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Object Brainstorm

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Object of Play

Objects play a special role in brainstorming. A tangible object helps externalize the thought process, just as sketching or role play does, but often in a more immediate and concrete way. Because objects suggest stories about how they might be used, they make a great starting point for free association and exploration.

Number of Players

Any

Duration of Play

30 minutes or more

How to Play

Before you can play, you will need to hunt down a collection of objects. Nominate yourself as the curator of your collection. It’s worth considering what kind of investment you want to make. Although a trip to a second-hand store to find interesting (and cheap) items is a good start, if you are expecting to make a habit out of the exercise it may be worth the time and expense to look for items more broadly.

Although you will find your own criteria for your collection, one rule of thumb is to collect “things that do things.” Functional objects can offer more inspiration. Other things may make it into the collection based on their characteristics or personality, or simply because they are “fun.” Here are some types of objects to consider collecting:

• Kitchen gadgets

• Hand tools

• Instruction manuals

• Functional packaging and dispensers

• Containers and compartments

• Sports equipment

• Toys and games

A good collection will evolve over time, and a good curator will get others involved in contributing to the cache of items.

Object brainstorming starts with a question, such as “How will the next generation of [fill-in-the-blank] work?” This question may ask participants to reimagine an existing product or invent something new.

1. Direct the group to explore the objects and to take some time to play with them.  The objects may inspire participants to think about how a new thing could function, or how it could look or feel. The long, hinged mouth of a stapler may suggest a new way to bend and fasten steel. A telescoping curtain rod might inspire thinking about a collapsible bicycle. Likewise, an object’s personality, such as a rugged toolbox, might suggest how a laptop might be designed. Most objects explain themselves, and the results can be very intuitive; participants are likely to stumble on fully formed ideas.

2. After a set amount of time, the participants share their ideas, document them, and decide on next steps. This may be as simple as voting on an idea to pursue in more detail, or it may mean moving into another brainstorming exercise.

Strategy

One choice to make before an object brainstorm is whether to use a set of items or a single item. This changes the depth of focus: a group presented with a set will branch into a wider path of ideas, whereas a group presented with one item is “forced” into a deeper study of the object and associations from it, along the lines of random inputs or forced analogy. Try to use a set of items for larger groups and more divergent brainstorming, and a single item for smaller groups and more focused inquiry.

The source for the Object Brainstorm game is unknown.

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Choose your words wisely

Humans live in language. It defines what we do, how we do it, and why we do it. Language is the bedrock of our cultures and societies. As with fish in water, we go about our daily business without paying much attention to the language around us and how it influences us. Information architect and author, Jorge Arango developed Semantic Environment Mapping years ago to make visible the everyday language through which we so naively swim.

 

A completed Semantic Environment Canvas
A completed canvas

Object of Play
The Semantic Environment Canvas will help you understand the language, rules, and power dynamics that make it possible for people to accomplish their purposes in particular situations—or hinder them from doing so.

Number of Players
1-6 players.

If you have more than six people, consider breaking them into groups and assigning separate environments to each group.

Duration of Play
20 minutes – 40 minutes

Materials Required
To run a good session, you will need:

  • A large print of the Semantic Environment canvas. Preferably on A0 size. A1 – A3 will do the job. Downloadable here
  • Flip chart paper with adhesive backing
  • Duck tape
  • Sticky notes of different colors
  • Markers and pens
  • Camera to capture the results
  • It may be helpful to read more about Semantic Environments in Jorge’s blog posts here and here

How to Play

  1. Print out the Semantic Environment canvas on a large sheet of paper and hang on a wall with the duck tape. (It’s easiest if you do this exercise using sticky notes — especially if you’re collaborating with others.)
  2. Inform the players we’ll be filling out canvas sections one-at-a-time. For each section we will individually brainstorm and then conduct a group conversation.
  3. Facilitation tip – if an insight or thought aligns better to another section of a canvas simply place it in the appropriate section and return to it at a later time, i.e. do not discard it because it was in the “wrong” section

The Environment

  1. Ask the players to take 2 – 3 minutes to brainstorm characteristics of the environment. As prompts, ask them to consider the following:
    • What is the general area of discourse we are designing for?
    • Does it employ the language of law? commerce? religion? Etc.
    • What are the intended purposes of this environment?
    • What are the environment’s key terms, including its basic metaphors?
  2. Discuss as a group and agree on a name for the environment. The name should be clear, but also compelling; you want the language to come alive!
  3. Write the name on the canvas.

