Using Innovation Games® for Retrospectives

Over at Enthiosys, we founded the world’s first – and still largest – pcamp. Now often referred to as ProductCamp, the movement has spawned dozens of “camps” and unconferences for Product Managers around the world. While it was a great honor to found the first ever unconference for Product Managers, it is far more important to institutionalize improvements through retrospectives.

I’ve found a lot of useful advice in structuring and running effective retrospectives from Norm Kerth’s Project Retrospectives: A Handbook for Team Reviews and Diana Larson’s and Esther Derby’s Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great.

Unfortunately, retrospectives can become a bit stale, especially when you’re working with distributed teams.I’ve previously posted on how you can use Speed Boat to help identify process improvements. In this post, Jason Tanner takes a different approach to retrospectives, using Prune the Product Tree. His approach can be used to improve pcamps, Product Camps and related unconferences through retrospectives that leverage our online games. Note that is Jason’s attention to design that makes these games work.

The rest of this post was written by Jason Tanner, jtanner [at] enthiosys [dot] com. I’ve added a few comments to let you know how we will be addressing some of the legitimate issues that Jason describes in our online games.

Introduction: Adding Depth and Context to Your Innovation Games

Innovation Games® offer a unique method for collaborating with people to share ideas and information. To make the experience as effective, engaging and interesting as possible, game planners should strive to add richness to the games through wise design decisions. The use of layers and regions in the game Prune the Product Tree provides the depth and context needed for game players to rapidly understand the game environment and more easily organize their thoughts by focus on adding their contributions to the game and engaging with other players in discussion.

I recently had the chance to create and facilitate a series of games for the organizers of pcamp RTP (Research Triangle Park in North Carolina). They wanted input from the local pcamp community about what they could do to make the next pcamp better and I set out to help them by using the online version of Prune the Product Tree game.

While it would have been very easy to simply ask the players to provide ideas for improvement, I decided to add some depth to the game by organizing the game using some traditional retrospective questions:

  • What worked well (WWW),
  • What worked poorly (WWP); and,
  • What to do differently (WTDD).

Then I provided players with context by providing some structure for their comments and ideas. Players could comment on registration, the pcamp web site, the content of the program, the speakers, the logistics and ‘other,’ a bucket for everything else.

If you haven’t had a chance to play Prune the Product Tree game online yet, then I should explain that at this time you don’t have a lot of screen real estate to use in constructing the game (background images can be 580 x 575). [Note from Luke: Jason’s right – you should be able to use an image of any arbitrary size in our games. Removing the restriction on image sizes is on our backlog, and it is getting higher by the iteration! We hope to have this done and released in on or before Agile 2010].

Really sorry for the squished images. Go ahead and tell me how to fix it. I’ll thank you.

image 1

Once you have created a new game, select a background image appropriate to your game. Then select the item image that you would like to use and the total quantity of items players can place on the background image. Remember that the number you choose is the pool for all of the players. So, if you have 10 players and expect each player to contribute 10 items, you would input 150 or 200 items in the box on the screen shot below.

Adding Layers and Regions

Getting back to designing the pcamp games, in order to add depth and context, I used layers and regions. I named the first layer “Qualifiers.” I created regions in this layer as columns for WWW, WWP, and WTDD. I learned a lot about actually drawing these regions which I’ll share now. To start, click the “Draw a Region” icon and place your cursor at the corner to start your region, then click and drag to the next corner. A region looks like this after your have marked three corners – the starting corner and two more.

image 2

Once you have marked the last corner, double click to complete the region. Then you can name the region like I did below. Naming the region is quite important, as these regions are shown to players while they are playing the game. Naming them well helps players know that they are placing items in the right locations.

image 3

Here’s what the game design looked like when I finished the three qualifiers. Note that the region highlight to the right is outlined in red on the left.

image 4

This looked pretty good, but I realized I wasn’t using the whole game space. So, I decided to redraw the regions. I started by deleting the existing regions and then drew new ones. The resultant image below better…Extra room for new ideas.

image 5

Now for the context, I’ll create a new layer called topics with the corresponding regions. Here’s what it looks like when I’m finished. You can see the depth provided by the vertical regions to qualify comments and the context of the horizontal regions to help players organize their items. [Note from Luke: The ability to define multiple layers and regions is essential in helping players put items in the right locations AND in helping you understand what people mean by the placement of these items.]

image 6

Playing the Games

The first game we played used almost exactly what I illustrated above and we gathered some excellent feedback from the players. The players did need some time to understand the organization of the game board with the layers and regions to place their items. I did send everyone a set of instructions the day before the game so they would have some idea of the game layout. What I failed to do was explain how the background image of the tree is a metaphor for products or product lines branching out with different features. The whole idea didn’t work for them. Because I made this game public, you can see our results by clicking here:

So, I decided to pick a simpler image – one that allowed me to play the game, but one that didn’t require me to explain the tree. For the next set of games, I took a different approach to the background image to support the game design. I made the board directly represent the underlying layers and regions. All th players had to do was add their ideas (light bulbs). This approach worked really well for this event and illustrates how easily you can shape the games to your purpose. Here is an image of the second set of games. [Note from Luke: Since our system allows you to upload your own images, and since planners want to use more than trees, we’re going to be calling this capability a Design Your Own Game. Right now, though, we all have to struggle with the admittedly awkward idea that Jason is playing the game Prune the Product Tree but NOT using a tree as his background image.]

image 7

Not surprisingly, the simple solution often works really well. My players found this version of the image and this game much easier to understand and use.

A note about creating your own images…You may notice that the left edge of my image is slightly truncated clipping off the first letter in the topics. When you create your own image, give yourself a bit of a buffer on the edges. [Note from Luke: We’re going to be improving this too!]

I used the new Excel export feature for all three games we played and then merged the spreadsheet content together as a report to the pcamp organizers and the players. The organizers now have several great ideas on how to improve the next pcamp.

If you have any questions about designing a game, please contact me Happy Gaming!

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