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Facilitation Advice From the Gamestorming Community

an overflowing inbox, full of your advice

On May 4th we asked for your help: to share wisdom with students preparing to facilitate their first workshop. Your response flooded our inbox; it was reflective, generous, vulnerable and helpful. Thank you scrum masters, designers, authors, consultants, coaches, teachers, students and Gamestormers all over the globe.

Common themes:

Prepare to improvise Write your word-for-word script, rehearse even the jokes but prepare to throw it all out as you walk into the room.

Clarify your role As the facilitator you are not responsible for the answers, only to shape the journey on the way to their discovery.

Establish your emotional state The room will follow your cues – what do you need them to be?

Set the tone Be thoughtful with your first activity, it is the foundation for the rest of the workshop.

Connect with the workshoppers Collective and individual connection will energize the room and put you in tune with the path you’ll need to follow.

But read for yourself.

We’ve credited sources where possible.

Be thoroughly prepared and be fully prepared and willing to let go of all your plans and preparations to go with whatever happens and is needed at the time. Materials and preparations are a back up plan, follow your intuïtion and look for what the group needs at that specific moment; what are they not doing by themselves, what is the next step they are not taking. Focus your efforts there.

-Gamestormer

Remember to create personal connection and learn to listen more intently to voice, not only words. Moderate activities to Energy levels constantly

-Gamestormer

Prepare before you get into the room, understand the purpose and who will be there; how do you support everyone working towards that purpose? Remember you are primarily there to support the achievement of the purpose and not delivering content. Therefore, focus on how to make the most of everyone’s contributions and how to keep them engaged with it – vary the activities to support different ways of working (eg. solitary vs collaborative). Also, if you need to produce a report/findings make sure the participants are producing things you can draw on directly afterwards eg. prioritisation matrix or roadmap.

Claire Agnew

Set up the session with a clear centre line. Know your stuff (practice, practice, practice) and gain agreement up front to keep bringing people back to centre when they stray – if you have a clear centre line to draw people back to they will appreciate the level of productivity you achieve.

-Gamestormer

1. Be familiar with the virtual platform that you are using, be it Zoom, Google Meet, WEbecs etc.
2. Be mindful of your virtual presence. Tone (speak clearly, varying your tone and at a moderate speed), body language (dressing , do not move around too much as it is distracting), engaged by looking at the camera hole.
3. Enlist a “co-host” to help you to navigate and take care of other engagement activities with audience. For e.g. polling, look at Chat messages. This will help the main facilitator to better focus on delivering their messages.
4. Add interactive activities such as poll, breakout room for discussions, type their views in chat box.
5. Practice, practice and practice, to build confidence.

-CL Goh

Relax, anything you add to the meeting/workshop/event is better than it would have been without a facilitator. Everything is oops of learning, and we all get better through that experience. But in the end, everything we do makes things a little better and a little more likely to have good results.

-Gamestormer

Facilitation is about designing, creating, and holding a container for the participants to fill up with great ideas and outcomes. Design a session that has just enough structure for them to stay on purpose but loose enough that they can have fun getting there.

-Steve Silbert

The first time I was put in charge of facilitating a project, I remember feeling the need to grasp the opportunity, having to show all that I know. It was only later that I realized that it is important to really grasp the situation, talk to the others involved, and make use of what THEY know before passing any of my own judgment.

-Johannes Neukamm

1) Co-create and agree on-line etiquette with the group. This includes talking order. One of many ideas that sticks with me is”participants talk once until everyone has had an opportunity to contribute”
2) all participants use headphones to cut out amplified background noise
3) create a hand-drawn frame and place it around your laptop camera…. this is to encourage you to focus on the frame when talking to give the impression of looking at fellow participants to “connect“

-Gamestormer

Start with an authentic check-in to create the social foundation to be productive and innovative together. all goes well when the team is united more deeply (than how’s the weather and what’s your name). even if things go wrong they all pull together to find a solution. And check-out at the end, even if it is a thumbs up or down, or a one word checkout. so people feel complete, util you meet again! tips for checkin in here http://www.thecircleway.net/circle-way-guidelines

-Sandra Otto

keep the final objectives in mind – not your beautifully crafted session plans. Sometimes everything runs as you expect, but more often people head off in new directions. Be ready to follow them down those rabbit holes by focusing on the objectives, not the methods you think you need to get to your objectives. You might find yourself in Wonderland!