The Actors

  1. Now let’s think about the actors in the environment. Inform the group these could be individuals, but they can also be roles or groups within an organization. (More than two actors can participate in a semantic environment. For the sake of simplicity this canvas focuses only on two. You can print out additional canvases to map other relationships.)
  2. Ask the group to individually brainstorm all the actors or roles they envision in the situation. Brainstorming prompts:
    • Who are the people performing within the semantic environment?
    • How well do they know the environment’s rules?
    • How well do they know the environment’s language?
  3. After 2-3 minutes, ask the group to discuss their thoughts. From the discussion, have the group choose and name Actor A and Actor B; fill in the canvas.
  4. Ask the group to discuss the relative power of each actor in the situation. Are they peers, or is one actor more powerful than another? How do the actors experience their power differentials?
  5. Fill in the Power Relationship section of the canvas.

Their Goals

  1. Move to the goals section of the canvas. Ask to the players to individually brainstorm why they think the actors might participate in this environment; write one thought per sticky note. Begin with Actor A. After a few minutes, ask the players to focus on Actor B. Some prompts for the brainstorm:
    • Why are they having this interaction?
    • What do they expect to get out of it?
    • How will they know when they’ve accomplished it?
  2. After the brainstorm, ask each player to present their ideas by placing their sticky notes on the canvas. After all players have presented their ideas, let the group discuss.

The Rules

  • Now let’s consider the rules that govern the situation. Explain to the players that these rules can be spoken or unspoken.
  • Ask to the players to individually brainstorm the rules for each Actor; write one rule per sticky note. Begin with Actor A. After a few minutes, ask the players to focus on Actor B. Brainstorm prompts:
    • Are the actors expected to behave in some ways?
    • Are there behaviors the actors are expected to avoid?
    • What happens when they don’t follow the rules? (Does the communication break down entirely? Or do they shift to another semantic environment?)
  • After the brainstorm, ask each player to present their ideas by placing their sticky notes on the canvas. After all players have presented their ideas, let the group discuss.

The Key Words

  1. Move on to the Key Word section of the canvas. Ask the players to consider the key words the actors use in the situation. Explain: All semantic environments have what Neil Postman called a technical vocabulary: words that have special meaning within this environment.
  2. Ask to the players to individually brainstorm the Key Words for each Actor; write one per sticky note. Begin with Actor A. After a few minutes, ask the players to focus on Actor B. Brainstorm prompts:
    • What are the environment’s basic terms?
    • What metaphors could apply to this environment?
  3. After the brainstorm, ask each player to present their ideas by placing their sticky notes on the canvas. After all players have presented their ideas, let the group discuss. Group discussion prompt:
    • Who controls the environmental metaphors?
    • Do both actors share an understanding of what these words mean?
    • Who or what is in charge of maintaining the definitions?

The Touchpoints

  1. Move on to the Touchpoints section of the canvas. As the players to consider the key touchpoints that allow the communication to happen.
  2. Ask to the players to individually brainstorm the touchpoints for each Actor; write one per sticky note. Begin with Actor A. After a few minutes, ask the players to focus on Actor B. Brainstorm prompts:
    • Do the actors meet in person?
    • If so, do they have to be in a special physical environment?
    • If they meet remotely, are there particular technologies involved?
    • What is the mood surrounding the touchpoint?
  3. After the brainstorm, ask each player to present their ideas by placing their sticky notes on the canvas. After all players have presented their ideas, let the group discuss.

