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Mapping Organizational Culture

Are you struggling to break down organizational silos, increase creativity, engagement and collaboration? Do you feel like the people in your company are resisting change? Is your company’s culture holding you back?

Nobody denies the critical importance of culture to a company’s success. And yet, although everyone agrees that culture is of vital importance, culture still seems fuzzy, vague and difficult to grasp. Culture change initiatives are often well-meaning, but end up as a series of feel-good exercises. They create a feeling that progress is being made, but ultimately fail to deliver results.

Objective of Play
Assess, map and transform organizational culture via deep reflection. As a leader or manager in a large organization, you probably have a sense of the culture and people challenges facing you, but at the same time, you must also manage not only down but up and across the organization.

Culture Mapping gives you the intelligent information you require to make a business case for the interventions, executive support, and budget you will need to minimize risk and maximize the chances of success for your change initiative.

Number of Players
Use the culture map individually or with a group.

For group use, gather 5 – 6 people from the same function (IT, HR, finance, et al) who work together and know each other well. The goal of the session is candid and constructive criticism; the boss cannot come.

Duration of Play
Anywhere between 15 minutes for individual play (napkin sketch of a Culture Map) to 90 minutes for a group.

Material Required
Culture Mapping works best when players work on a poster on the wall. To run a good session you will need:

  • A very large print of a Culture Map. Ideally A0 format (1000mm × 1414mm or 39.4in × 55.7in)
    • Alternatively, recreate the canvas on a large whiteboard.
  • Tons of sticky notes (i.e. post-it® notes) of different colors
  • Flip chart markers
  • Camera to capture results
  • The facilitator of the game might want to read an outline of the Culture Map.

How to Play
There are several games and variations you can play with the Culture Map. Here we describe the most basic game, which is the mapping of an organization’s existing culture. The game can easily be adapted to the objectives of the players (eg, map your desired culture or that of another organization).

  1. Before you begin mapping, review with the group the Culture Map sections. A garden plays a useful analogy:
    • The outcomes in your culture are the fruits. These are the things you want your culture to achieve, or what you want to “harvest” from your garden.
    • The behaviors are the heart of your culture. They’re the positive or negative actions people perform everyday that will result in a good or bad harvest.
    • The enablers and blockers are the elements that allow your garden to flourish or fail. For example, weeds, pests, bad weather, or lack of knowledge might be hindering your garden. Where as fertilizer, expertise in gardening specific crops, or good land might be helping your garden to grow.
  2. Start with Behavior, it tends to be the easiest to discuss. These are the things we see everyday, the things we talk about when we ask someone if they “want to grab a coffee?” Use the guide questions to prompt ideas. Write a single behavior on a sticky note, put it on the map. Before moving to the next step, group similar behaviors and remove duplicates. Recommendation: be as specific as possible, use stories to elicit detail and specificity; avoid the tendency to be generic in describing these behaviors. Ask the players: how would you describe this behavior as a scene in a movie?
  3. Move to Outcomes. Go behavior-by-behavior and use the guide questions to prompt ideas, the most important being: What happens to the business because of the behaviors? Write a single outcome on a sticky note, put it on the map near its related behavior. Use a marker to draw a line between a behavior and its direct outcome.
  4. Move to Enablers and Blockers. Go behavior-by-behavior and use the guide questions to prompt ideas. Enablers and blockers describe why we behave the way we do: a listing of organizational incentives. Write a single enabler or blocker on a sticky note and place it near it’s related behavior. Use a marker to draw a line between an enabler or blocker and its resulting behavior.
  5. Once you have taken a pass at each section, examine the map and discuss with the group. Do the relationships make sense? Are the behaviors as detailed as they could be? Has your discussion sparked any other thoughts? If so, add them to the map. Recommendation: Keep relationships as direct as possible. For example, a behavior should have only one outcome and one enabler or blocker. It is likely this will not happen without discussion, editing and refinement. For clarity and communication, keep the relationships as simple as possible, for example:

Strategy
Depending on who you ask, 60–70 percent of change initiatives fail to meet their stated objectives, and the primary source of that failure, according to a Deloitte study, is resistance to change. So if you’re embarking on a change initiative, the last things you want to skimp on are risk-awareness and risk management.

