuses on the positives while also pointing out aspects that need to be changed. As described in Diana Larsen and Esther Derby’s Agile Retrospectives, Learning Matrix does just this. In this game, teams collaborate to identify what they liked and disliked about a past project, as well as point out whom they appreciated and what they believe should be altered for the future. Whether analyzing the results of a conference, product, or meeting, Learning Matrix can help you uncover your top-priority items to enhance your iteration.

    Number of Players
    5 – 8

    Duration of Play
    1 hour

    How to Play
    1. Before your meeting, create a 2×2 matrix. Draw a picture in each quadrant to represent a different aspect involved in your retrospective analysis:

    Quadrant 1: Frown face for aspects you disliked, should be changed
    Quadrant 2: Smiley face for aspects you liked, should be repeated
    Quadrant 3: Light bulb for new ideas to try
    Quadrant 4: Bouquet: people you appreciated

    2. Provide players with plenty of sticky notes and markers. Allow 5-10 minutes for participants to individually write down their ideas for the four topics on separate notes.

    3. After all players are done writing their ideas, ask them to present their sticky notes to the group and post them on the designated sections of the chart.

    4. Narrow down the notes to a few requiring immediate attention. Give each player 6 – 10 dot stickers, which they will use to dot vote for the ideas they believe are top-priority. Resolve ties by discussing which note is more pressing or having another dot vote. Count all the votes to determine which ideas should be focused on. Narrowing ideas down is important, as it allows the team to concentrate on priorities and increases the chance of effective improvements being made.

    5. Move the notes around to reflect the order of priority. Collaborate to evaluate how these ideas can be used to enhance your next iteration and discuss where you can begin making improvements.

    Online Learning Matrix

    Clicking on the image to the right will take you to an “instant play” game at Here, the picture will be used as the “game board” and you will find four icons in the top left corner. As with the in-person game, the each icon represents a different topic:

    Frown face – aspects you didn’t like
    Happy face – aspects you liked
    Light bulb – new ideas
    Bouquet – people you appreciated

    To add the icons, simply drag them to the board and describe what they represent. Everyone can edit the placement and description of each icon, which can be seen in real time. Collaborate through the chat facilitator to build from each other’s ideas and improve your past project.

    Encourage players to continue thinking of ideas for each quadrant, even after all the sticky notes have been posted or the quadrants have filled up. Write the additional comments around the topic images to maintain the positioning of the original notes.

    A good facilitator is necessary for this game in order to keep everyone focused. If the project team leader does not feel comfortable in this position, it is best to hire a neutral facilitator. This must be someone who can gain the team’s trust and create an environment in which participants feel comfortable sharing their ideas.

    Key Points
    This exercise allows you to perform iteration retrospective analysis while maintaining a positive environment. By organizing your thoughts, you can lay out your plan for improvement and discover how to enhance your project for the future. Collaborate to identify what should be repeated, changed, or tried, and to congratulate team members for a job well-done.

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    Crossfire injects a little drama into a meeting while establishing a safe environment for those that like to argue. Meeting attendees select a topic of interest prior to the meeting, and two people prepare to discuss it from two different viewpoints. This game is a great way to explore potentially controversial ideas, learn about new products or technologies, or assess the competition’s latest move.

    Object of Play
    The object of Crossfire is simply to provide two different points of view as animatedly as possible. Players benefit from the research they do to prepare, and spectators benefit from hearing different sides of an issue. If desired, spectators can vote on which player is more persuasive, but this is optional.

    Number of Players
    1 moderator (optional), 2 players and up to 40 spectators

    Duration of Play
    2 to 3 minutes, plus prep time

    How to Play
    A. Preparation

    1. Prior to the meeting, the topic or issue and two players are selected. Each player represents one side of the issue, either by volunteering or by being nominated to take a given position. Sample topics might include:
      • We should/should not develop a certain new product;
      • Our competitor’s newest offering poses/does not pose a serious threat to us;
      • We should/should not hire a new marketing manager; and so on.
    2. Each player prepares a 30-second or 1-minute position statement in advance. (30 seconds for a 2-minute game; 1 minute for a 3-minute game.) Each player should also prepare rebuttals to arguments they expect their opponent to raise.

    B. Play

    1. To begin, flip a coin to see which player goes first. The moderator, if there is one, is responsible for keeping time. If there is no moderator, appoint one of the spectators to keep time.
    2. Establish a physical space for the players, like a circle of chairs. Players should stand inside the space, and spectators should stand all around the players in a crowd or ring.
    3. The first player gives his or her opening statement (either 30 seconds or 1 minute) to the spectators. When s/he is finished, the other player gives his or her opening statement (same length of time).
    4. For the remaining minute, the players face each other and argue for their own position and/or against their opponent’s. During this time, players should attempt to rebut statements made by the opponent, or strengthen arguments they themselves have made. This is not a polite debate, but a heated argument. Players should act out and have fun!

    C. Concluding the Game

    1. When the minute is up, spectators can be asked to vote by applause or by moving to stand next to the player they agree with (optional).
    2. The game may be opened up for questions at this point, so that spectators can ask for clarification from either or both players.

    Players should keep in mind that their goal is to convey information and persuade others of their point of view, even if they personally do not hold that view. Their remarks should be focused on the information they are conveying, rather than on their opponent personally.

    Key Points

    • The moderator should create a safe space for Crossfire to take place. Players may act very excited, yell, gesticulate, and so on, but they should refrain from personal attacks, inappropriate language, or unprofessional actions. It should be clear that Crossfire is a game, and that one of the primary goals is to convey information to the spectators.
    • Players need not represent a viewpoint they actually hold. In fact, it can be very enlightening and entertaining to argue passionately from the side of the issue that one would not normally take.