The Analysis

Now that the canvas is complete, you can analyze relationships between different sections and discuss their implications.
Questions to help make sense of it all:

  • Is there potential for ambiguity over what sort of environment this is? What can create such confusion?
  • What are the purposes that are actually being achieved by the way this environment is currently organized?
  • Is there a difference between what is intended and what is being achieved?
  • Are there contradictions in purpose between the environment and its sub-environments?

Tips for visualizing the analysis:

  • Draw arrows between sticky notes to clarify relationships around words, rules, goals, and so on.
  • Use colored stickies to represent whether certain words, goals, rules, etc. help (green) or hinder (red) the actor’s goals.
  • Identify and explore related semantic environments. In a single process (for example, a sales pipeline) one actor may transverse various environments as he or she interacts with other actors. Also, semantic environments can be nested: some environments contain sub-environments where language and rules become ever more specialized.
  • Pin up multiple semantic environment maps next to each other; this can help you spot situations in which the same words appear under different guises or with different meanings.

Strategy
When collaborating, people must be clear they’re using language in the same ways. However, they often take the words they use for granted; they don’t question their meaning. Other collaborators may understand them differently.
Mapping the semantic environment clarifies the language people use and the expectations they bring to an interaction. (In other words: always and everywhere!)

For example:

  • Your team may be struggling to communicate effectively with other teams in your organization; mapping the semantic environment may lead you to discover you’re unwittingly using similar words in both teams to mean different things.
  • You may be facing a difficult political environment. Mapping out the semantics of the situation can help you understand other people’s goals and trigger phrases so you can manage tensions more effectively.
  • You may be designing a complex software system and need to understand how the various parties involved — including the system’s users and stakeholders — use language to accomplish their goals. This understanding can then inform the system’s conceptual models and information architecture.

Credits
The canvas is adapted from Neil Postman’s semantic environment framework, and inspired by the canvases of Dave Gray and Alex Osterwalder.

The canvas was originally published on jarango.com

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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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Hero’s Journey Agenda


Object of play
The Hero’s Journey Agenda is a unique and different way to lay out the agenda for a meeting or workshop that creates a sense of adventure and builds anticipation for the meeting.

Number of players
One, usually the facilitator, created live in front of a group.

Duration: 10-15 minutes.

How to play
I am going to give you a script here, based on the video above. But this exercise works best if you make it your own, using a story you love and that you feel your audience will be familiar with, like a favorite fairy tale or movie.

1. Draw a large circle on a whiteboard or flip chart. Tell people,

“This circle represents all the things we’re going to do today. We’re starting out up here (point to the top of the circle), and we’re going to take a hero’s journey.”

If you have geeks in the room, can actually talk about it in terms of Star Wars, or Lord of the Rings, or another story you expect the group to be familiar with.

You can also say,

“Any story, any epic adventure follows this basic format. This is something that a guy named Joseph Campbell came up with. He wrote a book called The Hero Of A Thousand Faces, which you can look up. Basically, the hero’s journey works like this. You begin in ordinary life. This is where everyone is coming into a meeting. We’re actually in our ordinary lives right now, and we’re going to do some special work and we’re going to be moving outside of ordinary life.”

2. Draw a stick figure at the top of the circle. Now say,

“The hero’s journey basically has two big components to it. There is the known world, which are the things that we kind of already know, the regular work and so forth. There’s the unknown, which are the things that we hope we will discover and explore during the course of this meeting.”

Draw a wavy line to represent the boundary between the known and unknown.

“This is called the threshold. It’s the threshold between the known and the unknown.

3. Now say,

“Here we are on the hero’s journey. The first thing in the hero’s journey is the call to adventure. That is where we talk about things like: What are we going to do? What’s the work that we’re going to do? Why is it important? What brings us to this point?”