Culture Mapping surfaces information that, as far as we know, cannot be collected any other way. It gives the C-suite access to frontline culture in a way that they could never get through their own efforts, because the water-cooler conversation always shuts down, or significantly shifts, when the CEO or senior leader walks by.

Variation
Map the Culture of industry competitors or an aspirational company

The Culture Map was developed by Dave Gray and Strategyzer AG.

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Mapping Design Operations

Today, companies in every industry seek to better their design capabilities: from products to services to experiences. Fueling the growing design function in large organizations is a new discipline called Design Ops, charged with scaling design and design thinking up, down, and across the organization.

Does your organization have a Design Ops function? If not, let’s design it!

Object of Play
Build shared understanding of how Design Ops operates within the larger organizational context. If a current Design Ops function exists, to visually map it. If it does not yet exist, to design it.

Number of Players
1-6 (depending on the objective).

As an individual, use the Design Ops canvas to quickly sketch out and think through a Design Ops organizational model or an interesting model portrayed in the press.

To map an organization’s existing and/or future model you should work in groups. Include partner organizations (e.g. project management) and stakeholders (e.g. clients). The more diverse the group of players, the more accurate the picture of the Design Ops function will be.

Duration of Play
Anywhere between 15 minutes for individual play (napkin sketch of a Design Ops model), half a day (to map an organization’s current Design Ops model), and up to two days (to develop a future Design Ops model, including vision, mission and metrics).

Material Required
Mapping works best when players work on a poster on the wall. To run a good session you will need:

  • A very large print of a Business Canvas Poster. Ideally A0 format (1000mm × 1414mm or 39.4in × 55.7in)
    • Alternatively, recreate the canvas on a large whiteboard.
  • Tons of sticky notes (i.e. post-it® notes) of different colors
  • Flip chart markers
  • Camera to capture results
  • The facilitator of the game might want to read an outline of the Design Operations Canvas

How to Play
There are several games and variations you can play with the Design Ops Canvas Poster. Here we describe the most basic game, which is the mapping of an organization’s existing Design Ops org (steps 1-3), it’s assessment (step 4), and the formulation of improved or potential new org designs (step 5). The game can easily be adapted to the objectives of the players.

  1. Start with the Stakeholders in the Who are we? circle. Use different color sticky notes on the Canvas Poster for each type of stakeholder (e.g. external vendors, internal support functions, clients). Complete this section.
  2. Subsequently, move to the What do we do? section and map out the value propositions your organization offers each stakeholder. Players should use the same color sticky notes for value propositions and stakeholder segments that go together. If a value proposition targets two very different stakeholder segments, the sticky note colors of both segments should be used.
  3. Map out all the remaining building blocks of your organization’s Design Ops model with sticky notes. Try to use the colors of the related stakeholder segment. Recommendation: once you complete the Stakeholders section, work around the canvas clockwise, beginning with the upper left section; leave the What Constrains Us? section last.
  4. Assess the strengths and weaknesses of your Design Ops model by putting up green (strength) and red (weakness) sticky notes alongside the strong and weak elements of the mapped model. Alternatively, sticky notes marked with a “+” and “-” can be used rather than colors.
  5. Try to improve the existing model or generate totally new models. You can use one or several additional Design Ops Model Posters to map out improved org models or new alternatives.

Strategy
This powerful game opens up channels of dialogue about a new, lesser-known but vitally important design function. Use this game as an opportunity to not only create a thoughtfully designed and productive organization, but to introduce and educate the rest of the company about what design can do and how to plug in. Players not familiar with design may stay silent at first, but their participation will increase understanding and alignment, benefits with payoff into the future. Keep them engaged. Beyond including outside stakeholders in the game, use a completed Design Ops canvas as a conversation starter in evangelizing Design’s value to your company.