-Katie Streten

Have a plan. Be sure what you want to achieve and especially take your time for ice-breaking in the beginning. Have an activity planned for the welcome and ice-breaking according to the audience age. A good start will help you through later struggles. And to decrease nervousness: breath. Before you go into the room, breath calmly.

-Gamestormer

Set the tone early. The opening exercise needs to make it clear that it is a safe space to be visionary and to be wrong. I sometimes ask the room “What’s one thing you believe that no one else agrees with?” Or “If you could wave a magic wand and overcome one character flaw, what would it be?”

-Greg Larkin

Ask a lot of questions

-Gamestormer

Imagine that you need to make the most of the time that people are spending with you. Prepare for each session within the time block, knowing you can change the plan on the spot. Think of props, food, timing, drinks, breaks and work very carefully on planning the time blocks. Once you have it all mapped out you can change as you go along depending on the expected outcomes and what is happening in the moment.

-Alison

Know your stuff, love your stuff and be yourself. (If you know what you’re talking about and care about the subject matter, care about others learning it, then all that’s left is to be yourself – that’s what will get the material across better. Oh, and, tell stories. Stories make your message accessible 🙂

-Vikee Rayner

The facilitator isn’t a trainer, not a teller, nor a seller of information. Get to know your participants (not audience) and empathize as far as possible. In facilitation content isn’t king as it is in training. Empathy is king. So, in preparing for a facilitative session I would strongly recommend as careful a study of the participants as possible — their ages, backgrounds, preferences, learning styles, whatever you can lay your hands on.

-Leslie D’Gama

You are working for the group, you are there to facilitate people, to help them and it’s not about you. Try to make a connection between you and the group since they can help you too. Let they to help you and they will appreciate you for it.

-Silvia Alba

Remember the the 80/20 rule. 80 percent prep, 20 percent running the actual event.
Make yourself a script, prepare your handouts/materials well advance, have your slides done, and then practice! Do a trial run through with colleagues. If you’re facilitating with someone else, you must practice together.
If you do all this, by the time you go to do it live, you’ll feel much more comfortable. All the prep, means you’ll be able to handle a curveball (and there always is one) and you’ll feel and sound natural because it’s not the first time you’re running it.

-Melinda Miller

Focus on the groups needs, not your own

-Gamestormer

I always prepare a detailed time-boxed slide, with everything written out – knowing that everything has been planned and accounted for gives me the freedom to really focus on my participants and making sure the workshop output is all that it can be. I also recommend blocking time in your calendar in the days following the workshop, to ensure everything is captured and circulated back. Last tip – facilitating a longer activity can be surprisingly exhausting. Plan ahead for some downtime so that you can recharge.

-Genevieve Metropolis

From professor Langlois of the Université du Québec, in his LEADEX workshops: Your job (as leader, or facilitator) is to create a positive, memorable experience for those involved. I learned this in 2004 and it has been a validation of my approach; since it has become my mantra.

Facilitation is not about me the facilitator, but about the participants.

-assume you are with friends

-ask open ended questions

-mirror what you understood and ask if it’s accurate and if there’s more

-be genuine and open, otherwise you come across as pushing an agenda

-be complicit, like this is an elite clique (smile with a twinkle in your eye)

-use humor Facilitation is not about me the facilitator, but about the participants.

-assume you are with friends

-ask open ended questions

-mirror what you understood and ask if it’s accurate and if there’s more

-be genuine and open, otherwise you come across as pushing an agenda

-be complicit, like this is an elite clique (smile with a twinkle in your eye)

-use humor

Another foundational quote, from Stephen Haines of San Diego’s Haines Centre for Strategic Management: «People will support what they help build».

Facilitation is a powerful way to get people involved in building a future state.