Write “The Call” at around 1 o’clock on the circle, and talk about the purpose of the meeting. You may want to ask people why they came and what their expectations are.

4. Now draw a couple of stick figures at around 2 o’clock, and say,

“You’re going to find in the beginning of any story, you’re going to find the helpers and the mentors. You’ve got, whether it’s Dumbledore or Gandalf or Obi Wan, whoever that character is, the droids, the characters that are going to help you. These are the characters that are going to help you find your way.”

Helpers can be things like teaching people how to use sticky notes in a certain way. There are a lot of Gamestorming tools in this category. We call them openers. So you can tell people “We’re going to meet our helpers and mentors.” Those helpers might be tools, or people, experts that we might bring in. It could be a keynote speaker.

5. Next you will talk about crossing the threshold between the known and the unknown.

“Now, where we cross the threshold, that’s usually a good time for a coffee break. It’s the end of the morning, coffee or tea, depending on what country you’re in. Maybe both. We’re going to have a break.”

You can draw a coffee cup or a teacup here.

6. Now say,

“Next, we’re going to start getting into the trials and tribulations. We call this problems and pitfalls. It’s the part of the journey where you’re exploring the problem space.”

There may be all kinds of activities or things that you’re going to do here. You might be brainstorming, you might be working stuff out, might be drawing a map of the system. There are a bunch of things that you can do to explore this problem space. In a story, you’re going to find all kinds of challenges: you have to climb the mountain, you have to fight the trolls, all the things that have to happen to move the story forward.

Write the words “Problems and pitfalls,” and draw some explosions here, or barbed wire, or something representing problems and pitfalls, at 4 and 5 o’clock on your circle.

7. Now write the word “Pit” and draw a pit at the bottom of the circle. The pit, in a day long meeting, might be lunchtime.

“Every story has its pit. The belly of the whale, the cave. I just call this the pit. We’ve hit the bottom. This can be a tough space to be, because we’ve just opened up all these problem spaces and issues and things that we have to deal with. It may feel like we’re never going to get home. The pit is also the place here Bilbo Baggins finds the ring. It’s the place where the deep reflection, the real powerful learning can also happen. Over lunch might be a good time to explore what is down here in the pit. What are we feeling like? What are the emotions?”

8. Now write “Powers” and draw some stars, or a superhero stick figure with a cape, something that represents powers, around 7 or 8 o’clock, and say,

“We come out of the pit after lunch and we’re creating new powers. We’re solving problems. We’ve learned how to use the force. We’re now solving problems, we’re creating solutions, we’re working on things together. These kind of tools we might be using here would be customer experience map, service blueprint, we might be designing, we might be prototyping a product. This is where we’re actually getting cool results out of the meeting, but we still have to take that back to work.”

9. Now write “The return” at around 10 o’clock, and say,

“That’s part of the hero’s journey, too, the return to ordinary life. We have to go back and cross the threshold again. This time is all about those powers that you’re bringing back. We want to come back to the workplace with gifts. Think, new ideas, new thoughts. We want to spend some time thinking about, “How do we take this back to work?”

This is the part of the meeting where you make some time for the group to think together about how they are going to bring the new ideas from the meeting back into the organization. What am I going to do in my next meeting? How am I going to explain this to my team? You might actually work on the PowerPoint together or work on some documents that are about sharing what you actually did during the meeting.

10. At this point you can close the exercise by asking people if they have any thoughts and additions before you proceed with the meeting.

Here is an example of a completed agenda:

Strategy
This is a very powerful way to set up an agenda for a relatively large scale session of work. Spend some time upfront on this. Draw it out and talk through it with key stakeholders, either before the meeting or at the beginning of the meeting. It is also a good litmus test to help you think through the goals of your meeting. If you can’t answer questions like, “What’s the call to adventure? What are the problems we want to explore? What are the things that we want to find? What are the things that we want to bring back to work?” and if you can’t sort of think these through at the beginning of a meeting, then it’s legitimate to ask yourself, should we really have this meeting?