Variation

  • map out the Design Ops org of industry competitors or an aspirational company

Complementary Games

  • The Empathy Map will help you to more deeply understand your stakeholders; play this game before Mapping your Design Ops org.
  • The Business Model Canvas will provide a more technical (managerial?) understanding of how your Design Ops org functions; complete the Business Model canvas after mapping your Design Ops org. In the event you are looking to improve upon your current state, the Business Model Canvas will prove especially useful.
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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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Building partnerships

Object of play: The partnership canvas is a tool that enables visualization of current and/or future partnerships. It can also be used for early testing of the value creating potential of a partnership between two partnership candidates. The tool’s purpose is to define your business priority for partnering, and empathize with your partner to explore whether there is potentially a match. The partnership canvas can be used as a stand-alone tool, but comes to full strategizing value when it is jointly used with the business model canvas, also available on this site.

Bart Doorneweert & Ernst Houdkamp www.valuechaingeneration.com

Number of players: This can be done by yourself, but preferably with 2 teams of max 5 people representing each side of the partnership. Alternatively, make multiple pairs if there are more people.


Duration of play: 
(60-90 min):

– Step 1- Define intent (15 min)

–Step 2- Design partnership (15 min/sketch)

–Step 3- Bring teams to the negotiating table (15 min)

–Step 4- Evaluate the negotiation results and define next steps (20 min)


How to play

1. Define intent
a)    Describe the aim or goal of the partnership for your business
b)    List what would be ideal partners to work with and why. Organize a post up. Select a top partnership candidate, or multiple candidates.
c)    Create (multiples of) 2 teams; 1 representing your business, 1 for a potential partner’s business.

2. Design partnership
a)    Each team identifies their desired assets in their respective partner’s business model
b)    Teams sketches out a partnership canvas from their own team’s perspective using stickie notes to define each building block

3. Bring teams to the negotiating table
a)   Each team presents their partnership canvas
b)   Compare the two partnership canvasses by mirroring the partnership perspectives. Compare between  value offers of one team, to desired value of the other team, and whether there is mutual understanding of the transfer activities. Check for a clear fit.
c)   Create agreement on the created value for each partner. Adapt partnership canvas and iterate step 3 if required.

4. Evaluate the negotiation results and define next steps
a)   Do the elements of created value provide clear added value to each partner’s business?
b)   Define next steps to effectuate the partnership

 

Mirroring partnership perspectives
Mirroring partnership perspectives

Strategy: The partnership canvas can be used to explore the idea of engaging in a partnership. A team can use the canvas to prepare for an upcoming conversation with a potential partner. Alternatively the session can be conducted jointly with a potential partner if there is already a mutual interest to explore partnering possibilities. The tool can firstly be used to determine whether there is a technical fit between two businesses. By working in teams and negotiating certain rivalry is always invoked, and teams can also get a sense of cultural fit between two partnering businesses.

In order to obtain full strategizing value from use of the canvas, it is advised to integrally work with the business model canvas. In the end, the partnership discussion is a key step in business model innovation

 Interaction Partnership Canvas  Business Model Canvas

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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.

 

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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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    Prune The Future

    Object of Play

    People who work in large organizations know that most change doesn’t happen immediately or in broad sweeps. It happens incrementally by taking small, strategic steps.  Prune the Future uses a tree as a metaphor to show how the future of anything can be shaped,one leaf at a time.

    Number of Players

    5–15

    Duration of Play

    30 minutes

    How to Play

    1. Before the meeting, cut a few dozen sticky notes or index cards into the shapes of leaves. Then, in a white space that will be visible to the players, draw a large tree with enough thick limbs to represent multiple categories of the future.  Write the general topic under or above the tree.

    2. Tell the group that the inner part of the treetop represents current states of the topic and moving outward means moving toward the future.  For example, if the topic is about growing the customer base, the inner leaves would represent the current customer demographics and the outer leaves would represent future or desired customer demographics.

    3. Ask the players to write current aspects of the topic—one idea per leaf—on the leaves and stick them on the inside of the treetop.  Remove any redundant comments and cluster similar comments, with the group’s guidance, near the appropriate branches.

    4. Next, ask the players to write aspects of the future on new leaves. These can be future states or variables already in progress, or simply potentials and possibilities.

    5. Tell the players to “prune” the future by posting their leaves around the treetop, related to the categories of the limbs.  If you’d like, add thin or thick branches within to show relationships and let the tree grow in a natural way. If it grows asymmetrically, let that be.