-Gamestormer

Level the playing field. Whenever I facilitate, I make sure that I get this message across at the start, that I am one among them playing the role of facilitator not instructor. By doing this, you set the expectations at the right level both for you and for the audience.

-Gamestormer

Besides a great design that you have co -created with key sponsor and maybe participants too, set intentions of how you want to be experienced. I often say to myself that I will be an ocean of love. This often works for me and I usually add one or two intentions based on what I assess the group will respond to and benefit from to bring their best most hopeful, creative selves. And, importantly, no matter how busy I am with prep I greet people as they enter, and “R before T” put relationship before task. A few welcoming words and a question to bring about exchange are more valuable than can be expressed.

-Michele Berry

Pause for 5 seconds after you ask a question to allow people to “hear what you said, process what you said, come up with a response, articulate their response”. I literally count to five in my head to give people time to process. Second, is a mindset. You are not responsible for the outcome… your job is to focus on the process. Similar to an umpire of a baseball game. Keep the participants focused on the rules/process. The game is there’s to own the outcomes.

-Gamestormer

People are going to share so many interesting ideas on content, templates, games… logistics are a lot less sexy… and getting logistics right will make or break a workshop. If you get it right, they won’t notice how well planned it is, but if you get it wrong your reputation will suffer no matter how good the content is. So here are thoughts on the practicalities.

+ Try to figure out the space (real or virtual) first. Where will you pin things, where will you do breakouts, how will you bring people back.

+ Make sure you build in time contingencies, things usually take longer than you think they will. Even getting people into and out of break-out groups takes time. You may feel pressure to squeeze more in, but the quality will suffer if you don’t give people enough time to work through ideas, have disagreements, work through disagreements etc

+ Pre-plan how you will do break-outs either using a pre-planned list or a game eg line people up in order of their birthdays & divide the line into 2, 4 etc.. Don’t tell people to organise themselves or it gets cliquey or awkward.

+ Keep lots of pace changes, some fast exercises, some slow. some digital presentation & some analogue, some sit down exercises, some standing. It keeps people alert

+ Snacks. At the start of a workshop lots of great snacks set the scene & get people excited for the day (especially important if you have people who would prefer to be somewhere else). Keep the snacks going throughout to keep energy up. If virtual, get people to pre-organise their snacks and you could even use this as a fun warm-up.

+ Don’t skimp on warm-ups and try to gradually use them to encourage people to open up and be a little bit vulnerable. Silly stuff is good. Warm-ups may seem a waste or precious time, but they build the rapport necessary to create a safe space for non-judgemental creativity.

+ Music can help to keep up the energy during break-outs and signal when time is up

+ Lay out a master plan of how the workshop will run (details are not necessary) at the start. If people have a sense of what will be expected they will stay focussed.

+ Make sure you have all the kit you need (boards, sticky notes, tech back-up plans etc. Also important is thinking about what printouts you need eg templates, reference material etc. And have spares.

+ Have a welcome plan, especially if attendees don’t know each other. They won’t all arrive at the same time, so think about what is happening in the space between the first person arriving and starting the workshop

+ Be flexible… things never quite go to plan, so you may need to change things up as you go, that’s pretty normal, don’t be hard on yourself.

-Gamestormer

Prepare
+ Review the list for facilitating (assume your professor has given these, if not find a list)
+ Develop a list of probing and follow-up questions
+ Research info on audience
+ Prepare an opening that is a story or questions to pique curiosity

Onsite
+ Start on time even if the audience is not ready
+ Focus on the audience and supporting their ability to connect with each other and share ideas; walk around and introduce yourself before the session starts
+ Watch your energy level – and smile
+ Walk the room; if there are slides go to back when they are being used – your role is a guide on the side not a sage on the stage
+ When there is a question, re-frame it and throw it back to the audience – and if possible, to those who are not speaking
+ Watch the time and make sure you leave time for the ending
+ Have a strong summary statement that reflects what happened during the session
+ Provide a call to action at the end
+ Thank the audience for engaging

PS
If there is work time for the group during the session remember you are still facilitating and paying attention to their tasks and the time; move from group to group; capture good ideas to share; listen to their discussion and help if they are off track; continue to monitor time; and, DO NOT fiddle with your phone or stand in the corner and talk to other facilitators. Once the group has reconvened, share what your saw and heard.

