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 SPEAKERS: Jens Otto Lange & Thomas Stegman on Storytelling to Prototype Digital Experiences

You’re speaking at the Innovation Games Summit about Storythinking: Use Storytelling to Prototype Digital Experience. What can attendees expect from your session?
Thomas: Attendees can expect an in-depth interactive experience. They will use stories to prototype products or services and will learn to develop a persona and a story to create a better product.
Jens: I’ll add that we’ll apply Design Methods in a game setting. Attendees can expect fun and interaction!

Can you tell us a little bit more?
Jens: This session will be a simulation. We will involve attendees in creating the solution, to unleash passion and to trigger ideas and thoughts such as: What will my story be? How will this story enhance understanding and reveal hidden details?

Is there anything special about your how you’re using games or the design?
Jens: We will be combining some techniques of Design Thinking and storytelling.
Thomas: We’ll be providing you with the tools to make something great. We will try to allow you to experience something you might have read about before, but experiencing it will allow you to understand in new and maybe even eye-opening ways.

What has been your overall experience with doing work with games?
Jens: Games and groups together work well in a business context. However, one must be aware of the company’s culture and environment, and adapt to it. Some companies are more open and creative than others, so one has to choose techniques according to the company’s atmosphere. What’s so great about these games is how they bring people out of their usual, formal behavior and get people active and engaged, when put into the right environment or space.
Thomas: Games often trigger people to move out of their comfort zone to produce something that could not have been achieved in a regular business setting.

What techniques/games do you use most frequently and why?
Thomas: We use a lot of role play, as it allows for empathy in everyone. Starting the empathy engine in itself is a powerful tool: Understanding emotions of other people. Additionally, playing games brings out the competitiveness in people; everyone wants to win and you can get so much more passion as a result.
Jens: Speed Boat is a game we often use, to locate problem areas that need to be addressed. We also use the Empathy Map to create personas serving as a story’s characters.
Thomas: And storyboards of course!
Jens: Yes, storyboards are an amazing technique. Storyboards tell and illustrate user interactions. They are simple and therefore easy to apply in workshops. When things get too complicated, the people and environment as a whole are losing energy and engagement. It’s all about keeping the passion and spirit alive in the workspace.

What are you most looking forward to at the Summit? Any particular sessions?
Thomas: Everything. I’m looking forward to experience everything the Summit has to offer.
Jens: I’m looking forward to meeting practitioners from totally different aspects of the industry, from software and design to marketing, to see how we can further advance the world of Innovation Games. I’m not focused on any particular session; I’m open to learn something new.


Want to find out more? Check out the IG Summit website or register now.

Speed Boat meets SWOT, Innovation Games & Scrum, ScrumKnowsy and more…

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 reported on Speed Boat, including a mashup with Swot Analysis, details on using Innovation Games in ScrumMaster training, the ScrumKnowsy iPad app, and more… 


Speed Boat meets SWOT

Show me someone in the working world who hasn’t used SWOT Analysis? Raise your hand if you’ve played Speed Boat. Ever mashed the two together?

No, well, Joshua Arnold of has and writes, “I’ve run a few SWOT analysis with senior managers and teams, to help them identify and share strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. What would be great to do is combine the boat metaphor [from Innovation Game’s Speed Boat] and the safe environment — and add to it a bit by identifying both negatives and positives, as well as make more explicit what is inherent to the organization itself and what is beyond their locus of control.”

Arnold’s combined game is covered in detail on his website. Do you have a game mashup to share? Let us know!


Speed Boat Short Takes. 

Arnold wasn’t the only person posting about Speed Boat. Check out these posts as well on how folks are putting the game to work:

Russian Speed Boat

  • The product manager blogger behind writes about how Speed Boat can ease the most uncomfortable and most important part of retrospectives, what went wrong and what went right.
  • David Koss writes about attending an Innovation Games workshop at PaloIT in Paris in April, where he explores how to use Speed Boat to solve organizational problems.


Innovation Games + Scrum = Awesome 

Qualified Instructor and Enthiosys President Jason Tanner recently teamed up with Carlton Nettleton to co-teach a Certified ScrumMaster class. Innovation Games have long been used in the Agile community; the techniques work really well with common agile practices, but it’s still cool to hear about how the games are being put to use.