    6. With the players, discuss the shape of tree that emerges. Which branches have the most activity? Which areas don’t seem to be experiencing growth? Where do the branches appear to be most connected? The most disconnected?

    Strategy

    The picture of the tree is the working metaphor for this game—it represents the roots of the topic, the branches of the topic, and, of course, the topic’s growth potential.  This game is broadly applicable because you can use a tree as a metaphor for virtually any aspect of your organization that you wish to grow or shape.  The topic can be a product whose future features you want to brainstorm.  It can be a team whose future roles and responsibilities you want to plan.  Or you could use this game to discuss the marketplace and show where the players think it is changing or growing.

    When the players start to shape the outer treetop, encourage them to “go out on a limb” with their ideas for the future. This game is about possibilities—realistic and otherwise.  And if someone requests fruit on the tree to represent ROI, draw apples where they should be. If the players request another tree (or even a grove!), draw quick rudimentary trees and let the players start adding leaves, following the original procedure. This game works well because it allows for a nonlinear, organic representation of what is likely a complex topic.  It results in a visual display of the interconnectedness of future conditions;  showing where some parts of the tree may be suffering while others are thriving.

    The Prune the Future game is based on the Prune the Product Tree activity in Luke Hohmann’s book, Innovation Games: Creating Breakthrough Products Through Collaborative Play.

    Online Prune the Product Tree

    Prune the Product TreeGet started right away by playing Prune the Product Tree online! One of the important aspects of this game is tailoring the image – and meaning – of the tree to match the goals of your game. To illustrate online play, we’re going to use an “Event Benefits Tree”.

    Clicking on this image will start an events benefits “instant play” game at innovationgames.com that is useful in evaluating the benefits of attending a conference. In the game, there will be three icons that you can drag onto your Product Tree:

    • Red Apples: Benefits you expected and got.
    • Rotten Apples: Benefits you expected but didn’t get.
    • Presents: Unexpected benefits that made the conference great.

    The multi-layered regions of this tree are designed to capture a variety of information about these benefits. Where did the players receive these benefits (at the conference or at work)? What was the nature of the benefit (personal or professional)? And what about the conference infrastructure – the roots of the tree (before the conference or after the conference)? By exploring these dimensions with players, you can create better conferences in the future.

    Don’t forget that this a collaborative game that allows you to invite other players to play. And when they drag something around – you will see it in real time! Of course, you will want to create your own trees after you’ve explored this one.

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    Graphic Gameplan

    photo

    Object of Play

    Plenty of us are visionaries, idea generators, or, at the very least, suggestion makers. But ideas never come to fruition without a plan. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Well done is better than well said.” Following up on a big idea with an executable action plan is one of the monumental differences between teams and companies that are merely good and those that are outstanding. That’s why this activity deserves special attention. The Graphic Gameplan shows you how you’ll get where you want to go with a project.

    Number of Players

    Small groups, but can also be done individually

    Duration of Play

    30 minutes to 2 hours

    How to Play

    1. Before the meeting, think of one or more projects that need to get traction.

    2. In a large, white space, preferably 3–4 feet high by 6–12 feet wide, draw a picture similar to the following.

    3. Display the graphic on the meeting room wall and tell the players that the goal ofthe meeting is to get consensus around specific tasks required to complete a project.

    4. Write the name of the first project to be discussed at the top left of the first column.As the group leader, you can write all associated projects downward in that same column or you can ask the players to add projects that they agree need attention.Either way, you should end up with the relevant projects listed in the leftmost column.

    5. Based on the projects listed, either tell the group the time frame and write the milestones in days, weeks, or months along the top row, or ask what they think it should be and write that time frame along the top. (Note: you can also establish a timeline after step 8.)

    6. Sticky notes in hand, ask the players to choose a project and agree aloud on the first step required to accomplish it. Write their contribution on the sticky note and post it in the first box next to that project.

    7. Ask the players for the second, third, and fourth steps, and so on. Keep writing their comments on sticky notes until they’re satisfied that they’ve adequately outlined each step to complete the project.