-Gamestormer

It’s about them; not about you. Listen intently and learn the different types of questions to ask to keep a group moving. Where they go is up to them; not up to you. Emergence is a very exciting property of good facilitation.

-Gamestormer

I’d say they could observe the experience as they lead it and take cues from the group – to see where they can improve next time and where the group is suggesting what works and what doesn’t.

-Mike Rohde

Know yourself thoroughly , ask yourself why you are in facilitation. Knowing this, enjoy yourself, equipping yourself with the necessary knowledge , trends, state of the art practices and co explore with fellow practitioners.
Do off line facilitation work shops with your friends , community and known circles, to get the feel.
Be thorough with tools, technology and logistics .
Reflect on the sessions ,feedback and make improvements .

Don’t worry how people react or if they don’t want to follow your instructions. It is mainly a sign of their emotional state of themselves, not something because of you.

-Gamestormer

Team with a co-facilitator. Facilitation can be an endurance sport. There may be a question you are trying to answer, but no matter how many ways you phrase it, you can’t get a particular individual to understand. Another facilitator, with different experiences can calmly come in and offer a different perspective that might click for that individual. It is also very helpful to have someone who can help with logistics, if something needs to be addressed when your attention needs to be elsewhere.

-Gamestormer

Have a game plan and even have a back up in case things go belly up. And then when you execute it, own it. Even if you have to pull some “fake” confidence out to feel like you pulled it off. How do you get fake confidence? Practice your introduction in a mirror before hand. Be an actor/actress. There is truth to fake it until you make it that I have even put into play as a librarian.

Remember you will build with each facilitation experience you give so your “fake” confidence will grow into true confidence with experience behind it.

-Michelle Boisvenue-Fox

Embrace imperfection

-Gamestormer

Come with a plan. Rehearse that plan. You can even create a spreadsheet created with your facilitation plan detailed down to the minute.

Then throw that plan out the window.

Be present.

Respond to the room and let the facilitation evolve as both the people in the room and you gain more clarity on the ideal outcome of the session.

Aim to conclude with a consensus of next action

-Adam Kreek

Be transparent when trying something new to you. The group doesn’t have to know everything is new to you… just say, “I’d really like to try xyz with this group…”

Be quiet sometimes. As a new facilitator, I told stories and got chatty to cover my nerves. With feedback from video and colleagues, I have learned to breathe instead.

When something goes wrong, move on. Things happen – technology, typos, skipped steps in an activity – just acknowledge and move forward. People will remember what you spend time on and what is uncomfortable, so apologizing at length could overshadow the good stuff.

-Gamestormer

It’s important they understand to not try to be the smartest person in the room, but instead, ask the smartest questions :wink:. Have a bunch of questions mentally (or physically) ready. And if ever they ‘seize up’ and don’t know what to do, use those questions. Like: What’s the most important thing we want to get out of this meeting? What would it take to finish this meeting early? (that’s a cheeky one, I like that one). Is this the right thing to be discussing now? If I was the boss/main stakeholder/team/anyone else you need to talk to after this, what’s the main outcome of this that you tell me? How would you summarize this discussion as a tweet?

-Ben Crothers

Over prepare. Conduct full-dress rehearsals with all the accoutrements so you create in yourself a ‘muscle memory’ that automatically flows through facilitation. A foundation of preparation minimizes surprises, allows you to gracefully respond when they arise and return to the facilitation plan.

-Gamestormer

I think they need to be prepared: agenda, activities and materials in advance, they need to dominate instructions and repeat instructions in a clear and simple manner. They need to take time to define key messages they want to leave to the audience and personal stories or examples to reinforce them.

-Martha Roa

Practice breathing. No meeting and no facilitator is perfect. One thing that holds true in every engagement I facilitate is that something unexpected always shows up. So learning to take a deep breath and pause so you can re-orient to the present has been the most helpful tip that was passed down to me, so I pass it onto others.