Changecamp treeIn this post, Carlton details how he and Jason incorporated both online and in-person games into the class, including 20/20 Vision, Prune the Product TreeSpeed BoatBuy a Feature and Knowsy (ScrumKnowsy, of course).

Carlton writes, “The online games are really powerful. During our course, Jason demonstrated how to use the online games for retrospectives, market research and release planning. Seeing the new and interesting ways that Jason had used the online games as a collaboration tool intrigued me.”  Read more about how Carlton and Jason incorporated Innovation Games here.

ScrumKnowsy: iPad or Browser-based? 

ScrumKnowsy is now available as an iPad app, allowing you to play the standalone, personal version withoutScrumKnowsy Personal a wifi connection and discover how your Scrum practice stacks up against such Scrum luminaries as Jeff Sutherland, Jim Coplien, Jens Østergaard and Jeff McKenna.

Want to play online, alone or with your team? Save and export your results as you improve and grow your Scrum practice? Register and play online at

Meaningful Games–Michigan to France

Meaningful Games–Michigan to France

The best part of putting together this newsletter each month is seeing how Innovation Games® are being put to work around the globe, in every industry imaginable. This month we have posts from conferences and meetups in the US and Europe, revealing how Innovation Gamers are putting Budget GamesSpeed BoatRemember the Future and more to work! 

Meaningful Play
Innovation Games Qualified Instructor Andy Simon joined

 Andy Simon
Andy Simon

Every Voice Engaged Ambassador Steve Dodds and Michigan State’s Carrie Heeter to discuss Every Voice Engaged Great Neighborhoods program at the Meaningful Play Conference at Michigan State this fall. The Great Neighborhoods program was designed by Innovation Games’s not-for-profit spin-off, Every Voice Engaged, to help local governments support community and neighborhood growth through the use of serious games. Read Andy’s blog post, and check out Every Voice Engaged for more details on Innovation Games is doing good works.

Buy a Feature — en Francais
There’s no doubt that Innovation Games have take France
Buy a Feature in Paris

by storm, and we couldn’t be more thrilled. (After all, I actually get to put my seven years of French classes to work.) Case in point, the recent Agile Playground event in Paris that featured Buy a Feature as one of two games participants played. Nathaniel Richand, aided by Audrey Pedro and Yannick Grenzinger facilitated the game. The subject was an e-learning platform and the participants–as always–had to collaborate to “purchase” the best possible features. Read more (in French, of course) here.

Speed Boat + Remember the Future
Our friends at ValTech have been using Innovation Games
Valtech Open Space
Speed Boat at Valtech

to great affect in their work. Case in point, this post by Valtech Trainer and Agile Coach Jean Claude Grosjean, entitled “Speed Boat + Remember the Future + Open Space = the Road to Joy“. Jean Claude details how ValTech’s team used both games in an internal standup to define ValTech’s vision of success and how they will get there. Onward!


Software Powered Through Collaborative Play
InfoQ just published the video of Luke Hohmann’s keynote at SDEC 2012 in Winnipeg last October. Luke’s talk centers around his favorite topic, how games power innovation.

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.

Mike DePaoli presents at Agile DevCon West in Vegas

Our Innovation Games Trained Facilitator Mike DePaoli (who works with our integration partner VersionOne) is presenting at Agile Development Conference West in Las Vegas on Wednesday, June 13th 2012. Mike’s talk, entitled Why Continuous Improvement Programs Fail: Can Kaizen and WIP Help? will be featuring the Innovation Game® Speed Boat. We can’t wait to hear his talk. Come check out his talk and say hi! Find out more about Agile DevCon West 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!

Online vs. In-Person Games: How playing them differs

We get a lot of inquiries about the differences between online and in-person games. Quite often, these inquire have some not-so-secret agenda, as when advocates of one or the other forms of play try to convince me that one is clearly superior to the other. Ha! Those questions may be cleverly worded, but they forget that we’ve been playing games for more than 10 years. After writing the book — and then writing the software platforms that power in-person and online games, I’m far too crafty to be fooled by these questions.  However, there are indeed differences between online and in-person games, and this blog post fulfills a tweeted promise to write about those differences. In this post, I cover some of the differences we see when playing online or in-person visual collaboration games. Stay tuned for a second post covering some of the differences in our virtual market games.