The Hero’s Journey Agenda seems to work really well, not only for designing the agenda but for making sure you have all the major bases covered and creating positive energy and enthusiasm for the whole endeavor.

The Hero’s Journey Agenda was created by Dave Gray. It was inspired by The Hero’s Journey, popularized by Joseph Campbell, and the Pie Chart Agenda, which comes from James Macanufo, co-author of Gamestorming.

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Status Center

What if Status Meetings were like Sports News?

Object of Play
Sitting through status meetings is boring, right? Well, then why do many of us go home and watch status reports for an hour or more every night?We watch news shows, ‘fake’ news shows, Entertainment Tonight, TMZ, ESPN’s SportsCenter, and many more. Something about those status reports must be working better than the ones we sleep through at work.StatusCenter is a ‘macro’ game structure that aims to apply the ‘rules’ of the TV status report game to the business status report game. The StatusCenter macro-game is populated with stand-alone games that can be linked throughout the meeting, following Gamestorming’s ‘opening, exploring, closing’ model.

Number of Players
4 to 40

Duration of Play
30 to 60 minutes for a weekly meeting; up to 4 hours for a quarterly or annual review

How to Play
Like TV, StatusCenter will link short game segments, in a manner that is interesting and time-efficient. While the segments are modeled after sports, news, or other television formats, they are equally effective for people who aren’t familiar with those metaphors.

Opening Games

  1. Question Balloons: Simulating the controlled question-asking mechanisms of status shows like Larry King’s ‘email questions’, this game lets attendees literally float a question. As questions are answered, balloons are popped, and any questions still remaining at the end of the meeting are visible at a glance.
  2. Top Scores: Simulating the ‘Headlines’ or ‘Scoreboard’, this game delivers business metrics quickly and succinctly, acting as a teaser for the rest of the meeting.

Exploring Games

  1. 60-Second Update: Mimicking a ‘Highlights’ segment, this game delivers short updates by each member, aligning everyone. More questions can be ‘floated’ here.
  2. Project Jeopardy: Allows one or two in-depth updates on key subjects, while creating audience involvement for those who may already know the answers. Rotating the ‘host’ from meeting to meeting gives everyone a chance to say a little more about their own projects or progress.
  3. Crossfire: This segment provides drama, while giving a ‘safe’ environment for those that like to argue. Meeting attendees select a topic of interest during the previous week, and two people prepare to discuss it from two different viewpoints. This segment is a great way to explore potentially controversial ideas, learn about new products or technologies, or assess the competition’s latest move.
  4. In-depth Analysis <link here>: This longer segment provides space for an investigative report, formal presentation, or guest commentary. Consider inviting speakers who are of interest to the group but don’t typically come to the meetings.
  5. Trade Rumors: What are the hot rumors? Clearly delineated from the facts that are delivered in the status updates, these rumors generate interest and energy. Again, keep it short – 15 seconds each. Remember that a juicy rumor could become next weeks’ Crossfire or In-depth Analysis topic.

Closing Games

  1. Coming Attractions: What hot projects or decisions are coming up in the next week? What meetings should I attend? Give each participant 15 – 30 seconds to provide these ‘teasers’ that are quick and to the point.
  2. Question Balloons <link here>: Close out any questions that have not been addressed during the meeting.
  3. Cliffhanger: Use a suggestion box to choose the Crossfire and In-depth Analysis topics and participants for the next (or future) meeting. This builds drama and anticipation for the next meeting.

Strategy

  1. We cannot recommend strongly enough that most status information should be pushed outside of the StatusCenter game. Dashboards, email updates, and the like should be used to distribute information that does not need to be reiterated with a captive audience.
  2. Alternate short ‘highlight’ games with longer ‘analysis’ games to satisfy audience members who want depth, while keeping the pace engaging.
  3. Stick to status subjects. Decisions, brainstorming, and other topics – no matter how legitimate – should taken off-line. Even Crossfire, which can be used to present two different opinions, should be seen as a way of exploring ideas, not as a way to come to a decision.
  4. Add, delete, or replace these games based on time and need.
  5. There are many proponents of standing status meetings (often called ‘huddles’). Try this method.
  6. Try ‘co-hosts,’ like many news shows.

