Innovation Games at Work: Better Broadband

CCA and Agile Coach Karen Spencer is putting Speed Boat to work to bring better Internet Service to her community

Committee Meeting

When it comes to using game to collaborate, Karen Favazza Spencer, an Agile Coach living in Gloucester MA, has a longer history than most. Although she’s been in the business world for over 20 years, she started her professional career as a kindergarten teacher. “Using collaborative games is like Innovation Games is coming home for me. I taught school using similar techniques and now I am using collaborative approaches with adults.”

She’s even using games in her work as the Chairperson of the Gloucester Cable TV Advisory Committee. Recently, Karen took the time to tell about how she’s using Innovation Games® for creating change in her community.


Conteneo: How did you discover Innovation Games?

Karen: At an Agile Boston Event in 2011. When I first saw the Innovation Game® Speed Boat, I immediately recognized its application as a data-gathering exercise for Risk Assessments or FMEA (Failure Mode and Effect Analysis). Since then, I’ve used that particular exercise many times, as well as taught it to others. I’ve always believed in making things visual and interactive. It’s the former teacher in me.


Besides Speed Boat, are there other Innovation Games or techniques that you use in your work?

All kinds. Product Box for feature discussion, 20:20 Vision for prioritization, Remember the Future for initial planning. I also frequently use games from the Gamestorming portfolio, like Fishbowl and Plus/Delta. Whenever I have a problem that requires collaboration, I scan both the Innovation Games® and the Gamestorming inventory for inspiration.


 You’re tackling the problem of Broadband connectivity in your community. Can you tell us about that?

In Gloucester, MA, many residents have only one option for Internet service. We’re on an island, and because of our geography, some residents experience fluctuating service levels and very slow upload data transfer speeds, particularly at certain times of day. We also have challenges with our wireless reception due to granite outcroppings, but our biggest concern is economic development. Our fishing industry is struggling, and our unemployment level is higher than the state average. We want to ensure that new businesses interested in establishing themselves in Gloucester have the broadband environment that they need to flourish.

Happily, our city has taken steps in the past several years to improve our levels of broadband service. However, to attract the type of new businesses we want, the type of maritime and marine research business we need to augment our community’s slumping fishing industry, we need to understand the broadband industry and the telecommunications environment much better. We intend to develop a sustainable long-term strategy and infrastructure that will allow us to compete with any other New England region.

On January 25, we held our first in a series of three exploratory meetings for the purpose of engaging and educating the community and enlisting new committee members. We now have six committee members who are passionate about improving our circumstances, and most of whom have technical expertise in this telecommunications. We have also made contact with several of our neighboring communities. It feels like we went from 0 to 60 in just 6 weeks!


Tell us more about how you used Innovation Games.

I decided to use Innovation Games® to engage residents, businesses, schools, and nonprofits in a discussion about our “as is” Internet environment and our imagined “to be” environment. I used a visible agenda and survey to open the workshop, and then progressed to a game of “Sail Boat” (also known as Speed Boat) for data gathering around the issues.  Then we used Cover Story to articulate our vision for the community. We had about 20 residents playing these games, using post-its and flip chart paper at our local library.

I enlisted three of my Agile associates (Gloria Shepardson, Pat Arcady, and Gary Lavine) to act as observers during the games.  After the residents left, the four of us used the game, Empathy Map, to organize the observations they recorded on index cards during play and to generate insights. The output from all of the games used that day created a very usable foundation that I expect we will build on.


How did your fellow residents react to playing Innovation Games? Any surprises?

I asked for feedback and a numerical rating on index cards after the event. The participants rated the event as “good” to “excellent” across the board. That was a relief because I knew I was sticking my neck out using these games. Comments on the index cards included “Great interactive meeting,” and “I wholeheartedly like this dialogue focus. Thanks!” I was also gratified by the emails I received after the event and the number of great folks requesting to sit on this committee.


What’s the next step for Broadband in Gloucester?

We’re just getting started! Broadband is a complex problem that involves many stakeholders, an ever-changing environment, and complex technology. Each member of our new committee is currently working on a different aspect. When we meet as a committee, I’ll continue to use game techniques to facilitate the knowledge share, so that our committee and our community can continue to move forward. I expect that will involve developing municipal or regional plans that will be eligible for economic development grants.