We’ll start with the game production and design, and then cover differences in play and facilitation. Finally, I’ll cover how post-processing results differ with online and in-person games.


Game Production

I’ve come to think of game production as a small system of three interlocked phases of planning. The first is situating yourself in the Ideas Into ActionTM framework so that you can be clear on the broad kinds of question you’re going to ask, the goals you’re trying to achieve, or the kinds of puzzles you’re trying to solve. This phase is independent of whether or not you will play online or in-person games. If you’re in the Discover phase, you’re going to choose open-ended games, and if you’re in the Prioritize phase, it is pretty certain you will choose a prioritization game.

The second phase is Detailed Game Design, in which you’ll select and tailor the game(s) you’ll be using. This planning template can help you in both high-level design and detailed design. You can also find inspiration in this blog post, which describes how your goals, your nouns, your verbs and your context will help you choose between online or in-person games.

The last phase is Play-Testing your assumptions. While experienced facilitators often consider this step optional, I always recommend play-testing your games (even, and often most especially, when you’re playing games with internal teams). Play-testing helps you calibrate that the background image and items you’re using are effective for your goals, helps you fine-tune your facilitator scripts and provides a sample of the kind of results you’re likely to acquire. Play-testing is required when you’re producing large numbers of games, as your facilitation team will need to experience the games before playing them with customers.

So, if the high-level planning phases are the same, where do we start to see differences? Let’s start with Detailed Game Design.



Making Banana Pancakes: Detailed Game Design

People who have taken my classes typically hear me refer to the games as “the pancake batter of customer understanding”. Sticking with pancakes for a moment, you can make lots of different pancakes with a few basic variations. Starting with basic batter, you can make banana pancakes by adding bananas, blueberry pancakes by adding blueberries, and apple pancakes by adding apples and some spices. Similarly, Innovation Games like Speed Boat or Prune the Product Tree provide an amazing design palette for gaming.

The Detailed Game Design phase is where you will start dealing with all of the details of the game that you’re producing, much like the distinction of which kind of pancake you’re making.

Online games allow for greater flexibility in the selection of items, in that you can use any 25×25 pixel image in your selection. In-person games are least costly when you’re using items that you can purchase from a store. Apples and leaves from elementary school teacher supply stores are great options. You can also design and print custom items for a considerably higher price.

Using Prune the Product Tree as our example, here are some key areas where online games differ than in-person games.


Differences between Online and In-Person Games

Background Image

The best background images are simple, clearly understood, and typically based on light colors. Hand-drawn images are just fine. Of course, if you need help in creating images, check out our game design services.

  • Online Games

Online images need to be sized for the platform and prepared in advance.

  • In-Person Games

In-person images can be drawn by hand in real-time or poster printed before the game. If poster printing, make sure that you’re using a hi-resolution or vector based image so that it doesn’t look pixelated when printed. Decide up front if you want your images printed in black∓white or color, and estimate how many images you’ll need, as this will affect production costs.


Item Images

Item images need to match the metaphor of the game. So, for Prune the Product Tree, you’ll use items that match the tree you’re creating, like apricots, apples, leaves, or even coconuts. Don’t let your metaphor constrain you, as you can also have some fun with images that don’t perfectly match the metaphor. For both kinds of games we recommend limiting the total number of items available to players in the games.


Initial Items

Visual collaboration games allow for the placement of two kinds of initial items: items that a player cannot move and initial items that can be moved. For example, when using Prune the Product Tree for road mapping, you might have two kinds of roadmap items. One might be regulatory requirements that simply must be done, while the other might be suggested roadmap items. It turns out that handling these scenarios is exactly the same in both games: add the items that can’t be changed directly to the background image and add the items that can be changed as initial items. Remember that any items you add at the start of the game must be explained to your players.


Placement of Items

It is usually important to capture the placement of items in a meaningful way. Not an X-Y coordinate, but something more meaningful, like this apple represents a new feature that we want in a few years vs. this apple represents a feature that we want in the next release.

  • Online Games

Online games have the ability to add layers and regions to the image to know where an item was placed. This is a tremendous advantage when playing large numbers of games, as this makes it easy to post-process the results. To better understand how to add layers and regions to your online games, read this.

