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Affinity Map

Affinity mapping, originally uploaded by dgray_xplane.

Object of Play

Most of us are familiar with brainstorming—a method by which a group generates as many ideas around a topic as possible in a limited amount of time. Brainstorming works to get a high quantity of information on the table. But it begs the follow-up question of how to gather meaning from all the data. Using a simple Affinity Diagram technique can help us discover embedded patterns (and sometimes break old patterns) of thinking by sorting and clustering language-based information into relationships. It can also give us a sense of where most people’s thinking is focused. Use an affinity diagram when you want to find categories and meta-categories within a cluster of ideas and when you want to see which ideas are most common within the group.

Number of Players: Up to 20

Duration of Play: Depends on the number of players, but a maximum of 1.5 hours

How to Play

1. On a sheet of flip-chart paper, write a question the players will respond to along with a visual that complements it. Conduct this game only when you have a question for the players that you know will generate at least 20 pieces of information to sort.

2. Ask each player to take 10 minutes to generate sticky notes in response to the question. Use index cards on a table if you have a group of four or less. Conduct this part of the process silently.

3. Collect the ideas from the group and post them on a flat working surface visible to everyone. It should end up resembling the following figure.

4. Based on guidance from the players, sort the ideas into columns (or clusters) based on relationships. Involve the group in the process as much as possible. Have the players approach the wall to post their notes—it saves time—and allow them to do an initial, general sorting in columns or clusters.

5. Create a sticky-note “parking lot” close to the display for ideas that don’t appear to fall into a natural category. Redundancy in ideas is OK; don’t discard sticky notes because they’re already represented. It’s helpful to leave repeated ideas posted since it indicates to the group how many people are thinking the same thing. At this stage, ask the players to try to avoid searching for higher categories and simply to focus on grouping the information based on the affinities.

6. Once the content is sorted, ask the group to suggest categories that represent the columns you’ve created and write the categories they agree on at the top of the column (or near a cluster if you chose a cluster rather than a column display). Don’t let the players spend an inordinate amount of time agreeing on a name for a category. If there’s disagreement over “Facilities” versus “Infrastructure,” write them both. If the players produce categories that are significantly different, pay attention to which category gets the most approval from the group and write that one. Your visual may end up looking like the one below.

Strategy

The value of the Affinity Diagram game increases when two conditions are met. The first is that the players generate multiple data points, ideally with good information. The second relates to the quality of the sorting. The cleaner the players’ insights when they form relationships within the content, the better the categories will be.

Fun, optional activity: Run through the Affinity Diagram game once, complete with categorizations. Then ask the group to reshuffle the sticky

notes and recombine the ideas based on affinities they didn’t notice in the first round.

Sometimes affinities within content are crystal clear, so the sorting becomes less pivotal, but when those relationships are more nuanced, it’s more important that the sorting process is done well. In a situation in which there are many ways to affinitize information, assume a stronger facilitative role. Ask questions about the columns or clusters to clarify the group’s thinking and steer them toward an appropriate number of categories. If there are too many, the data gets watered down. If there are too few, the analysis gets watered down. Help the players find the sweet spot.

The affinity diagram was devised by Jiro Kawakita in the 1960s. It is also referred to as the KJ Method.

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Navigate your market opportunities

Photo by Felix Pilz

Any innovation or technological invention can be applied to serve different types of customers. Understanding your set of market opportunities increases your chances of success: It not only allows you to focus on the most promising market, but also helps you to avoid a fatal lock-in. The Market Opportunity Navigator, developed by Dr. Sharon Tal & Prof. Marc Gruber in their book Where To Play, is a tool that helps you to map out your market opportunities and adopt a broad view of your options, so you can set your strategic focus smartly.

Object of play
Unleash the power of new market opportunities by stepping back from your current product and customer assumptions. The Market Opportunity Navigator offers a structured process for identifying, evaluating and prioritizing potential markets for innovation; examine and rethink your strategic focus or plan your future roadmap. This game provides a shared language to discuss, debate and brainstorm with your team and stakeholders.