I’d also like to contribute to the national conversation about broadband. Given the January 14 DC US Court of Appeals ruling in favor of Verizon over the FCC regarding Net Neutrality, and the pending acquisition of Time Warner by Comcast, this is currently a hot topic. Providing our American businesses and citizens with sufficient affordable and reliable broadband to be globally competitive requires the involvement of passionate people. It isn’t something that we can afford to be blasé about.

The Mayor of Gloucester provided the platform, and I used Innovation Games® to engage the community in this dialogue. I’d like to use our local experience and, perhaps through the  Innovation Game® Trilicious, to engage the entire nation in the creation of better broadband for all of us.


MEET THE SPEAKER: How to Give Innovation Games® a New Twist with Ant Clay

You’re speaking at the Innovation Games Summit about “The Flip Side of Innovation Games®”. What can attendees expect?
My session is about flipping Innovation Games®, showing how to receive even more value from these great techniques. I will explain the ‘outcome driven’ approach I use in flipping collaborative techniques to better solve challenges I face with my clients.
Attendees can expect to try some flipped games, such as new versions of Speed Boat and Start Your Day, and if there’s time, to flip some Innovation Games® together!

What has been your overall experience with doing work with games?
I’ve been using games for the last three years or more, and the more I use them, the more potential I see and the more excited I get! I use the games predominantly in my SharePoint consulting work–around Vision, Requirements, Governance and User Adoption/Change Management. I also had the chance earlier this year to modify some games and lead a facilitated workshop for a construction company to help them re-imagine their Corporate Social Responsibility Policy (CSR), which was amazing fun.
I love the way that using these techniques really helps you understand the organization, the dynamics and the attendees, as well as delivering clear insights into the problem or solution area. But for me, the main reason this area interests me is the positive experiences of the attendees. They enjoy using these techniques; they are engaged in the process; it feels like meaningful work, and most of all we all have a lot of fun.

What techniques/games do you use most frequently and why?
I would say the two most used games for me are Innovation Games Product Box and Hot Tub for facilitating requirements, or collaboration solutions such as SharePoint; I also extensively use the Gamestorming technique Cover Story for eliciting Project Visions.

Do you have a favorite Innovation Game or technique? Why is it your favorite?
They are all awesome in their own way. I don’t really have a favorite, but my modified Speed Boat activity (come to my session to find out more) is certainly up there as a favorite. It’s such a simple exercise to set-up, although I do think it requires considerable facilitator energy and focus to really gain its true value. Also, this is a favorite because, for me, it consistently delivers huge insights in terms of business requirements, organizational culture, workshop attendee dynamics etc. and gives me a first glimpse as to how to embed change in the organization.

What are you most looking forward to at the Summit?
I’m really looking forward to leading my session and learning lots from the attendees’ input. I am excited to hear stories from both the other speakers and the summit attendees on their use of play and games in business which I think will be of huge value. Of course, I am also looking forward to catching up with other the facilitators that I know or have worked with like Ulf, Jürgen, Jonathan and Luke and of course meeting lots of new people and making new friends and connections.


Meet the speaker: Jurgen de Smet on “Get yourself on the Cover”

Your session at the Innovation Games Summit is called “Get Yourself on the Cover”. What can attendees expect?
They can expect to “learn by doing”, as we will collaboratively create a vision that engages participants to actions. We’ll do this by combining a meeting carousel with a cover story to generate insights and reflect on the outcomes and endless possibilities towards execution.

The summit is bringing together people who are the front lines of using games to do work. What has been your overall experience with doing work with games?
As a team leader and product owner, I’ve been using serious games since 2006. While my career within Agfa Healthcare was booming, I kept using games to engage people around me and get them to work together and have fun. Later on, I also started using games as a way to teach and coach others. Today, I employ games in almost everything I do, for my company, as well as for my customers. Recently, I brought the Budget Games to Belgium (Aalbeke – Kortrijk), where we used games to get citizens engaged with the city budget plans.
Using games in assignments, problem-solving or investigations is, for me, the most appropriate way to get people to collaborate and achieve amazing results. Attendees and customers keep on being surprised about the impact of games and that’s nice. One of the reasons I became an Innovation Games Qualified Instructor is that I want to spread out the message to the world: Game on!

