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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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Friend or Foe?

 

Any product change, project plan, change management initiative requires assessment of and approach to working with stakeholders, a term we use to describe anyone who can impact a decision. Stakeholders often slow or block change; in other cases, they bust obstacles and accelerate progress. To increase your likelihood of success, check out this activity from visual thinker Yuri Mailshenko and identify your stakeholders to understand how they feel about your work.

Object of Play
The object of this game is to create an organizational map of your stakeholders. In some cases this may look like your org chart. In other cases situation and context will dictate a unique shape — likely familiar but undocumented. In addition to mapping stakeholders’ organizational relationships, you’ll also analyze their contextual disposition regarding your initiative.

Number of Players
5 – 15

Invite players from across your project’s organizational spectrum to ensure thorough stakeholder mapping. Colleagues with experience from similar projects or relationships with suspected stakeholders may provide valuable information. Invite them, too!

Duration of Play
30-60 minutes

Material Required
Organizational Design Analysis works best on a whiteboard. Substitute a flip chart (or two) if necessary. To run a good session, you will need:

  • Dry-erase markers, we recommend using at least three colors (black, green, red)
  • Dry-erase marker eraser (or paper towels)
  • Sticky notes
  • Camera to capture the results

How to Play

Step 1: Map organizational structure

  1. Invite your players to a five minute stakeholder brainstorm, ask: Who are our project stakeholders? Ask them to consider teams and individuals both inside and outside your org or company. Have players write one stakeholder per sticky note.
  2. Once the brainstorm ends, have each player present their stakeholders by placing their sticky notes on a wall and provide to the group a brief description of their thinking.
  3. With all the sticky notes on the wall, ask the group to organize them into a rough org chart. This needs only to be an imprecise draft.
  4. With the sticky note draft org chart as your guide, create a cleaner version of the org using a whiteboard and dry-erase markers. Ask for a scribe to map the organisation top to bottom. When the scope is quite big (for example, you are mapping a large enterprise), map the parts of the org structure that are less relevant to the analysis with less detail, and vice versa.
  5. To help with navigation, label all stakeholders.
  6. Denote future parts of the organizations (ones that are missing at the moment but are important to be considered for potential impact).
  7. Draw a border around the areas that are affected by the change/initiative or are in the focus of the analysis.
  8. Your whiteboard map could now look something like these:
use dotted lines to identify matrixed teams
use dotted lines to identify matrixed teams

 

use colors to cleanly delineate multiple org dimensions
different colors work, too

Drawing considerations:

  • Avoid using prepared artifacts like your company’s official org chart. Create on-the-go with full engagement of the group.
  • Draw people. Draw a person as a circle and the upside down letter ‘U’. A group of people could be just three persons put close to each other; avoid drawing departments and teams as boxes.
  • Many organizations are matrices of different kinds. Introducing an extra dimension might create visual clutter. Try to avoid that by either using a different style of a line (dotted or dashed lines) or a different color for a weaker organizational component.

Step 2: Add insight

  1. Begin a group discussion with the goal of mapping stakeholder disposition and level of support regarding your initiative.
  2. Discuss each stakeholder one-by-one, try to uncover:
    1. Disposition towards the initiative: are they for, neutral or against? To what degree? Why?
    2. Level of impact: how much influence will this stakeholder have? High, medium or low?
    3. Relationship strength between stakeholders: who do they influence? who influences them? To what degree?
    4. Participation energy level: high, medium or low?
    5. If you are having difficulty dispositioning a particular stakeholder, move to the next one. Additional conversation may help you get unstuck and you can circle back to the troublemaker.
  3. As you near consensus, draw your findings using tokens or icons. Discover what works best for you, some examples:
    1. A green smiley face for a supportive stakeholder
    2. A battery with one out of three bars charged for a low-energy stakeholder
    3. A cloud overhead signals a confused stakeholder
use tokens and text to label different dimensions of stakeholder dynamics
Use tokens and text to label different dimensions of stakeholder dynamics

Strategy
Org charts are quite unambiguous and offer little room for opinion. This exercise’s value comes from mapping less obvious things like stakeholder influence, disposition and decision making power in relation to the initiative. Defined structures are rarely challenged but a necessary foundation. What is interesting is something that lies beyond the official org chart – people’s attitude to the topic of discussion, their real power and influence. Players will share their opinions openly — and surprisingly!–in a safe, structured and collaborative setting.

Complementary Games
You understand who your stakeholders are and the org design dynamics facing your project, now what?

  • Who do – identify what you need from each of your stakeholders
  • Empathy Map – get inside their heads to understand their pains and gains
  • Understanding Chain – create the story your stakeholders need to hear to contribute to your success!

Source

Activity developed by Yuri Malishenko – visual thinker, agile coach, product owner

Activity titled by Stefan Wolpers – agile coach and ScrumMaster.

 

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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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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.