Number of players
1-6 players (depending on objective).

You can work individually to sketch out your initial perceptions, but a diverse team is recommended if you want to broaden your view and map out your landscape of opportunities more accurately.

Duration of play
Anywhere between two hours (for a ‘quick and dirty’ process), to two days (for a thorough discussion). In general, the game includes three steps:

Step 1 – Identify Market Opportunity Set
Step 2 – Evaluate Opportunity Attractiveness
Step 3 – Depict Your Agile Focus Dartboard

Material required
To run a good session, you will need:

  • A large print of the Market Opportunity Navigator, preferably on A0 size. A1 – A3 will do the job. Downloadable here
  • Printed copies of Worksheets 1, 2 and 3 preferably on A1 size. A3 – A4 will also work. Downloadable here
    • If you can’t make large prints of the worksheets, it’s OK! You can easily reproduce all the worksheets on flip charts.
  • Flip chart paper with adhesive backing
  • Sticky notes of different colors
  • Markers and pens
  • Camera to capture the results
  • The facilitator of the game can learn more about the process at: www.wheretoplay.co

How to Play
Room Setup: Place the A0-sized Market Opportunity Navigator somewhere in the room. If you don’t have an A0, draw the templates on individual flip charts and hang.

Step 1: Identify a Market Opportunity Set

  1. Begin the game with a clear definition of what a Market Opportunity means. Write on the board: A market opportunity is any application of your abilities for a specific set of customers.
  2. Inform the players we will now explore each.
  3. Ask the players to take five minutes for an individual brainstorm to describe and characterize the core technological elements or unique abilities of the firm in their own right, detached from any current or envisioned application. Write one element or ability per sticky note.
  4. Once the brainstorm is done, have the players to put their notes on the wall. Ask for volunteers to sort the notes into meaningful categories (see Affinity Map). Once finished, ask the sorters to describe their process.
  5. Summarize the unique abilities of the firm and list their functions and properties on the upper part of worksheet 1.
  6. Repeat this process to brainstorm customer problems that can be addressed with these unique abilities. Ask the players to take five minutes for an individual brainstorm and describe customer problems, one per sticky. To broaden their horizon, ask them to think about who else beyond the current customer set might have these problems. What other problems might they have? Encourage players to think wide and broad. There are no ‘wrong ideas’ at this stage.
  7. Once the brainstorm is done, ask the players to put their notes on the wall. Ask for volunteers to sort the notes into meaningful categories (see Affinity Map). Discuss what these categories might mean for your company and products.
  8. With a strong understanding of both the firm’s capabilities and potential customer problems, discuss with the players different applications stemming from these abilities, and different types of customers who may need them. Summarize these on the lower part of Worksheet 1.
  9. At the end of the brainstorm, pick few market opportunities that seem interesting for further consideration. ask the players to briefly describe their idea as they place it on the Market Opportunity section of the Navigator. Use colored sticky notes to represent each of these market opportunities, and place them on the market Opportunity Set section of the Navigator.
  10. Your Market Opportunity Set is now ready.

 

 

Step 2: Evaluate Opportunity Attractiveness

At this step, players will assess the potential and the challenge of each opportunity in their set, to compare and prioritize options. Market opportunities are not born equal- some are more attractive than others.

  1. To begin the evaluation process, explain first what an attractive option is. Write on the board: An attractive option is onethat offers high potential for value creation, and limited challenge in capturing this value.
  2. Divide the group into small teams, and assign 1-2 market opportunities to each team.
  3. For each opportunity, ask the teams to assess the overall potential and overall challenge of each option, using the criteria described in Worksheet 2. If you do not have an A1 sized worksheet, recreate the template on a flip chart or use smaller prints.
  4. Once done, let each team present their evaluation to the group, discuss it with the others, and reach agreement. Then placeeach market opportunity (using colored sticky notes) in the mid part of the Market Opportunity Navigator. Your Attractiveness Map is now ready.