Do you have a favorite Innovation Game or technique? Why is it your favorite?
I have no favorite, as all of them work very well for the context they were developed for. But I like to put a twist on existing games, change or combine them in different ways, or even invent new games, depending on the question and context they’re used in.

What techniques or games do you use most frequently and why?
The difficult question actually. There are so many games I use often. I think it all depends on the question we want to get insights on, the people we are working with, and the constraints set for the event.
As I said, I like to change the games as much as possible for each assignment as this brings out the creative part in me, but I keep following the basic structures of Innovation Games® and Gamestorming. I like to invent new, effective and fun ways to do serious work and this keeps repetitive work (like Agile retrospectives) interesting, engaging and fun. The games I most use are Product Box for visioning purposes in all different kind of contexts, Prune the Product Tree to get more details out and generate deeper insights into visions, strategy, products and such, most likely together with a Buy a Feature for prioritization purposes. Then again 20/20 Vision is the one most used, I guess.

What are you most looking forward to at the Summit? Any particular sessions?
I’m looking forward to hearing stories from others on how they explored the power of games; preferably in domains, I have not been active in (yet). Next, to that, I’m also pleased to catch up with my friends such as Luke, Ant, Jonathan, Oana, Bart, and Ulf. Basically, I’m looking forward to the learning and fun I’ll have over there.


Hail to the Chief (Gaming Officer, that is)

Hail to the Chief (Gaming Officer, that is)

We have a Chief Gaming Officer! This a big deal for us — as anyone who’s read Luke’s blog post on the topic knows. Or really anyone who has ever talked to us — ever. Matt Brown

We’re happy to welcome Matt Brown to the team

— and his hazing involves answering my semi-silly interview questions. But first, about Matt.

He’s spent the past two decades focused on activating play to make our lives happier and more creative. What does that mean? It means he’s worked at companies such as Speck Design (Chief Strategist), Scholastic (SVP), Klutz (President) and Leap Frog (VP of Business Development and VP of the Internet Divsion). He’s also started a few companies, including including Primordial, creator of Zoob, and big BOING, an integrated strategy and development company that partnered with Toys R Us, Nickelodeon, Hasbro, Coca Cola and others to launch or revitalize brands. Prior to all that he clerked for Judge Oliver Seth in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which means he used to be an attorney, but don’t hold that against him. Matt lives in Berkeley, CA with his wife, daughter and 3 dogs.

What’s your favorite Innovation Game?

Product Box is my favorite. Partly because it’s physical. I love seeing and holding the final product. Also, I like how the game is a blend of divergent (come up with products, names, taglines, features) and convergent (pick the top features, a final name, key benefits, etc.).

What makes you smile? 

My daughter’s laugh, my wife’s smile, my dogs rolling around on the grass.

What is your favorite place on Earth?

Anywhere on a beach with crashing waves.

If you could meet any historical figure, who would it be? 


What it the coolest thing you’ve seen or heard lately? 

Heard and seen. You gotta watch this YouTube video Basic Needs–Extreme Happiness. I want to feel that level of joy all the time, but probably won’t. I’m just not willing to walk solo to the South Pole and back.  Brrrrrrr.

Who do you want to play Knowsy (or Innovation Games) with? 

Einstein, Edison, Homer, Socrates, Edgar Allen Poe, Stan Lee, Steve Kirby, Jesus, Ghandi, Mohammed, Confucius, Alexander the Great, Columbus, Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Disney, Douglas Adams, Steve Martin, Rockefeller, Carnegie, Susan B Anthony, Mother Theresa, Joan of Arc, Marie Curie, Katherine Hepburn, Annie Oakley, Amelia Earhart, Florence Nightingale, Georgia O’Keefe, Cleopatra …

or The Tick, The Incredible Hulk, Batman, Ford Prefect, Flaming Carrot, The characters from Firefly

or, my great, great, great grandparents.  I barely have any idea where I come from.

Fun with Focus Groups

From Breaking Barriers to Better Focus Groups 

One of best parts of putting this newsletter together each month is unearthing how Innovation Games are changing how people do work, all over the world. This month we have an interview with Luke Hohmann in, Product Boxes and Meetups in Chicago, and comments on improving focus groups and more …

Collaboration, Innovation & Decision-Making 

Kathleen Goolsby, managing editor of, interviewed CEO & Founder Luke Hohmann recently, covering how the games are applied in market research, collaboration, civic engagement and more. You can read the entire interview here, but first, some highlights.

