Impressions of Innovation Games
I attended the Innovation Games ® Consultants Master Class this week. Innovation Games are an implementation of serious games designed for marketing research. My expectation was that it would broaden my horizons to the world beyond the software project, out in that area where companies decide what products to create. I knew there was such a place. As a developer, I had only had glimpses of it while working with Product Managers and Product Owners. As far as Agile teams are concerned, someone else makes the basic product decision and the team takes care of building it.
Where They Apply in Agile Development
When training people in basic Scrum, we often talk about the Five Levels of Planning. I always put it in what I call the Product Context (organizational strategy and product portfolio). Luke Hohmann, inventor of Innovation Games, calls these levels the Planning Flame:
Innovation Games can be used for some of the planning activities that are within the Agile/Scrum boundary. Mike Griffins gives some examples at LeadingAnswers. During the class, Alan Shalloway worked with Luke to quickly prototype a new online game for affinity estimating of user stories based on Steve Bockman’s Team Estimating Game. Use of the games in the team context are always applied to achieve convergence – finding consensus and keeping everyone going in the same direction.
The more valuable learnings for me, though, were the use of these games at the outer levels of the flame, market research, for which they were originally designed. This is where real customers are involved in helping organizations develop and refine strategy, new products to realize those strategies and new feature areas for existing products. Luke expressed a goal of bringing the Agile mindset to product marketing. One motivation is that Agile teams can build product faster than traditional market research takes to define products. So the games provide ways to speed up the research process – gaining qualitative data more quickly and identifying targets for quantitative data gathering more efficiently.
Innovation Games used at the outer layers can be applied for either convergence or divergence. Often the players have very different perspectives. They may be from different market segments, different customer organizations, different geographical areas. The games are used to discover the values and possible actions based on those perspectives. This may lead to multiple responses rather than a single aggregate response (ex. a line of products vs. a single product or a roadmap based on successive target markets). Awareness of divergence can even lead to whole new product ideas (“You use our product to do what?”).
While it was both fun and interesting to learn about the games and game framework and to play some of them, I was also gifted with a challenge to my belief that collaboration is best done in person. (See Tips for Distance Training). Luke told the story of how a client asked for the games to be playable online in order to cut down on travel costs. After some discussion and work the online games emerged. And guess what? You can do things with the online versions that you can’t do with the physical versions. You can reach more people and more time zones. Some synergies of physical presence are missing but observation of co-located games gave guidance to some interesting designs in the online versions that lead to other kinds of synergies. And you can get different kinds of information from the two versions. So, perhaps counter intuitively, technology brings a different set of capabilities and opens the games up to an even wider set of possible uses.
The games can be used for other purposes beyond market research. They can be used to solve allocation problems, design questions and prioritization puzzles – many things that benefit from multiple points of view. If you take the class, you will begin to see the wide range of applicability.
One especially intriguing area of application is in public debate and discourse. Imagine if you could share your opinion on civic matters in other ways besides the polling booth. Take a look at GamesForDemocracy.org to see where that idea is going.
Recommended for Agile Coaches
Innovation Games are well defined and have years of road testing. The book gives clear instructions on how to plan and execute a game. They can be done alone or combined into “cocktails” to drill down to a solution and be “hacked” to suit specific circumstances. They hold a huge promise for finding out about commonalities and differences in how groups of people think. They come with many business success stories and are beginning to be applied in not-for-profit areas. I highly recommend that you give them a good look.