-Gamestormer

Plan
Practice
Remember that noone knows the finer detail of the plan except you (so it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t quite go to plan).
Be yourself

-Mary-Ann Shuker

Don’t expect it to go as planned. When it doesn’t, be kind to yourself and others.

-Gamestormer

1. Make the content your own and deliver from your truth. Don’t be a regurgitator.
2. Experience for yourself the processes you want to deliver
3. It’s better if everyone starts with acknowledging they don’t know the answer – including you – so true emergence can be experienced
4. Learn how to host yourself before you host others
5.It’s not about you: people are there to have an experience hosted by you, not about you, so…
6. Relax and enjoy the experience together. If you don’t have fun with the problem you’ll never solve it.

I remember my nerves radically shifted when I realised being up front of a room of people facing complexity was not about me, but about them. And all I was there to do was help them tap into their wisdom, creativity and remember what they already knew.

-Gamestormer

“Raise your hand if you can hear me” > I love this as a way to quiet down a boisterous room.

I’d also say to remind them that you must be overly prepared, and then things will shift regardless, but it’s that preparedness that allows you to be able to shift and adjust. If you hadn’t prepared at all, you’d be lost.

-Amanda Thompson

Remember your job is to keep away from the content and maintain a neutral stance. Focus your energy on moving the group forward – it’s not about you!

-Gamestormer

Smile – even if you have to force it a little because you are nervous and you want to do well. A smile will put others at ease and releases dopamine, endorphins and serotonin into your bloodstream – all good things that help you to be present in the moment. Its free, you carry it with you everywhere and it has immediate impact. Also, embrace being a beginner at this and be gentle with yourself. We are all learning, all the time.

-Gamestormer

I find it important to start the day with rules/expectations and an ice breaker to get everyone in the group comfortable talking. The most important rule (in my opinion) is to make sure everyone stays open to ideas of others.
So exciting – workshops are fun!

-Allison Squires

Connect personally with your audience before launching into the session – a brief moment in which you share something small/simple and at whatever level of depth fosters comfort and safety for you and the group.
This can be a small insight about yourself, your journey to this session, a personal interest in or reflection on the session’s subject matter or this particular group etc. You’re prompted to pause before starting and pushing off into the session from a place of human engagement rather than the adherence to runsheet/script.

-Gamestormer

Your goal as a facilitators is to help a group reach a meaningful outcome, but also remember how people FEEL when they leave your workshop is as, or more, important than what you are teaching them.

-Chris Federer

Your workshop needs to be prototyped and practiced. Make sure that you get a chance to run through it as much as possible to iron out any quirks. Having a good flow will allow you to focus on the participants. Also work out your timings and stick to them

-Gamestormer

Be extremely comfortable with design and make sure you be as clear as possible with it. Especially the learning objectives.

prepare like crazy … including jokes and stories and pauses etc. …. BEFORE the session….however emerge with flow DURING the session….hold the design lightly not tightly … Be a scientist while preparing but an artist while delivering

Do a good audience analysis if possible… if you know them and their context well, there will be less surprises

Set it up well … try and manage expectations of everyone before delivering

get the audience to speak as early in the session as possible… choose a game or an activity …

Enjoy it … cut yourself some slack…gracefully accept any screw ups but make sure you LEARN from them”

-Gagan Adlakha

Be perfectly prepared, as if your life depends on it. And once you start with the workshop: let go and trust in the process.

-Gamestormer

Be clear on the aims of the meeting/retreat/etc. beforehand (engaging stakeholders in that process) and discuss these at the start of the gathering to ensure there’s buy-in (and, if not, discuss any possible changes). For the kinds of processes I facilitate, the goals typically include some more process-y stuff (e.g., teambuilding) and some more product-y stuff (e.g., strategy development).

-Gamestormer

Work with your own strengths – as a government worker years ago I was asked to facilitate a lot of business planning, with only a small amount of training, because I was friendly, gentle and diplomatic. I was nervous but once you realise you’re only facilitating, not decision making, you can make the most of your skills.