 

 

Step 3: Depict Your Agile Focus Dartboard

Having multiple options at hand is important for maintaining your agility. In the last step of the game, you can design your Agile Focus strategy.

  1. Begin with a clear explanation, write on the board: An Agile Focus strategy clearly defines your primary focus, the opportunities that you will keep open for backup or future growth, and those that you put aside for now. It will help you balance the ongoing tension between focus and flexibility.
  2. Players should pick attractive opportunities from step 2, and assess their relatedness to the currently pursued market(s),using Worksheet 3. If you do not have an A1 sized print, recreate the template on a flip chart or use smaller prints.
  3. Discuss and pick at least one backup option and one growth option that you want to keep open. Depict your decision (using colored sticky notes) in the right part of the Market Opportunity Navigator. Your Agile Focus Dartboard is now ready.
  4. Discuss the implications of this strategy to your company: How keeping these options open will influence the technology you are developing, the patents you write, the marketing messages you choose etc.

 

 

 

Strategy
This thought process is extremely powerful for companies seeking to understand and leverage their landscape of opportunities. The ‘big picture’ that it provides is especially valuable for:

  • Startups seeking their initial strategic path
  • Companies in need for pivot
  • Companies searching for new growth engines
  • Companies wishing to leverage existing IP

You can play this game to advance solid strategic decisions, but also to nourish and nurture the cognitive flexibility of your team, or simply to develop a culture that is more flexible and receptive to adaptations.

If you use this tool as a structured decision-making process, more time is required for market validation. In this case, you can map out your opportunities, state your assumptions while doing so, and get out of the building to support or refute them. You can then update the Market Opportunity Navigator and reflect on your learning.

Complementary Games
Finally, use the Navigator in combination with other great tools to set a promising strategic path:

  • the Empathy Map will help you to more deeply understand your stakeholders; play this game before exploring new opportunities
  • A quick ride on the Carousel will put players in a brainstorming mindset before exploring
  • Use the Business Model Canvas to further and more managerially flesh out the viability, feasibility and desirability of your newly discovered Market Opportunities

Variations
You can use each step of the Market Opportunity Navigator as a separate game, depending on your objectives. For example:

  • Use step 1 as a game to uncover different applications and target markets
  • Use step 2 as a game to assess the attractiveness of a specific business opportunity that you have in mind, and check out if it’s worth betting on.
  • Use step 3 as a game to develop possible roadmaps for your venture

Source
Prof. Marc Gruber and Dr. Sharon Tal created The Market Opportunity Navigator in their book, Where to Play: 3 Steps to Discovering Your Most Valuable Market Opportunities

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Code of Conduct

Object of Play

This game has been designed to help set the right culture in a group of people and help build mutual trust. It will empower all participants to act upon the results of this game.

Number of Players: Up to 30

Duration of Play: +/-30min

How to Play

  1. You write down the words “Meaningful” and “Pleasant” in the middle of a flip-chart or whiteboard.
  2. You aks everybody in the group to shout out what they believe is necessary to make sure this meeting or workshop will be meaningful and pleasant.
  3. As participants are providing thoughts and ideas, you record the information given in a mind-map structure.
    Note: Preferably by using images instead of words.
  4. Quickly pass by each of the ideas recorded and make sure everybody has the same understanding of the idea at hand. If necessary adjust the item to avoid misunderstanding. = Values within the group.
  5. Now go back to the first item addressed and ask the participants how they believe would be a good way to make sure this idea is carried out during the meeting or workshop. Record the items attached to the given value addressed. = Actions.
  6. End the game with pointing out that this code of conduct that the group just created needs to be upheld by everyone. Every participant has the responsibility to make sure everybody in the group respects this code. = working agreement.
  7. Optionally: You could ask people if they want to take ownership of one of the actions registered.
    Note: Be aware that this may cause a typical human reaction from the others: “It is this persons problem to monitor, not mine anymore”.

