Why and How

Innovation Games fun ways to collaborate with your customers to better understand their needs. There are 12 Innovation Games explained here, but below is an overview of what they are, what makes them special, and how to plan your own Innovation Games.

What Are Innovation Games?

Innovation Games are a set of collaborative frameworks that help teams better understand customers and stakeholders. They are used for primary market research into unmet needs, co-creating product and service roadmaps, driving innovation and helping Scrum/Agile teams prioritize roadmaps and conduct retrospectives. Used both in-person and online, they scale from small group use to large numbers of people organized into teams of three to eight people.

What Makes Innovation Games Special

Innovation Games possess several qualities that stand out among the various approaches of qualitative market research. One quality is reflected in their name: Innovation Games. By referring to them as “games of collaborative play,” I am intentionally conditioning your mind to think about the many fun ways you can work with your customers to better understand their needs. This can be contrasted with traditional surveys and focus groups, which are often not designed to be fun and may not include a heavy emphasis on collaboration.
The games themselves, while fun, are more than just play. As detailed in Part Two, each game leverages deep principles of cognitive psychology and organizational behavior to uncover data that is difficult to uncover using traditional market research techniques. As you come to understand the power of these deep principles, your use of the games will improve, and you’ll find yourself able to discover even richer data.
One area you’ll improve through experience is your willingness to put your customer in control and “trust” the process of the game. Innovation Games are not tightly controlled by a facilitator. In fact, a well-facilitated game has exactly the opposite effect; there is a bit of chaotic fun as customers become fully engaged in the game. You’ll know a game is going really well when your customers don’t want to stop playing (drawing their spider webs or creating their product boxes, for instance). This is precisely what you want, for when customers are fully engaged in the task, they won’t want to stop. Neither will you, because it is this deep level of engagement that gets past any barriers to communication and produces the most honest and useful feedback.
Innovation Games are also distinguished from other forms of market research that do not involve the product team in the preparation phase and leave the product team as distant observers during the research. In an Innovation Game, the team is expected to actively participate in preparing for the game (and have fun doing so). During the game, even one that is professionally facilitated by a third party, a cross-functional product team is expected to act as observers who are involved firsthand in gathering data from customers. They see product boxes being created and hear them being sold. They watch product trees take shape and listen to customers explain how they are growing over time. They see complex spider webs of relationships emerge and can explore why these relationships are important to customers. This can be contrasted to other forms of qualitative research in which teams are hidden behind a two-way mirror or are looking through the small lens of a video camera.
Preparing to play the games helps product teams confirm their goals for their offerings and their goals for the market research. Playing the games internally before playing the games with customers helps increase your confidence in the power of the games. This doesn’t mean that the games are complex. Quite the contrary. The games are designed to be simple to explain, simple to play, and rich in results.

Planning Your Innovation Games

Planning your game consists of two parts: a high-level event planning process that is suitable for every game and a game-specific planning process that is unique to each game. This section addresses the high-level event planning process from two perspectives: your customer’s and your internal team’s. Part Two addresses game-specific planning processes in the detailed description of each game. I won’t try to cover every aspect of game or event planning, because planning a successful Innovation Game is a lot like planning other events, and you can easily find resources on the Internet to help you in planning events. Instead, I’ll try to focus on the most essential game-related aspects of a successful event.
Before reading this section, read the sidebar “Using Innovation Games to Plan Your Innovation Game” to plan your event. By using the Innovation Game Remember the Future to help plan your event, you will create a more effective event and you will gain comfort in using Innovation Games.

A Planning Timeline
The easiest way to plan your Innovation Game is to leverage the market research process described earlier by organizing the phases into a timeline, as shown in Figure 1.18. It is helpful to further break down the high-level phases into sub-phases because there is a natural progression to each phase.

Phases of Preparation
It is most convenient to prepare for Innovation Games in phases based on the lead time and activities associated with each phase. For example, determining whom to invite, securing the meeting place, and selecting the game can all take a fair amount of time, so they are included in phase one. Inviting customers and performing all preparation work is part of phase two. Final preparations include double-checking all supplies and making sure your team is ready. The remainder of this section reviews the activities of each phase in greater detail.