Games Eliminate Barriers:  Hohmann revealed how online games helped HP involve more than 600 people from around the world and they each had equal voice:  “In the game,” a participant revealed, “I was playing with three people from China, two people from India and three from places scattered around the U.S. It was the first time that we came together in real time, without a phone call,” [which puts people who are not native English-language speakers at a disadvantage]. “And the game structure gave me equal power with the other players.”

Decisions Around Innovation:  “Yahoo! tapped into the games approach for a market research initiative seeking to understand the best way to ensure its Yahoo! Finance home page redesign addressed worldwide users’ needs and wants. We assembled a global team of game facilitators who speak the languages native to each location Yahoo! wanted to research.”


Fun with Focus Groups

Check out Nancy Frishberg’s two-part series on the
Designing Interactions for Fun
Designing Interactions for Fun
importance of Focus Groups and how integrating Innovation Games and other techniques into them can make them even more useful. Using the recent Budget Games for San Jose as an example, Nancy writes, ” The same general techniques can be used to help make decisions about new product features in a corporate setting, and equally well for other decisions where there are too many choices, not all of which require the same amount of resources or effort.


Product Boxes & Landing Pages

Folks in the Chicago-area won’t want to miss this April 1 Meetup on Product Boxes & Landing Pages. (And no this isn’t an April Fools Joke). Hosted by Sue Kim and 8th Light, the meetup features two experiments: Product Box for an early stage startup, and a Landing Page test. Details are here. (And if you go, let us know how the Product Boxes turn out!)

Objet Direct Puts Product Box Into Play

The French love Innovation Games®. Case in point? Our newest partner  Object Direct — our only certified partner in France — which boasts three Innovation Games® Qualified Instructors and Trained Facilitators among its Objet Directemployees. Object Direct has incorporated Innovation Games into its client work, finding (like many other organizations) that the games often improve and enhance agile techniques.

Earlier this year, Object Direct began working with Weleda Laboratories, a global pharmaceutical company with a presence in more than 50 countries. Weleda wanted its e-commerce and online presence revised and restructured and tapped Objet Direct for the project. The Object Direct team would follow agile practices for the Weleda project and started with a “0” sprint to allow Weleda to define and describe the project’s vision document, as well as the product backlog.


Product Box to the Rescue

Object Direct wanted to gain as complete an understanding of Weleda’s needs as possible. They wanted to use a technique that wouldn’t just uncover apparent needs, but unknown or less obvious requirements. Enter Product Box, along with stickers and markers and glitter glue.Aubrey Conseil Product Boxes

During the initial meeting, held using the workshop format, Weleda’s team built Product Boxes illustrating their requirements concerning the orientation and makeup of their future websites. How did it turn out?

“Bravo Innovation Games,” extols Weleda’s E-commerce & Digital Marketing Manager Carrie Mass, “for creating such a useful and enjoyable series of games to support active learning! As new adopters of the Agile methodology, the exercises we’ve experienced so far have made a world of difference in learning [to be Agile].  The games employed to learn and introduce the method have been insightful, engaging and effective.”

Object Direct tells us that using Innovation Games in tandem with Agility is bringing success to not just Weleda, but several other clients, as well. “We want our partnership with Innovation Games to allow other companies in France experience this innovative toolkit for project development, in their native French,” writes Objet Direct’s Cory Casper.

Mais, bien sûr. We couldn’t agree more.



Innovation Games® classes, consulting and services now offered to French companies in a native language.

The Innovation Games® Company is pleased to announce its partnership with Object Direct, a leading IT and business services company in France. Object Direct is the Innovation Games Company’s first French partner and will offer Innovation Games® Certification courses and Innovation Games services to its customers in French. Three Innovation Games courses are scheduled for 2013, taught by Objet Direct’s three Innovation Games Qualified® Instructors, Maxime Bonnet (Lyon), Majorie Melenotte (Grenoble) and Laurence Wolff (Paris).