Strategy 
Make sure everybody contributes to the making of the mind-map. If you believe the group is not strong or comfortable enough for this, you could substitute the shouting of ideas by letting everyone write down their ideas in silence combined with an affinity map to achieve similar results that can be recorded in the mind-map. It will take some time to create this shared code of conduct but it will help groups of people where there is little to no trust and openness to break through the initial barriers.

code of conduct
code of conduct

Source
This post was originally authored by Jonan Tré and the source is unknown.

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Build The Checklist

Object of Play

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

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

Number of Players

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

Duration of Play

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

How to Play

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

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

 

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

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

The Build the Checklist game is credited to James Macanufo.

 

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Origins of Games

Gamestorming makes vivid for me the culture in which I wish to live.  It’s a culture which meets us where we are, which encourages us to stretch and grow, just a bit at a time, with every game we play.  Each game has an object of play, and so we can feel safe that we know why we’re playing it.  We can play games that are tried and true, we can adapt them and combine them, and we can create entirely new games, as needed.

In my own words, it’s a culture of the poor-in-spirit who want to take many small leaps of faith (as in I’d like to check this out) rather than just one big one (as in Trust me!)  Gamestorming makes real my belief that every way of figuring things out can be shared as a game.  I’d love to know, apply and share a directory of these many ways in math, science, engineering, medicine, finance, law, ethics, philosophy, theater, art, music, architecture, agriculture, homemaking and many other fields. Happily, Gamestorming is an inviting community, and for me, a logical place from which to reach out to other practices and appreciate them.

And so I learned of Dave Snowden and the Cognitive Edge research network focused on sensemaking.  They develop and share a set of methods, some of which, like Ritual Dissent, are very much games in the Gamestorming sense.  I believe that others, like the Cynefin framework, make for advanced games, which take some time to learn. I engaged Dave by way of Twitter. He tweeted: Give me a reference to gamestorming and I will happily take a look.  The best summary that I could find was the Amazon review, which reproduces the back cover.  So I thought a good project would be to create a Wikipedia article on Gamestorming.

Wikipedia’s guidelines for inclusion don’t allow articles to be created for neologisms.  A subject most be notable.  So I included academic references to Gamestorming, such as Jon H.Pittman’s syllabus for Design as Competitive Strategy, Christa Avampato’s use of Gamestorming in her social media marketing class and Franc Ponti’s talk on Trends in innovation for restless people. I submitted my article for review by Wikipedia editors.  Within an hour or so, they put it up: the Gamestorming article.

I include below the references to the origins of the many games.  The Wikipedia editors took them out of the article.  That’s unfortunate because the Gamestorming authors took care to credit the people who created, popularized or inspired the games.  Some of the games have roots way back:

Since the 1970s, notably in Silicon Valley, new games are contributing to a culture of facilitating creativity:

  • 4 Cs is based on a game by Matthew Richter in the March 2004 publication of Thiagi GameLetter.
  • Anti-Problem is based on Reverse It from Donna Spencer’s design games website, http://www.designgames.com.au
  • Brainwriting is credited to Michael Michailko’s Thinkertoys and also Horst Geschke and associates at the Batelle Institute in Frankfurt, Germany, and also related to 6-3-5 Brainwriting developed by Bernd Rohrbach.
  • Bodystorming was coined by Colin Burns at CHI’94 in Boston, Massachusetts. See: Bodystorming.
  • Business Model Canvas was designed by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur, and featured in their book, Business Model Generation.
  • Campfire was inspired by Tell Me A Story: Narrative and Intelligence (Rethinking Theory) by Roger Schank and Gary Saul Morson.
  • Customer, Employee, Shareholder is based on the Stakeholder Framework developed by Max Clarkson in A Stakeholder Framework for Analyzing and Evaluating Corporate Social Performance in the Academy of Management Review (1995).
  • Design the Box is attributed, independently, to Luke Hohmann, Jim Highsmith and Bill Schackelford.
  • Context map, Cover Story, History Map, Visual Agenda and The Graphic Gameplan are credited to The Grove Consultants International.
  • Fishbowl is based on ideas from Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making by Sam Kaner et al.
  • Force Field Analysis is based on Kurt Lewin’s framework Force Field Analysis.
  • Graphic Jam is inspired by Leslie Salmon-Zhu of International Forum for Visual Practitioners.
  • Help Me Understand is adapted from Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision Making by Sam Kaner and inspired by Five W’s and H in Techniques of Structured Problem Solving, Second Edition by A.B.VanGundy, Jr.
  • Heuristic Ideation Technology is documented by Edward Tauber in his 1972 paper HIT:Heuristic Ideation Technique, A Systematic Procedure for New Product Search.
  • Image-ination is based on Picture This! adapted from the Visual Icebreaker Kit.
  • Make a World is inspired by Ed Emberley’s book.
  • Open Space was invented by Harrison Owen, author of Open Space Technology: A User’s Guide. See: Open Space.
  • Pecha Kucha / Ignite, first held in Tokyo in 2003, was devised by Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham of Klein Dytham architecture. See: Pecha Kucha.
  • Post-Up is based on exercises in Rapid Problem-Solving with Post-it Notes by David Straker.
  • The Pitch and Value Map are by Sarah Rink.
  • Red:Green Cards are by Jerry Michalski.
  • Speedboat, 20/20 Vision and Prune the Future are based on Luke Hohmann’s innovation games in his book Innovation Games: Creating Breakthrough Products Through Collaborative Play.
  • Talking Chips was inspired by the email program Attent by Byron Reeves.
  • Wizard of Oz was pioneered in the 1970’s in the development of the airport kiosk and IBM’s listening typewriter.
  • The World Cafe as practiced at The World Cafe.
  • Dave Gray, Sunni Brown and especially, James Macanufo contributed many new games to the Gamestorming book.

Please, let’s remember all who have created games. They are our points of departure for Gamestorming as a culture.

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Gamestorming Cheat Sheet

The Gamestorming book lists more than 80 games.  I share a visual cheat sheet that I made in my own exploration of how the games fit together.

You can say, I made a game of it.  First, at my Self Learners wiki, I listed out the games, with links to the Gamestorming wiki, and for each game, I noted the object of play, as highlighted in the book.  Encouraged by Dave Gray on Twitter, I pushed on to see how they might fit together.  I empathized with each game’s purpose and grouped together different games that sought the same goal.  I used the Dia diagram editor to make an Affinity Map that related the groups.  At first, I just laid them down, from opening games to closing games, from left to right, laying together groups that felt related.  I printed out the diagram, took a Break for lunch, and over quesadillas I made sense of my feelings and thought through a theory.  This, for me, is the Eureka! part, which draws on the years of Gamestormers’ experience by which the games are real, tried and true.  I noticed that some games seem more social, touchy-feely, but others seem more technical, fleshing out systems.  (A distinction that reminds me of the Fishbowl).  They seem to represent implicit vs. explicit knowledge.  They also seem to work-in-parallel in a sequence of stages.  Here’s the initial diagram, which I then reorganized:

Initial Draft of Gamestorming Cheat Sheet by Andrius Kulikauskas

I see a process of transforming an existing solution into a new solution: Consent -> Care -> Understand -> Transform -> Innovate -> Validate -> Commit. I think that the climax is when we shift to a new perspective, for example, when we shift from features to benefit, from our answers to our audience’s questions, from our processes to our activities’ significance to others, from what we want to say to what we want others to hear. Once we’ve made this shift, then we’ll find an incremental way to innovate, we’ll vet that and commit to it. But to prepare for that shift, we have to sift through the details and understand what we’re involved in; and to do that wholeheartedly, we have to orient ourselves around our dreams and our concern for each other; and that depends on our voluntary participation. I imagine that this horizontal movement takes place at many scales, fractally, from the smallest tasks to the largest missions, and certain steps may be skipped over, or rushed over, especially for smaller projects. I’ve also arrayed the games vertically, along a spectrum, as to whether they help us make progress explicitly, fleshing out structures of knowledge, or make progress implicitly, building consensus around how we feel. I think if we pursue both, then our group’s commitment is both intellectual and emotional. I conclude that I myself, in working with others, should focus more on the emotional side.  (Click for the large image).