  • In-Person Games

In-person games capture the semantics of image placement by printing guides on the background and adding observers to the game session.


Facilitation Scripts

To play your game, your players need an understanding of the goal of the game, the meaning of the background and items, and the rules of play. This information typically comes from your facilitators.

  • Online Games

Online games typically involve many more games, more facilitators, and a more controlled setup. In these games, we recommend preparing a facilitation script and having each of your facilitators introduce this script to the players in the lobby before the game begins. You can see sample facilitation scripts for the Agile Alliance Conference Retrospective and the Scrum Alliance retrospective. For online games, it is also helpful to prepare an overview of your games before the event and email this to your players, along with instructions on how to play. While most of your players won’t read this, you’ll be satisfied that you’ve done all that you can to help your players prepare for the game.

  • In-Person Games

In-person games are typically structured as one or more groups of people who are playing the game at the same time in the same place. For example, you might be producing a Customer Advisory Board meeting where 18 to 24 customers will be playing Prune the Product Tree to provide feedback on the product roadmap. These 18-24 people will be organized into 3 to 4 different teams based on various attributes (e.g., you can group participants by role or by vertical). In this case, the lead facilitator will introduce the game to all participants, and then hand control to the facilitator of each tree. As such, the per-tree facilitators only need a few short bullet points to stay on track.

Now that the games have been designed and introduced, let’s explore some of the differences in how people play online and in-person games.


Differences In How People Play

There are significant differences in how people play games online and in-person games. Since our story started with in-person games, I’ll explore those first.

  • In-person Games

There are two clear patterns for in-person games, depending on how the facilitator frames the preferred interaction model for the players. The first can be called “Discuss first; Move second”, in which the group will discuss any moves before making them, and then, once the agreement is reached, they will make the move. This is common in games where the facilitator puts the group in control. Continuing with our with Prune the Product Tree road mapping example, we’ll typically see that one or two people who are standing closer to the tree will take the lead on discussing items and then moving them. Note that this is not strictly true for every part of the game, and you will, of course, see people add or move items independently.

The second mode, “Move first; Discuss second”, is embodied in games like Speed Boat, where players are asked to silently write their ideas, add them to the game board, and then organize them a bit before the facilitator manages the discussion. This approach is also common in many retrospective games from the Agile community, in which a team generates ideas and then discusses them. Both of these modes are straightforward to implement during in-person games because you can rely on the physical presence of the facilitator and structure of the room to guide interaction. For example, in the “Move first; Discuss second” model of interaction, the facilitator often stands and has the participants stay seated.

  • Online Games

The power of real-time interaction in the online games makes them overwhelming “Move first; Discuss second” interaction models. Specifically, once the game begins, players will add items to the image until they start to run low on items. It is then that the facilitator will start to explore specific items with the group. As a facilitator, you will have to refer to items explicitly, because you can’t rely on the physical structure of the room to capture items.

Facilitators of online games also cannot rely on body language to indicate player state. For example, in an in-person game, a player might nod their head in agreement with another player’s explanation of an item, or they might cross their arms and lean back in their chair in a subtle expression of disagreement. A skilled facilitator will use these physical cues to help them manage the discussions to the most important items. During an online game, facilitators should use both the public and private chat facility of the games to encourage players to express their thoughts.


Differences in Processing Results

The essential activity in processing results is making sense of the items and looking for actionable patterns in the data. This is easier for online games because you can simply download all of the information across all of the games you’ve played in a single Excel spreadsheet [Pro Subscription only]. Skillful use of layers and regions makes this even easier!

In-person games require more work because you have to photograph and transcribe all of the results of in-person games to make post-processing easier. However, there is an undeniable emotional punch to in-person games because the items were created in the “human font“. Over time, of course, this will diminish, as our online games will allow for direct input in increasingly individualized means. For now, though, I have to admit that hand-drawn and hand-written articles pack a lot of information.


What Differences Do You See?

It seems that no matter how much I strive to write a short blog post, I end up writing a long one. I do hope you enjoyed this one and will consider sharing some of your experiences with in-person and online games.