Object Direct has already begun to see success from this partnership, having integrated Innovation Games into the agile practices used with clients. One recent win is Objet Direct’s work with global pharmaceutical company Weleda Laboratories.

Object Direct wanted to gain as complete an understanding of Weleda’s needs as possible in the initial project kickoff meeting, using a technique that wouldn’t just uncover apparent needs, but unknown or less obvious requirements. They decided to use the Innovation Game Product Box, and had Weleda’s team built Product Boxes illustrating their requirements concerning the orientation and makeup of their future websites.

“Bravo Innovation Games®,” extols Weleda’s E-commerce & Digital Marketing Manager Carrie Mass, “for creating such a useful and enjoyable series of games to support active learning! As new adopters of the Agile methodology, the exercises we’ve experienced so far have made a world of difference in learning [to be Agile]. The games employed to learn and introduce the method have been insightful, engaging and effective. ”

“We’re proud of the success Innovation Games has brought to Weleda and other Objet Direct clients,” said Luke Hohmann, founder, and CEO of The Innovation Games® Company. “This partnership with Object Direct will allow companies across France experience the power of Innovation Games in their native language.”

About The Innovation Games® Company
The Innovation Games® Company is the leading producer of serious games—online and in-person—for business. Innovation Games helps organizations large and small get actionable insights into customer needs and preferences to improve performance, through collaborative play, having worked with such companies as Cisco, Reed Elsevier, Yahoo!, Qualcomm, SAP, Emerson Climate Technologies and more. To learn more about Innovation Games® Online, our online game platform for real-time, distributed collaboration and Knowsy for Sales, our sales enablement game, visit

About Objet Direct
Object Direct advises and supports IS-IT departments with their tool-based projects for specific business processes, from the design phase to the deployment of applications. The technological and methodological solutions for the industrialization and on-demand outsourcing of projects at Objet Direct are created and formalized as part of the consulting and services offered, specializing in innovative technology: Agile, Web 2.0, smartphone, n-tier scalable architectures, cloud computing, SOA, Model Driven Engineering, integrated software factories… Object Direct offers are drawn from the experiences of over 400 engineering projects which implement the best practices by formalizing user needs, user-friendliness, design, development, automated tests, ongoing integration and the deployment of innovating software.

Blue Cross Blue Shield Puts Innovation Games® to Work

Leon Sabarsky’s Scrum team has been using Innovation Games for a while in their work on Claim Automation.The Raleigh, NC-based team at Blue Cross Blue Shield has used Speed Boat for project retrospectives and Prune the Product Tree for backlog prioritization—both common ways agile teams put Innovation Games to work. But recently he introduced the games to the market research team at Blue Cross Blue Shield—with interesting results.

How did you discover Innovation Games?

Word of mouth. I heard about the games from colleagues and through sessions at conferences I attended. I started trying out the games at work, and eventually took the two-day class taught by [IGQI and Enthiosys President] Jason Tanner.


Can you tell me more about how are you using Innovation Games at Blue Cross Blue Shield?

I’m the manager of a Scrum team in Durham, NC. We work on claims automation, and I also serve on the Innovation Committee here at Blue Cross Blue Shield.

We use Innovation Games in our Scrum practice—Speed Boat for retrospectives and Prune the Product Tree for backlog prioritization—but have started using them in other ways as well, such as in our market research work on our insurance products.


How did the market research work come about?

It was Jason Tanner who first suggested we use Innovation Games for market research, instead of just internally with our Scrum team. I bought the book [Innovation Games for Understanding] and invited the market research lead to lunch. After some discussion, we decided to try it.


What was the project?

The target market was college-age consumers, and we wanted to determine what type of insurance products and benefits they would be interested in purchasing—and how much they would be willing to pay. In essence, we wanted them to produce a list of benefits and prioritize which ones were most valuable to them.


How did you structure the event to get those results?
One of the Product Boxes created by the summer interns at Blue Cross Blue Shield.

We recruited 20 of our summer interns as the subjects for the market research project and decided to do two phases in July 2012.

First, to get the benefits, we had the interns build Product Boxes outlining the insurance products they would most be interested in. This was face-to-face, of course. And each intern presented his or her box and then the group voted on the best one.