-Gamestormer
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Bring Your Own Dashboard

For more information

Listen to Michael Schrage, research fellow with MIT Sloan School’s Initiative on the Digital Economy, describe the need for strategic KPIs, common pitfalls organizations encounter when grappling with new technologies and why co-creating dashboards in a workshop setting are fundamental to AI capability development.

The game

Read through your favorite Management publication today and you’re likely to find an article on Artificial Intelligence. One we particularly liked, Strategy For and With AI, clarifies the difference between using AI in your product or service (Strategy *For* AI) and harnessing AI to plan your strategy (Strategy *With* AI). The latter involves a tight coupling of KPIs, Data Governance and Decision rights that few companies can claim – the article recognizes Google, Uber, and GoDaddy. While these case studies may reveal an intimidating gap between their achievement and your organization’s progress, a discussion with article co-author Michael Schrage reveals simple steps any organization can take to move forward on this path.

AI wtih strategy works best with a strong foundation of established KPIs, mature Data Governance practices and clear Decision Rights
Object of Play

Most teams, regardless of size, can access data measuring their progress towards goals. Use this group activity to validate the strategic alignment of your KPIs, understand the relationships between them, and brainstorm tests you can perform to validate both.

Number of Players

5-15

Duration of Play

90 minutes

How to Play

OPEN

There are two options for opening this game:

Option A

If your participants have defined KPIs or OKRs which they currently measure:

  1. Ask them to bring a sample report or dashboard to the activity
  2. Once gathered in the room, ask each team or individual to briefly present their report, identifying:
    1. Which organizational strategies the report aligns to (OKR)
    2. Report KPIs (OKR)
    3. Other important reporting metrics
  3. Once all the reports have been presented, ask the teams to write down their KPIs and metrics, one per sticky note and put them up on the wall.

Option B

If your participants have less defined measurement and feedback infrastructure OR you’re looking to explore new measures and KPI’s

  1. Inform the players the purpose of the activity is to explore our strategy by creating a dashboard
  2. Write at the top of the whiteboard an organization-wide strategic goal
  3. Ask the players to take five minutes for an individual brainstorm: list all the customer behaviors impacting the strategic objective of your organization. For example,  a digital marketing team may be concerned with: customers signing-up for the newsletter, shoppers visiting your website, follow the brand on Twitter.
  4. At the end of the brainstorm, ask each player to put their sticky notes on the wall, quickly presenting them to the team one-by-one. 
  5. Once all the brainstormed ideas are on the wall, ask the group to organize them into themes. Let the themes emerge organically, i.e. don’t guide or direct their behavior. 
  6. Take 5 minutes to review each theme; ask for the players to briefly explain their thinking and insights. 
  7. For each theme ask the group to identify one or two KPIs that best measure the desired consumer behavior. 

EXPLORE

KPI relationship matrix
A KPI relationship matrix
  1. Let the players know you’re going to explore your KPIs by looking at their relationships to one another. 
  2. Set the board by creating a matrix of the KPIs identified in the Opening. 
  3. To play, the group determines the relationship between each set of KPIs: Direct if an increase in one would cause an increase in the other OR Indirect if an increase in one would cause a decrease in the other.
  4.  A group may choose to write down relationships individually at first and then call out their results on each item and criterion to create the tally. 
  5. Identification should be done quickly, as in a “gut” check.
  6. A discussion after the table has been completed may uncover uncertainties about strategy and KPI maximization. For example, Marketing’s attempt to maximize website visitors may negatively impact Sales’ conversion rate. 
    1. Some questions to prompt: 
      1. What do you notice about these relationships? 
      2. What KPIs should you consider adding? Removing?
      3. Are there instances where KPIs should be optimized instead of maximized?
      4. Are the representative strategies aligned? Do the KPIs indicate any conflicts? 
      5. What other organizations are implicated by these KPIs?
      6. What are we uncertain about? How might we test those uncertainties in the next week?

CLOSE

Based on your discussion perform a Start-Stop-Continue. Ask the group to consider the customer behaviors, KPI relationship mapping and subsequent discussion and individually brainstorm in these three categories:

  1. Start: What are things that we need to START doing?
  2. Stop: What are we currently doing that we can or should STOP?
  3. Continue: What are we doing now that works and should CONTINUE?