The International Appeal of Visual Collaboration Games

We love our work, especially when it challenges us to think about Innovation Games® in new ways. This post was inspired by a two-day strategic planning meeting that we produced last month for the Adobe Localization team. The event was a notable success, and you can read an interview with three members of the Adobe team (Francis Tsang, Senior Director Globalization at Adobe; Janice Campbell, Sr. International Program Manager 2; and Jean-Francois Vanreusel, Director of Localization) here. In this post, though, I’m going to focus on what Adobe taught me about Localization and discuss some ideas on how you can improve your ability to play games with a global audience. Bonus? Fans of Scott McCloud’s book Understanding Comics (which I love) will see the influence of his work in our games.

Background on the Adobe Event

With more than half of its revenue derived from outside the United States, Adobe has developed an amazing ability to localize its products. From my experience, Adobe’s approach to Localization is just amazing, and it accomplishes many things I didn’t think was even possible (for example, localizing an interface in every sprint). What makes this team extraordinary, however, is that they are simply not content to rest on their laurels. Their desire for dramatic improvement was the motivation for this meeting.

We started planning this event months ago when key members of the Adobe team began reviewing my book as part of their book club. Peter Green, Agile Coach, and Trainer at Adobe systems had previously hired me to help bring the games to Adobe’s Agile development teams, introduced me to the Localization team. We quickly agreed that instead of just reading about the games, the Adobe team would use the games in a two-day strategic planning meeting whose:

… main objective was to develop a common Localization vision and identify short-term and long-term initiatives to progress towards that vision.

Joining us were Innovation Games® Trained Facilitators Peter Green and Deb Colden, who consults extensively on matters of corporate strategy. The planning process was extraordinarily enjoyable, as the Adobe planning team used this project as a way of deeply understanding the games and each phase of the planning. I especially appreciated the team’s focus on assembling the right materials and in recruiting a very helpful helper.

Globalization Is More Than Just Localization

We’ve known for a long time that developing truly global products is more than just localizing the user interface. Certainly, translating strings in fields is an obvious first step. So are developing localized versions of help and technical documentation. And I wrote about localizing such things as installation and log files for enterprise software in my book Beyond Software Architecture.

The Adobe team demonstrated that localization goes much further. They discussed such things as the entire user experience, from advertising and order fulfillment on the website to installation and use of the product. Perhaps more importantly, they discussed how to engage internal and external customers in making continuous improvements to all of these factors, and identified a number of cutting-edge strategies to make this happen. We know that we need to create a similar localized experience for our customers, especially since nearly a third of our sign-ups are from outside the U.S. (And we will.) But today, I want to focus on the international appeal and the globalization/localization of Innovation Games® and Gamestorming Games.

Visual Collaboration Games and Internationalization

Let’s compare and contrast three Instant Play games to explore what makes a visual collaboration game more or less globally accessible. (Note: Clicking on these images will start an instant play game).

Speed Boat SWOT Analysis Pilot

The left-most image is our Innovation Game Speed Boat.  As a pure image of a boat, with no textual labels, it can be used in any culture around the world that understands boating. And while I would expect that different cultures have different styles of boats that they prefer, I suppose that this would work just fine.

The center image is drawn from the SWOT analysis framework. As a well-known strategic analysis framework, I suppose it is acceptable that this game has English labels. But the moment I introduce words, I start to reduce the global appeal of my game.

The right-most image is drawn from the growing collection of public games. And I can’t play it because I can’t read Spanish, though I’m guessing it deals with manufacturing processes. But that’s probably OK, as I’m quite likely not the target market for this game. Unless they want to play this game with people in China.

For a long time, we’ve known that visual game designers need to pick an image that helps players find a solution to the problem they’re trying to solve. This is the power of visual metaphor, and it can range from using a tree to represent the evolutionary growth of a product in Prune the Product Tree to using a stylized face to represent our understanding of a user when playing Empathy Map.

And when you’re playing a game that includes a global audience, like the games we played with the Scrum Alliance, or some of the games we’ve played for the FutureWorks team, you need to ensure that the image is accessible and understandable to the global audience. And a simple way to do this is to avoid text in the image.

Of course, you don’t always have to focus on a globalized image or avoid text. A great example of this is the image that Ryan Peel from Hastings Mutual created when he wanted to understand what people see as the advatages/disadvatages of working with independent insurance agents.


Should Layers and Regions Be Localized?