    8. Repeat steps 6 and 7 for every project on your display, until the game plan is filled out.

    Strategy

    Completing a game plan as a group has two major benefits. The first is that it breaks big projects into manageable chunks of work, which encourages anyone responsible for a project. The second is that because the “group mind” creates the game plan, it raises the quality of the flow of project management. It becomes less likely that important steps are left out and more likely that the project is approached thoughtfully and strategically.But as you post the sticky notes, don’t assume that the first flow the group maps is the best one. Ask the players challenging questions about their comments: Does this have to happen first? Can these two steps be combined? How are steps related across projects?Do steps in one project affect the progress or outcome of another? Ask hard questions to help the group get to the best place and write any food for thought on a flip chart nearby.

    When determining the timeline to write across the top, it’s important to note that it can be determined after the project steps are established. A time frame written beforehand can impact the steps people are willing and able to take, so think about whether it serves the facilitation process better by assigning time before or after the play is complete.

    If you find that the players want to assign tasks to specific people or departments as they go, let them. Simply add the names of the responsible parties to each sticky note (obviously,these assignments should be realistic). And if the players want to discuss available resources, or a lack thereof, ask them to share what they expect to need in order to complete the projects and capture that on a flip chart in the room.

    The game plan can be customized with several rows and columns in order to support more complex projects. You can draw however many rows and columns you’d like as long as you have sticky notes that will fit within. Whatever the matrix looks like, the visual that results from this group discussion can serve as the large-scale, step-by-step of a project, or its contents can be funneled into more formal project management software or some other platform used by the organization. Either way, the discussion around creating it will be of significant value.

    • Optional activity: Draw smaller versions of the game plan on flip-chart paper and have breakout groups tackle specific projects using markers and small sticky notes. Then ask each group to present their approach to the larger group and to get feedback on the steps they proposed.

    The Graphic Gameplan is based on the Leader’s Guide to Accompany the Graphic Gameplan Graphic Guide from The Grove Consultants International’s strategic visioning process,which involves using a template of the same name.

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    Post The Path

    Object of Play

    The object of this game is to quickly diagnose a group’s level of understanding of the steps in a process.

    Often, there is a sense of confusion about who does what and when. The team is using different terms to describe their process. The group has no documented process. Things seem to be happening in an ad hoc fashion, invisibly, or by chance.

    Through this exercise, the group will define an existing process at a high level and uncover areas of confusion or misunderstanding. In most cases, this can flow naturally into a discussion of what to do about those unclear areas. This exercise will not generally result in a new or better process but rather a better understanding of the current one.

    Number of Players

    2–10

    Duration of Play

    30 minutes to 1 hour

    How to Play

    Introduce the exercise by framing the objective: “This is a group activity, where we will create a picture of how we create [x].” X in this case is the output of the process; it maybe a document, a product, an agreement, or the like.  Write or draw the output of the process on the wall.

    Establish a common starting point of the process with the group. This could sound like “the beginning of the day” or “the start of a quarter” or “after we finished the last one.”  This is the trigger or triggers that kick off the process. If you believe the group will have a hard time with this simple step, decide it for them in advance and present it as a best guess. Write this step on a sticky note, put it on the wall, and then proceed with the exercise.

    1. Instruct participants to think about the process from beginning to end. Then give them the task: write down the steps in the process. They can use as many notes as they like, but each step must be a separate note.
    2. After the participants have brainstormed their version of the steps, ask them to come up to the wall and post them to compare.  The group should place their steps above and below one another’s so that they can compare their versions of steps 1, 2, and so on.
    3. Prompt the group to find points of agreement and confusion. Look for terminology problems, where participants may be using different words to describe the same step.  Points of confusion may surface where “something magical happens” or no one is really clear on a step.

    Strategy

    The group will draw their own conclusions about what the different versions of the process mean and what they can or should do about it.

    For a larger group, you may want to avoid individual readouts and instead have people post up simultaneously.

    If you sense in advance that the group will get caught up in the details, ask them to produce a limited number of steps—try 10.

    The Post the Path game is credited to James Macanufo.