Cheat Sheet for Gamestorming by Andrius Kulikauskas

Oh! because I’m showing this to visual thinkers, I realized (peer-pressure!) that they’ll be disappointed if I keep it abstract.  I got out my oil pastel crayons to draw, as in the Visual Glossary game.  Drawing helped me focus on the main point, explicit vs. implicit.  I suppose that I drew a wave to represent the depths of the unconscious, and forward motion, and to leave a lot of open space for the diagram.  Then I remembered my first large painting, a muse for the fifth day of creation, (she’s Jesus), cutting paths with scissors for the birds in the sky and the fish in the sea.  That pushed me to explain birds fly high to see the big picture and fish swim deep to win consensus.  That clicked with some people, and got me thinking further, in that I keep wondering what’s relevant to God (Stakeholder Analysis), that we can think of one God beyond us, like the bird, but also God within each of us, as with the school of fish.  I’m thinking that each game takes a little leap of faith and each lets us dialogue with God in a particular way.  Here’s a sketch of my theory, more broadly, in terms of ways of figuring things out. (Welcome to My World!)

Muse of 5th Day of Creation by Andrius Kulikauskas at Uzupio Galera, Republic of Uzupis

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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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Card Sort

Grouping

Object of Play
Card sorting is a practice used frequently by information architects and designers to gather and structure inputs for a variety of purposes. In a common use of card sorting, information for a website is put onto the cards, and the sorting helps create categories for navigation and the overall architecture. The method works just as well for creating slides for presentations, or at any point where information needs to be sorted and organized in a sensible way.

The applications of card sorting are numerous, and in use it works similarly to Post-Up and affinity mapping. Card sorting can differ from these methods, however. First, the cards are generally prepared in advance, although participants should be allowed to create their own while sorting. Second, the cards are a semi-permanent artifact and can be used as a control over several exercises with different participants to find patterns among them.

Number of Players: Small groups or individuals

Duration of Play: 30 minutes or more, depending on the number of cards and participants

How to Play
Use 3×5 index cards or similar. For a typical sorting exercise, aim for 30–100 cards in total; more than this range will likely overwhelm the participants, and fewer may not be meaningful enough to be worth the effort. On each card should be a succinct bit of information; enough to tell the participants what it is and no more. Putting too much information on a card will slow down the sorting; not enough will cause confusion and will slow down the process even more.

Give the group the shuffled deck and a stack of blank cards. Describe the overall organization challenge, and ask them to sort the cards into groups that go together. If they think something is unclear or missing, they may alter a card or create a new one. Once they have created the groups, ask them to name them and describe them.

There are variations of sorting—including asking the group to rank the items from most to least desirable or to organize the cards into two categories such as “must have” and “nice to have.” You may also ask the group to sort cards into a predefined set of categories, to test their validity.

Strategy
Although the Card Sort game won’t tell you everything you need to know about a set of information, it will help reveal the thought process of participants. In this sense, it’s more about people than information. Only after a number of sorting exercises with a number of groups will larger patterns appear.

Card sorting is a common practice of information architects and designers of complex systems. Its actual source is unknown.

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Elevator Pitch

Sky

Note: This approach is meant to be pretty flexible- other idea generating and prioritizing techniques may be substituted within the flow to suit the circumstances. Would like to hear how others approach this challenge. -James

Object of Play: What has been a time-proven exercise in product development applies equally well in developing any  concept: writing the elevator pitch. Whether developing a service, a company-wide initiative, or just a good idea that merits spreading, a group will benefit from collaborating on what is- and isn’t– in the pitch.

Often this is the hardest thing to do in developing a new idea.  An elevator pitch should be short and compelling description of the problem you’re solving, who you solve it for, and one key benefit that distinguishes it from its competitors. It must be unique, believable and important. The better and bigger the idea, the harder the pitch is to write.