Of course, the power of our platform is more than just collaborating on an image. The ability to create multidimensional layers and regions on images is what gives our platform such amazing and expressive power (see “How to Make any Doodle or Image a Collaborative Game” and detailed videos on how to do this).

However, in working with Adobe, I realized something quite important: Even if the image is “universal,” the layers and regions are textual. And, in our current platform, these labels are stored in one language. Meaning, if you enter your labels and regions in German, then I’m going to see German — even if I don’t speak German. Likewise, if I create a game with English labels for the layers and regions, all of my players will see English.

I’ve reflected on this quite a bit, and I’m not sure that this is a problem. I’ve played a lot of global games — with as many as eight different countries represented in one online game. In the games I’ve played, one language (usually English) emerges as the “lingua franca” of the players. I’ve discussed this with our several of our facilitators from other countries, and they have pointed out the same thing — one language emerges as the “lingua franca” of the players. This is a natural outcome of the need to collaborate with other players. We may all be using a second or even third language, but until we can find a common language, we can’t communicate. And that common language, when used as the language of the layers and the regions in the game, actually promotes collaboration.


Chats and Shared Language

Our online games provide an online chat facility that allows players to collaborate as they play the game. And while we’ve had some requests to add video and voice capabilities to our games, we’ve also received several emails applauding us for our text-only chat. And while I consider some of the pros/cons of text chatting, you can play an online Pro/Con game and give me your opinion of text-only chatting by playing the Pro/Con game on the right.

Text chatting slows down the play of the game and keeps all players at a similar level of proficiency with the “lingua franca” of the game. Suppose, for example, that you work for SAP as a product manager in a globally distributed product development team and you want to play a “Whole Product Game” to identify changing perceptions of your product. Your native language is German, but since you’re playing with your colleagues from India and America, you choose to play the game in English.

Of course, each of the players playing your game has a “natural advantage” in their native language. But if even a small subset of the players is speaking a different language, everyone suffers. And, while I readily admit that audio and video provide additional information that is critical to communication (tone, inflection, body language and so forth), it is also important to point out that audio and video can intimidate and frustrate the players (for example, it can be hard to hear people, different cultures respond quite differently to visual cues and power distance among players, and the lags in communication can be quite frustrating). In the quest to obtain the best results, these differences are quite important.

Moreover, audio and video are hard to integrate in a way that allows players to privately negotiate during the game, something that we accomplish easily through whispering (a form of person-to-person chatting). And the post-processing of audio/video files is considerably harder.

That said, I’m sure that we’ll be adding audio and video to our games over time. It is natural and inevitable and done correctly, it should enhance the experience and provide yet another option for global gameplay. For now, though, we are pleased that our system provides excellent results for globally distributed teams.

The Global Network of Innovation Games® Trained Facilitators

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that a key strategic advantage that Innovation Games® has over traditional problem-solving and market research techniques is our global network of trained facilitators. We’ve trained consulting facilitators in countries from Korea and South Africa to Germany and Mexico. These remarkable people can help anyone who wishes to leverage the games develop games that fit their local cultures. And we’re happy to help connect you with a facilitation team in another country when you’re trying to produce a global engagement.

Player Appeal Matters More Than International Appeal

The appeal of a visual collaboration game starts with the universal power of a visual image to help people “see” — reason, explore, investigate, examine, study and ultimately solve — problems in new and novel ways. Suppose, for example, that you want to identify ways to improve your sales process by focusing on the buying process of your customers. Inspired by Scott McCloud’s amazing book Understanding Comics (Tundra, 1993), let’s explore three images that you could use for your game (note: only the boat is an instant play game):

Speed Boat Buying Process Home Buying Process

The left-most image is our familiar Speed Boat, whose enduring power is the metaphorical abstraction that it can bring to any process improvement game. It can be easily used to address and buying/selling situation.

The middle image, from Guuui, is less abstract, but still applicable in a large number of purchase scenarios — even though it has English labels.

The final image, from Rey Homes, is very concrete, as it represents the Rey Homes approach to guiding an American home buyer through the home purchase process. And it works great in America, but not so well in Brazil or Belgium, and not at all for buying a Cisco Router.

Ultimately, that’s my point: Innovation Games® online gives you an amazing palette in which to explore what kind of image will engage your audience. And, it is through this engagement that you’ll find the key to unlock the insights and understanding that drive innovation.