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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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Pre-Mortem

Spooky!

Object of Play

Often in projects, the learning is all at the wrong end. Usually after things have already gone horribly wrong or off-track, members of the team gather in a “postmortem” to sagely reflect on what bad assumptions and courses of action added up to disaster. What makes this doubly unfortunate is that those same team members, somewhere in their collective experience, may have seen it coming.

A pre-mortem is a way to open a space in a project at its inception to directly address its risks. Unlike a more formal risk analysis, the pre-mortem asks team members to directly tap into their experience and intuition, at a time when it is needed most, and is potentially the most useful.

Number of Players

Any, but typically small teams will have the most open dialogue

Duration of Play

Depends on the scope of an effort; allow up to five minutes for each participant

How to Play

A pre-mortem is best conducted at the project’s kickoff, with all key team members present and after the goals and plan have been laid out and understood. The exercise starts with a simple question: “What will go wrong?” though it may be elevated in phrasing to “How will this end in disaster?”

This is an opportunity for the team to reflect on their collective experience and directlyname risks or elephants lurking in the room. It’s a chance to voice concerns that mightotherwise go unaddressed until it’s too late. A simple discussion may be enough to surfacethese items among a small team; in a larger group, Post-Up or list generation maybe needed.

To close the exercise, the list of concerns and risks may be ranked or voted on to determine priority. The group then decides what actions need to be taken to address these risks; they may bring these up as a part of ongoing meetings as the project progresses.

Strategy

Conducting a pre-mortem is deceptively simple. At the beginning of a project, the forward momentum and enthusiasm are often at their highest; these conditions do not naturally lend themselves to sharing notions of failure. By conducting a pre-mortem, a group deliberately creates a space to share their past learning, at a time when they can best act on it.

The source of  the Pre-Mortem game is unknown. It’s similar, and related to, the Innovation Game: “Remember the Future” designed by Luke Hohmann.

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Force Field Analysis

Force Field Analysis
Force Field image by Seth Starner

Object of Play
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus asserted that change alone is unchanging. This is certainly true in today’s competitive global marketplace. As employees, we’re often responsible for understanding and even anticipating change in order to stay ahead. The Force Field Analysis game is a time-tested way to evaluate the forces that affect change which can ultimately affect our organizations. Making a deliberate effort to see the system surrounding change can help us steer the change in the direction we want it to move.

Number of Players: 5–30

Duration of Play: 30 minutes to 1.5 hours

How to Play
1. Before the meeting, draw a picture of a potential change in the middle of a large sheet of paper or a whiteboard. You can draw a literal representation (e.g., a manufacturing plant) or a more abstract representation (e.g., a metaphor). Label the picture to ensure that everyone participating will be clear on the topic.

2. On the top left of the page, write the phrase “Forces FOR Change”. On the top right, write the phrase “Forces AGAINST Change”.

3. Draw arrows on both sides pointing toward the image in the middle. These will be the areas that contain categories generated by the group, so make the arrows large enough to write 1–2-inch letters inside. If you like the “wow” factor of drawing live with the group but you’re not yet comfortable with freehand, sketch the arrows in pencil or yellow marker and trace them during the meeting.

4. When the group is gathered, introduce the change topic and explain that the goal of the Force Field Analysis game is to evaluate the feasibility of that change.

5. Ask the players to take 5–10 minutes and quietly generate ideas about what elements are driving the change. Tell them to include one idea per sticky note.

6. Ask the players to take 5–10 minutes and quietly generate ideas about what elements are restraining the change.

7. Draw a simple scale with a range of 1 to 5 on your main flip chart. Indicate that 1 means the force is weak and 5 means the force is strong. Ask them to review each idea FOR change and add a number to that sticky note, weighting that idea. Ask them to review each idea AGAINST change and add a number to that sticky note, weighting that idea.

8. Gather all of the sticky notes FOR change and post them to any flat surface viewable by the players.

9. With the group’s collaboration, sort the ideas based on their affinity to other ideas. For example, if they produced three sticky notes that say “Can’t continue production at current cost”, “Materials cost too high”, and “Overexpenditure on production”, cluster those ideas together. Create multiple clusters until you have clustered the majority of the sticky notes. Place outliers separate from the clusters but still in playing
range.

10. After the sorting activity is complete, begin a group conversation to create an overarching category for each cluster. For example, an overarching category for the cluster from step 9 might be “unsustainable costs”.

11. As the group makes suggestions and finds agreement on categories, write those categories inside the arrows on the main visual.

12. As you categorize each cluster, direct the group’s attention to the numeric scores within that cluster. Get an average for each cluster and write that number next to the related category in the arrow.

13. Repeat steps 8–12 using the sticky notes generated AGAINST change.

14. Add the quantities for and against change and write the totals at the bottom and on the appropriate side of the sheet.

15. Summarize the overall findings with the group, including the numeric totals, and discuss the implications of whether change should occur.

Force Field example

Strategy
Often when you play the Force Field Analysis game, it will not be the first time the players have considered the change under discussion. Many of them will have preconceived beliefs about whether the change should occur. So, be aware of group dynamics—whether they’re eager for or resistant to the change. If you sense that they’re eager, encourage them to give equal consideration to forces against it. If they seem reluctant, encourage them to imagine their wildest dream with respect to this change and describe what’s already in place to support it. Don’t let employees with fixed perspectives on either side dominate the conversation.