Number of Players: Works as well individually as with a small working group

Duration of Play: Long- save at least 90 minutes for the entire exercise, and consider a short break after the initial idea generation is complete, before prioritizing and shaping the pitch itself. Small working groups will have an easier time coming to a final pitch; in some cases it may be necessary to assign one person follow-up accountability for the final wording after the large decisions have been made in the exercise.

How to Play:

Going through the exercise involves both a generating and forming phase. To setup the generating phase, write these questions in sequence on flipcharts:

  1. Who is the target customer?
  2. What is the customer need?
  3. What is the product name?
  4. What is its market category?
  5. What is its key benefit?
  6. Who or what is the competition?
  7. What is the product’s unique differentiator?

These will become the elements of the pitch. They are in a sequence that follows the formula: For (target customer) who has (customer need), (product name) is a (market category) that (one key benefit). Unlike (competition), the product (unique differentiator).

To finish the setup, explain the elements and their connection to each other.

The target customer and customer need are deceptively simple- any relatively good idea or product will likely have many potential customers and address a greater number of needs. In the generative phase, all of these are welcome ideas.

It is helpful to fix the product name in advance—this will help contain the scope of the conversation and focus the participants on “what” the pitch is about. It is not outside the realm of possibility, however, that there will be useful ideas generated in the course of exercise that relate to the product name, so it may be left open to interpretation.

The market category should be an easily understood description of the type of idea or product. It may sound like “employee portal” or “training program” or “peer-to-peer community.” The category gives an important frame of reference for the target customer, from which they will base comparisons and perceive value.

The key benefit will be one of the hardest areas for the group to shape in the final pitch. This is the single most compelling reason a target customer would buy into the idea. In an elevator pitch, there is no time to confuse the matter with multiple benefits- there can only be one memorable reason “why to buy.” However, in the generative phase, all ideas are welcome.

The competition and unique differentiator put the final punctuation on the pitch. Who or what will the target customer compare this idea to, and what’s unique to this idea? In some cases, the competition may literally be another firm or product. In other cases, it may be “the existing training program” or “the last time we tried a big change initiative.” The unique differentiator should be just that- unique to this idea or approach, in a way that distinguishes it in comparisons to the competition.

Step One: The Generating Phase

Once the elements are understood, participants brainstorm ideas on sticky notes that fit under each of the headers. At first, they should generate freely, without discussion or analysis, any ideas that fit into any of the categories. Using the Post-up technique, participants put their notes onto the flipcharts and share their ideas.

Next, the group may discuss areas where they have the most trouble on their current pitch. Do we know enough about the competition to claim a unique differentiator? Do we agree on a target customer? Is our market category defined, or are we trying to define something new? Where do we need to focus?

Before stepping into the formative phase, the group may use dot voting, affinity mapping or other method to prioritize and cull their ideas in each category.

Step Two: The Forming Phase

Following a discussion and reflection on the possible elements of a pitch, the group then has the task of “trying out” some possibilities.

This may be done by breaking into small groups, pairs, or as individuals, depending on the size of the larger group. Each given the task of writing out an elevator pitch, based on the ideas on the flipcharts.

After a set amount of time (15 minutes may be sufficient) the groups then reconvene and present their draft versions of the pitch. The group may choose to role play as a target customer while listening to the pitch, and comment or ask questions of the presenters.

The exercise is complete when there is a strong direction among the group on what the pitch should and should not contain. One potential outcome is the crafting of distinct pitches for different target customers; you may direct the groups to focus in this manner during the formative stage.

Strategy:

Don’t aim for final wording with a large group. It’s an achievement if you can get to that level of finish, but it’s not critical and can be shaped after the exercise. What is important is that the group decides on what is and is not a part of the pitch.

Role play is the fastest way to test a pitch. Assuming the role of a customer (or getting some real ones to participate in the exercise) will help filter out the jargon and empty terms that may interfere with a clear pitch. If the pitch is truly believable and compelling, participants should have no problem making it real with customers.