Thursday, April 2, 2009

Customer Understanding through Innovation Games

Last week I was lucky enough to join a class to learn how to select, plan, facilitate, and post-process Innovation Games.  The event was help at Cooper in San Francisco, by Enthiosys - Luke Hoherman (the author and creator of Innovation games).  Luke has to be one of the smartest and nicest people I have ever had the pleasure to meet, plus he is an amazing instructor and presenter.  

Luke is the CEO of Enthiosys, an Agile product management consulting company.  They are the  leading Agile product management consulting firm - I love this description from their web site - "Business agility is more than building high quality software faster. It’s about creating options, outmaneuvering your competition and creating sustainable profits over time. We help you do this by understanding and collaborating with your markets, letting you effectively bridge the planning gaps between strategy and execution, building the right products and solutions, and capturing maximum value from customers."  I started working with Luke when I was running the Product Management Team at Blue Coat, and was very impressed from the start.

Innovation games are a branch of serious gaming and are designed to help organizations understand what their customers want, need and will pay for. There are twelve games in all, and a rich process for determing the most appropriate game to solve a particular problem.  These games are not limited to any particular industry or technology - Luke has a vision where innovation games can be used to solve problems across all industries, and even within government (more on that later).

We've all been to the typical customer council, where customer listen while you pitch a roadmap and give comments.  Does this really work in drawing out their hidden needs and desires - NO!  Enter Innovation Games - these interactive techniques let your customers and prospects create the products they want. Understand customer needs, identify product functionality, learn how customers interact with your products, and shape your products’ future.

Another aspect here is that if your organization is becoming more agile, then you need to validate with your customers more than once per year - Innovation Games are a way to get rapid validation of ideas and directions, with actionable results to feedback into the process.  Luke has even implemented Innovation Games Online, and currently has already implemented Buy a Feature online - so you can run market research without the typical costs of bringing your customers together in person (important in this economy).

The twelve Innovation Games included here are all described in Luke’s book, and have been used extensively by Enthiosys, clients, and Certified Facilitators all around the world. Importantly, start with research objectives, since Innovation Games are designed to deliver actionable results. 

For instance, if you are exploring core customer needs, you might use Product BoxMe and My ShadowBuy a Feature, or Remember The Future. For details about product functionality and feature preferences, consider Product Box20/20 VisionBuy a Feature or Speed Boat.  Product Box was without a doubt my favorite games, and one that clients always love to play - they start with a blank box, and put together the product they would like to buy and then finish with a presentation. During my course we designed a box for an Internet enabled coffee machine that could be programmed from an iPhone.

You can learn about how customers use products (and services) by playing Spider WebStart Your DayShow And Tell or The Apprentice. Customers can help you shape your product for the future with Prune The Product Tree20/20 VisionBuy a Feature or Remember The Future.

If you want to learn anything else, then buy the book from Amazon - it's really worthwhile.  Or contact Enthiosys about Agile Product Management and Innovation Games. 

Some things I learnt from the course:
  1. Innovation games gives your customers permission to be creative.
  2. There is a lot of preparation for the instructor to consider.
  3. Having enough observers and getting them to record just the facts is critical
  4. Follow the process to pick the right game, or you won't get the needed results.
  5. The average game is around two hours, a speed game is 20 minutes.
  6. The facilitator doesn't control the room, but guides the room.
We had a great group of people in the class, including some industry luminaries, such as Alan Cooper, Jeff Patton and Giovanna Pico.

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