Second, we used Buy a Feature Online to prioritize the benefits that the interns had developed through their Product Boxes. The interns logged into the game from their different offices on the Blue Cross Blue Shield campus. We had priced the benefits and gave the interns 40% of the total budget to spend on the insurance products they most wanted. We were surprised and pleased with the quality of chat and negotiations during the game. At the end, we got a prioritized list of insurance products that college-age consumers would want to buy.


What did you learn from the games?

Price was an issue for many of them. They are buying insurance for the first time and wanted it to be reasonably priced.

Any surprises?

Yes, we had some unexpected results. The market research team had done a series of focus groups on the same topic and they had got different results than our project using Innovation Games.

Also, during the Buy a Feature game I facilitated, the game didn’t stop when the interns had spent all their money. The chat and negotiation continued, and the interns decided to un-purchase an insurance product to buy one concerning healthy benefits. It took 5 minutes of chatting to decide after I had thought the game was done.

I was impressed with the depth of thinking during the game. The interns were really serious; we thought half would not be engaged since the game was online and they weren’t together, but they surprised us. The game results went beyond what we expected.


Are you planning on using Innovation Games again?

We have a “FedEx Day” coming up in October. We’re inspired by Daniel Pink’s Drive, and want to create and deliver something overnight. Basically, you drop whatever you’re doing for a day and present a product at the end.

Our past “FedEx” Days haven’t been structured, but we’re hoping to use Innovation Games this time to help us get an outcome.We’re still planning, but think we’ll use 3-4 games, maybe Buy a Feature, >Product Box, Speed Boat, and Spider Web.

I truly believe there’s a different dynamic when you get people moving. You get much more robust idea generation with activities like Innovation Games, than sitting down around a conference table. There’s just something about Innovation Games, the moving around and collaborating, that you don’t get from focus groups.

Play Product Box at a Meetup in Geneva

Come join fellow serious gamers for a informal Product Box session at a meetup in Geneva! RSVP here.

Meet the Team: Jason Tanner Offers First Online Innovation Games Class

This month Enthiosys President and Innovation Games® Qualified Instructor Jason Tanner is in the hot seat to tell us about a brand new online Innovation Games® coursethat he’ll be teaching at the end of this month. It’s our first online course, and we’re really excited that Jason has put it together.

Jason Tanner, Qualified Instructor

Jason has 18+ years experience, working for software companies, a telecomm and the Marine Corp. A skilled instructor, his expertise spans agile software product management, product marketing, business planning, partner management, project management and leadership, in addition to deep experience in teaching and using Innovation Games in his work.

You are offering the first online Innovation Games course. (Hurray!) What was your inspiration?

I had several inspirations for this class. First, in promoting previous in-person Innovation Games classes, I received a lot of interest from people who couldn’t attend because of a location conflict. Second, I have been meeting more and more people who struggle with how to engage distributed teams in meaningful, productive ways. IGO really addresses this dilemma. Finally, I wanted to build something new and interesting to sharpen my own skills.

When is the class?

It’s Wednesday, May 30 from 12 PM – 6 PM Eastern time.

How is this class different from the regular in-person Innovation Games class?

Obviously, this class is shorter. More importantly, it goes deep with Innovation Games Online to equip facilitators with the skills and knowledge to start designing and facilitating online games the next day.

What can attendees expect?

Attendees can expect to play a lot of games and to do a lot of their own work ‘playing’ with the IGO platform to design their own games. My goal is to give people an opportunity to plow through some of the design mechanics that I figured out on my own over the past few years. This class challenges attendees and me as the facilitator to cover a lot of material in an engaging format to keep everyone involved. My intent is for people to finish the class with a feeling that the time flew by.

How do they sign up?

Easy. Just sign up here.

Any technical requirements?

The only requirement is that attendees have a current browser. I’ll be using a system that is compatible with most recent browser versions.

OK, I always ask folks what their favorite Innovation Game is. How about you?

My Worst Nightmare generates amazing art work and insights every time I facilitate and play it. Product Box is a close second.

What famous person would you like to play an Innovation Game with?

Coach K, Duke University’s basketball coach. I would love the chance to play Speed Boat with him and his staff to zero in on why they got knocked out of the first round of the NCAA tourney this year. Goal: Identify the specific actions for Duke to win the 2012-13 NCAA championship!