Have the individuals share their results.

STRATEGY

In our data-rich world, your strategy is what your KPIs say it is. Teams often try to maximize KPIs in the absence of understanding their impact. This exercise clarifies ripple effects strategies have on each other and surfaces considerations for when Optimization should trump Maximization. 

CREDITS

This game was inspired by David Kiron and Michael Schrage’s MIT Sloan Management Review article, Strategy For and With AI

COMPLEMENTARY GAMES

Posted on

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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How-Now-Wow Matrix

When people want to develop new ideas, they most often think out of the box in the brainstorming or divergent phase. However, when it comes to convergence, people often end up picking ideas that are most familiar to them. This is called a ‘creative paradox’ or a ‘creadox’.

The How-Now-Wow matrix is an idea selection tool that breaks the creadox by forcing people to weigh each idea on 2 parameters.

Object of play: This game naturally follows the creative idea generation phase and helps players select ideas to develop further.

Number of players: 1 to 30

Duration of play: 10 to 40 mins

What you’ll need: Flip-chart sized paper, some markers, lots of voting dots in 3 colors (blue, yellow, green)

Preparation:

  1. Draw a 2-by-2 matrix as above. The X axis denotes the originality of the idea and the Y axis shows the ease of implementation.
  2. Label the quadrants as:
    1. Now/Blue Ideas – Normal ideas, easy to implement. These are typically low-hanging fruit and solutions to fill existing gaps in processes. These normally result in incremental benefits.
    2. How/Yellow Ideas – Original ideas, impossible to implement. These are breakthrough ideas in terms of impact, but absolutely impossible to implement right now given current technology/budget constraints.
    3. Wow/Green Ideas – Original ideas, easy to implement. ‘Wow’ ideas are those with potential for orbit-shifting change and possible to implement within current reality.

How to Play:

  1. List down the ideas that emerge from the creative ideation phase on large charts of paper stuck around the room.
  2. Give each player 3 sticky dots of each color – that is, 3 blue, 3 yellow, 3 green. 9 dots per person is typical, but go ahead and reduce/increase that number based on the time at hand and number of ideas generated.
  3. Ask each player to step forward and vote for 3 best ideas in each category.  They need to do this by sticking a colored dot in front of each idea they choose.
  4. In the end, count the number of dots under each idea to categorize it. The highest number of dots of a certain color categorizes the idea under that color.
  5. In case of a tie:
    1. If blue dots = green dots, the idea is blue
    2. If  yellow dots = green dots, the idea is green
  6. You now have a bucket of Now/Green ideas to work on further. Make sure you also collect the low-hanging blue ideas for immediate implementation and the yellow ideas to keep an eye on for the future.

Note: Check your yellow dots in advance to ensure that they can be seen from a distance. If not, go ahead and replace them with another color. FYI, in the original matrix, WOW ideas are red.

Online How-Now-Wow Matrix

How-Now-Wow MatrixHere is another image of the How-Now-Matrix. But this one is special – clicking on this image will start an “instant play” game at www.innovationgames.com. In this game there are 20 light bulbs that you can drag on your matrix. We’ve organized this game into a set of regions that match the How-Now-Matrix described above. As you’re placing these items, use these regions to help you keep track of the most important ideas.

Keep in mind that that this is a collaborative game. This means that you can invite other players to play. And when they drag something around – you’ll see it in real time!

How-Now-Wow MatrixHere is another version that based on Martien van Steenbergen’s comments, in which he recommends flipping the y-axis.


The How-Wow-Now Matrix is adapted from work done by The Center for Development of Creative Thinking (COCD). Information about the COCD Matrix was published in the book, “Creativity Today” authored by Ramon Vullings, Igor Byttebier and Godelieve Spaas.
 
 
 
 
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Elevator Pitch

Sky

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

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

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

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

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

How to Play:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step One: The Generating Phase

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

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

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

Step Two: The Forming Phase

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

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

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

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

Strategy:

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

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