Key Points
StatusCenter will be most successful if roles are clear and attendees have prepared in advance. Consider creating a template for 60-Second Update and Project Jeopardy to help attendees understand what kind of information to include. By moving basic status information to pre-meeting communications and then breaking the meeting itself into fast-paced chunks, you can transform a meeting that people tend to tune out of into one they will definitely want to watch.

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6-8-5

Object of Play

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

Number of Players
2+

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

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

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

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

4. Next, set a timer for 5 minutes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Do, Redo & Undo

Object of Play

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

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

Number of Players

Small groups

Duration of Play

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

How to Play

The Best-Case Scenario

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

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

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

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

The Worst-Case Scenario

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

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

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

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

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

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Button

Object of Play

A common element of brainstorming or group work is the “let’s go around and hear from everyone” routine. The rule governing this is a valuable one—that everyone speaks once before anyone speaks twice.

There are two problems with this, however. First, moving from one person to the next in a round-robin fashion can be an energy drain, even with a small number of people. It’s predictable, and the participants at the end of the line are often short-changed. Second, and potentially more damaging to the activity, is that often a participant’s attention wanes when she is “on deck” and preparing her own thoughts as opposed to listening to others.

The Button is a simple technique that keeps true to the original rule while avoiding the traps of a round robin.

How to Play

When the group is asked to report on a question, a small token—it may be a poker chip or something similar—is given to the first volunteer to respond. After his response, he chooses a person who has yet to speak to take the button. This continues until everyone has spoken once.

  • This can be done easily with index cards instead of a button. Participants think about their answers to a question first and write a word on the card along with their name. The cards are passed to the left in a quick manner for a few moments so that in the process of passing the order becomes scrambled. The participants then call on each other by way of reading the words aloud and asking the writers to explain.

Strategy

Randomization keeps the participants’ attention.  When you don’t know if you will be called on next, you will be more present and focused. The Button game also passes control onto the participants, by giving them the power to nominate the next speaker.

The Button is inspired by the Native American “Talking Stick” tradition, where a ceremonial object such as a stick or feather, representing the right to speak, was passed from one person to another to respect speakers and avoid interruptions.

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NUF Test

Object of Play

As a group is developing ideas in a brainstorming session, it may be useful to do a quick “reality check” on proposed ideas. In the NUF Test, participants rate an idea on three criteria: to what degree is it New, Useful, and Feasible?

Number of Players

Small group

Duration of Play

Short; 15–30 minutes, depending on the size of the group and the level of discussion

How to Play

Set up the game by quickly creating a matrix of ideas against the criteria:

  • New: Has the idea been tried before? An idea will score higher here if it is significantly different from approaches that have come before it. A new idea captures attention and possibility.
  • Useful: Does the idea actually solve the problem? An idea that solves the problem completely, without creating any new problems, will score better here.
  • Feasible: Can it be done? A new and useful idea still has to be weighed against its cost to implement. Ideas that require fewer resources and effort to be realized will score better here.

To play, the group rates each idea from 1 to 10 for each criterion and tallies the results.  A group may choose to write down scores individually at first and then call out their results on each item and criterion to create the tally. Scoring should be done quickly, as in a “gut” check.

A discussion after the scores have been tallied may uncover uncertainties about an idea or previously under rated ideas. The group may then choose to make an idea stronger, as in “How do we make this idea more feasible with fewer resources?”

Strategy

The goal of this game is to check big ideas against the realities they will face after the meeting is over. It is not intended to “kill” good ideas, but to identify possible weak points so that they can be shaped and improved before seeing the light of day.

The NUF Test is an adaptation of a testing process used for patents.

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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.