This game is about exploring the viability of change in an open-minded way. So, be sure to acknowledge and discuss any ideas that end up as outliers in the clusters—they frequently turn out to be valuable by offering unforeseen perspectives. Along that same line, don’t assume that the numeric totals resolutely answer the question of whether change should occur. The totals are another gauge by which to measure where the group may stand. Use them as fodder for further conversation and evaluation. And if you want to take the evaluation further, ask the group to look for meta-categories after they’ve brainstormed the categories within the arrows. Meta-categories should be a level higher than the categories generated from the clusters. They could include “politics”, “economics”, “company culture”, or “mid-level management”. Seeing meta-categories can also help the group determine where the bulk of the evaluation may need to be focused.

This game is based on the Force Field Analysis framework developed by Kurt Lewin.

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Draw the Problem

Bill Keaggy sketching

Object of Play
On any given day, we prioritize the problems that get our attention. Problems that are vague or misunderstood have a harder time passing our internal tests of what matters and, as a result, go unaddressed and unsolved. Often, meetings that address problem-solving skip this critical step: defining the problem in a way that is not only clear but also compelling enough to make people care about solving it. Running this short drawing exercise at the beginning of a meeting will help get the laptops closed and the participants engaged with their purpose.

Number of Players: Works best with small groups of 6–10 participants

Duration of Play: 20–30 minutes


How to Play
1. Each participant should have a large index card or letter-sized piece of paper. After introducing the topic of the meeting, ask the participants to think about the problem they are here to solve. As they do so, ask them to write a list of items helping to explain the problem. For example, they may think about a “day in the life” of the problem or an item that represents the problem as a whole.

2. After a few minutes of this thinking and reflection, ask the participants to flip over their paper and draw a picture of the problem, as they would explain it to a peer. They may draw a simple diagram or something more metaphorical; there are no prizes or punishments for good or bad artistry. The drawing should simply assist in explaining the problem.

3. When everyone is finished, have the participants post their drawings on the wall and explain them to each other. While the group shares, note any common elements. After the exercise, the group should reflect on the similarities and differences, and work toward a shared understanding of what the problem looks like to each other.

Strategy
This warm-up does not result in a problem definition that will satisfy an engineer; rather, it engages participants in defining the challenge in a simplified form. It is a first step in bringing a group together under a common purpose, elevating the problem above the noise to become something they care to solve.

The Draw the Problem game is credited to James Macanufo.

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Post-Up

Post-up, originally uploaded by dgray_xplane.

Object of Play
The goal of this game is to generate ideas with silent sticky note writing.

Number of Players: 1–50

Duration of Play: 10 minutes to 1 hour

How to Play
There are many ways to work with ideas using sticky notes. Generating ideas is the most basic play, and it starts with a question that your group will be brainstorming answers to. For example: “What are possible uses for Product X?” Write the question or topic on a whiteboard. Ask the group to brainstorm answers individually, silently writing their ideas on separate sticky notes. The silence lets people think without interruption, and putting items on separate notes ensures that they can later be shuffled and sorted as distinct thoughts. After a set amount of time, ask the members of the group to stick their notes to the whiteboard and quickly present them. If anyone’s items inspire others to write more, they can stick those up on the wall too, after everyone has presented.

Harry Brignall at the 90% of Everything blog makes a great suggestion:

When doing a post-up activity with sticky notes in a workshop, you may want to use the FOG method: mark each note with F (fact), O (opinion) or G (guess). It’s such a simple thing to do, but it adds a great deal of clarity to the decision-making process.

Strategy
Generating ideas is an opening activity, and a first step. From here you can create an Affinity Map or further organize and prioritize the thoughts, for example using Forced Ranking.

The Post-Up game is based on the exercises in Rapid Problem-Solving with Post-it® Notes
by David Straker.

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Show and Tell

Geneva workshop

While it’s enjoyable and worthwhile to discuss the ideas behind Gamestorming, it’s more useful to experience them. The image below represents output from a visual-thinking game that you can “play” with your employees.

Caution: Adults have a tendency to link Show and Tell to child’s play. This is a learning faux pas. It’s right up there with underestimating the value of doodling. And now we know what’s wrong with that: Take Note: Doodling can Help Memory.

OBJECT of the GAME: To get a deeper understanding of stakeholders’ perspectives on anything—a new project, an organizational restructuring, a shift in the company’s vision or team dynamic, etc.

HOW TO PLAY:

  1. A few days in advance of a meeting, ask employees to bring an artifact for Show and Tell. The instructions are to bring something that, from their perspective, is representative of the topic at hand. If possible, tell them to keep the item hidden until it’s their turn to show it at the meeting.
  2. In a white space visible to everyone, write the name of the game and the topic. If you wish, draw a picture of either.
  3. When everyone is assembled with their show piece, ask for volunteers to stand up and show first.
  4. Pay close attention to each employee’s story of why she thought an item represented or reminded her of the topic. Listen for similarities, dif­ferences, and emotional descriptions of the item. Write each of these contributions in the white space and draw a simple visual of the item the person brought next to her comments.
  5. Summarize what you’ve captured in the white space and let the group absorb any shared themes of excitement, doubt or concern. Ask follow-up questions about the content to generate further conversation.

WINNING STRATEGY: Show and Tell taps into the power of metaphors to reveal players’ underlying assumptions and associations around a topic. If you hear a string of items that are described in concerned or fearful terms, that’s likely a signal that the employees’ needs aren’t being met in some way. As the team lead, encourage and applaud honesty during the stories and write down every point an employee makes that seems important to him or her. Keep the rest of the group quiet while someone is showing and telling.

As the group facilitator, if you feel intimidated by drawing a representation of a show item in the white space, get through it: attempt to draw it anyway and let the group tease you about your efforts. Show and Tell can be a vulnerable activity for employees—particularly the introverted type—so show some team spirit by being vulnerable in your leadership role.

Show-and-Tell