27 Sep Serious Games for Strategic Planning

Who hasn’t shuddered when you get the email about required attendance at an all-day strategy meeting? In common parlance that translates to 8 hours trapped in a conference room with PowerPoint, coffee and catered lunches—if you’re lucky. Strategy meetings don’t have to be death by PowerPoint, though. They can be engaging, profitable and energizing—especially, if the participants are actively involved. Our recent experience producing a two-day strategic planning meeting for Adobe Systems’ Globalization team is proof of that day-long meetings don’t have to be boring.

Three Adobe team members—Francis Tsang, Senior Director of Globalization; Jean-Francois Vanreusel, Director of Localization; and Janice Campbell, Sr. International Program Manager 2 – recently shared with us their perspectives on how and why using Innovation Games® was crucial to the event’s success.

Why did you decide to use Innovation Games for your strategy meeting?

Spider Web and Speed Boat games on the wall during Adobe's Globabalization Team's Strategy meeting.

Janice: We had read Luke’s book, Innovation Games: Creating Breakthrough Products through Collaborative Play, in our Globalization Book Club, and decided to find a way to “put into play” our learnings from the book. Much to our delight, Luke was already working with some product teams at Adobe. What if Luke could help us drive the creation of our 2012 localization roadmap and three-year strategy?

Can you tell us a little bit about the strategy meeting and how you used Innovation Games?

Francis:It was a two-day meeting, with 40 participants, focusing on Adobe’s Localization Strategy. We used the games to help us do short-term and long-range planning around localization and long-range infrastructure needs—not only which languages and problems we may face in our globalization efforts, but also what kind of new localization experiences we want for our end users.

Who attended?

Janice: Along with members of our Globalization team, we invited internal stakeholders closest to the international customer. They represented CSO, ecommerce, product marketing, field marketing, developer relations and CHL, and regions such as APAC, EMEA and LATAM. The event took place during two full days at the end of August.

Sometimes people are concerned about the concept of serious games and whether the techniques can really be used to do “real work”? Did you have any reservations about the games?

Francis: To be honest, I was kind of skeptical in the beginning—how can we do this with 40 people over two days, but after the two days, I found the experience extremely useful. It was much more useful than a cut-and-dry strategy planning session with PowerPoint. The games force you to come down from a conceptual level to an experiential level.

We were a little bit nervous before the event, because we had never experienced this approach. We had also invited senior managers from other teams, and they wouldn’t have shown much patience if things had gone wrong. We took a risk, but it definitely paid off. The energy level during the all event was high. We addressed very serious problems. Using games helped us change our perspective on these problems and generate more creative solutions

What about Innovation Games made the event a success?

Francis: Putting 40 people together for two days is a huge commitment of time for a company. It’s hard to keep people engaged during 16 hours of strategy planning. Thanks to Innovation Games, 90 percent were in the meeting the entire time. With traditional presentations, you would lose half the people, but the games kept the participants engaged.

Janice:We found that participants built better relationships with each other and communication channels opened up. We gained valuable insight into how an international customer interacts with our products — from the web to software purchase/download to documentation. Using games was a fun way of extracting serious ideas and it allowed people to be more creative and free in their thinking; they were less fearful of peer pressure in vocalizing their ideas.

Three games of Prune the Product Tree during Adobe's Globalization Strategy meeting.

Which game played during the event had the most impact? Why?

Francis: While we played many games during the two days, three Innovation Games stand out in my mind: Prune the Product Tree, Speed Boat and Buy a Feature.

Prune the Product Tree, for example, forced us to think about the sequence of events. It helped us understand benefits and costs. Speed Boat is always good to help understand what is slowing you down. Planning is often a one-way street, but Innovation Games counteract that. The game play forces you to visualize the possible anchors. The metaphor helps you understand the big picture/visualize the problem. The most revealing aspect of Buy a Feature was learning what assumptions play a part in ranking options. Specifically, it lets you see what a participant’s self-imposed limitations are.

What really stood out for me, though, is that the act of playing these games gave us insight into how different people look at problems, the different kinds of thought processes in play. We saw this thanks to the debrief process; the act of presenting the game results to the larger group meant other participants got to see how others thought. With other methods, it’s hard to get to the true story.

The Show & Tell game helped create a friendly, playful mood, while helping us highlight critical issues in the way we localize our products. After the event, many participants still referred to the game to justify more investments in certain areas. The Prune the Product Tree game is a close second for me as it generated some very innovative ideas.

Janice: Stories from the field, in the form of the Show & Tell game. While often poignant or funny, the game play helped us experience first hand the hoops international customers sometimes have to jump through when using our products.

Were there any unexpected benefits?

Francis: The game mechanism helped us look at strategy from a different perspective. We gained unique insight. For example, in strategy, you need to look at what could happen, what would happen. The games helped us visualize these scenarios; they helped us model the future.

Jean-Francois: The game-oriented approach really helped build stronger relationships between all our participants. People flew in from around the world to attend the event and didn’t always know each other. Games are an effective way for people to quickly “gel” together, collaborate and deliver great ideas.

Would you hold the event again? What would you do differently?

Jean-Francois: Yes, we would definitely conduct such event in the future. However, I would make the point to include International customers. It would be priceless to hear their stories (Show & Tell) about how they use our products and have the opportunity to collaborate with them on building solutions they seek.


To learn more about Adobe’s Globalization Strategy meeting, check out Janice’s blog post, “Strategy Through Games” and Luke Hohmann’s blog post, “The International Appeal of Visual Collaboration Games”.

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