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    Product Pinocchio

    Object of Play

    Quite naturally, most of us don’t think of products or services as being alive and animate.  But there are a lot of benefits to imagining a product as a friend rather than an instrument. By pretending that a product has come to life, we can personalize and evolve its features in a way that is not accessible to us when we think of it as inanimate. Product Pinocchio is a game designed to establish, refine, and evolve the features of a product or service so that it becomes more valuable to the end user. By personifying it, we can better relate to it and better craft it into a “friend” that a consumer might want to take home.

    Number of Players

    5–20

    Duration of Play

    1 hour

    How to Play

    1. For this game, a “scene” is any simple situation in which the character (the product or service) is required to make a decision or take action. Scene examples might be “someone attempts to steal an old lady’s purse” or “a driver encounters a hitchhiker on the way to a party”. Before the meeting, invent four scenes and write them on index cards, one scene per card.

    2. Also before the meeting, write each of the following five questions on the tops of flip-chart paper, one question per sheet:

    • What am I like?
    • What are my values?
    • What is my community?
    • What makes me different?
    • What is my fight?

    3. Starting with “What am I like?” draw a picture of the product/service in the middle of the sheet of paper with arms, legs, and a head. (This character should be used throughout the exercise, but in different poses.)

    4. Ask the group to imagine that the product or service has come to life and is now a fully developed character that they know well. Ask them to call out adjectives and phrases that describe that character and write their responses around the picture.  During this step, you can also ask players who the product/service would be if it were a cartoon character or a celebrity and write down those responses as well.

    5. When you have enough information to adequately describe the character, ask the players to dot vote next to the three to five adjectives that best describe the character.  Circle or highlight the information that got the most votes and make a note of it with the group.

    6. Move to the “What are my values?” flip chart and draw a picture of the character.  Divide the group into four small groups and give each group an index card describing a scene (or work with all four scenes as one group if you have seven or less players).  Ask the players to read their scene quietly and discuss in their groups what the character would say or do in that situation.

    7. Bring the groups back together and give each one an opportunity to share what they agreed their character would do. Write each response down and then ask the group as a whole what the behaviors suggest about the character’s underlying values.  Add their responses to the flip chart.

    8. Move to the “What is my community?” flip chart and draw another picture of the character in the middle of the sheet.  Ask the group who the character spends her time with. What groups does she belong to? Where does she volunteer? Who needs her the most? What do her friends have in common? What are the qualities of her community? Write down the responses.

    9. Move to the “What makes me different?” flip chart and draw a picture of the character in the middle of the sheet. Ask the group how this character is different from other characters in her community.  What makes her stand out? What are her strengths? What could she do better?  Why would someone want her on a team? Write down the responses.

    10. Move to the “What is my fight?” flip chart and draw a picture of the character in the middle of the sheet.  Find out the character’s mission in life. What motivates her? What keeps her up at night? What does she do for people? What is she trying to prove? What obstacles are in her way? Write these responses down.

    • Optional activity: Ask people to toast the character as though they were at her wedding. Alternatively, ask them to give a eulogy to a competing product or service as though they were at its funeral. Or ask the players to share a true story from the character’s life, something that happened to her that makes her who she is.

    11. Summarize the overall findings with the group and reflect on the personality and identity of the character the group created. Discuss the implications of the character traits, values, and behaviors on the features—current or potential—of the related product or service.

    Strategy

    This game works best when the players suspend disbelief and jump into the idea that a product has a personality, a value system, and a life. For some players it will be a hard leap to make, which is why the picture you draw is important, as are the questions you ask: they both force responses as though the “it” were a “he” or “she.” Be receptive even to character names suggested during the group’s interactions. Calling it “Cameron” makes it easier to imagine the product or service as a person rather than an object or a process.  Encourage storytelling during this game to flesh out the character’s identity based on the scenes you concocted;  for example, “What would Cameron do?” Don’t discourage the group from creating outlandish characters or personality traits, because the actions taken by a zany character may lead to an innovation in the way people perceive of the use of a product or service. Let the players go as far out as they want; if need be, you can move them toward consensus on a more believable character as the game closes. Just be sure to discuss with the group the parallels between the character traits they created and the benefits those traits may have on the next version of the product or service.

    The source of the Product Pinocchio is unknown.