Using Innovation Games® to Build a Better Product

by Brad on October 6, 2010

Innovation GamesLast month I had the great privilege to attend the Innovation Games® Master Course taught my Luke Hohmann, author of the book Innovation Games: Creating Breakthrough Products Through Collaborative Play. I was one of several Agile Coaches and Scrum Trainers in attendance, along with product managers and UI/UX designers.  If you’re thinking “I don’t have time for games – I have serious work to get done,” think again. If you must, call them “collaborative product discovery workshops” instead of games, if that will keep those left-brained managers and executives more happy. These are highly effective techniques for engaging customers and stakeholders to discover how to make better products.

Here I describe a few of my favorites of the 12 games described in the book.


Would you like to learn what customers like and don’t like about your product or service? Instead of a solitary survey, bring your stakeholders together and see what happens when they share ideas with each other. Put a drawing of a speedboat on the wall or on a whiteboard, with an anchor below it and motor on the back. On sticky notes, participants write down things they don’t like about your product as “anchors”, and place them under the boat next to the anchor. Next, participants write things they do like – or new features they would like to see – and place them near the motor. As discussions brew among the participants, useful observations and great new ideas will emerge. I actually like a variation on the game using a sail boat instead. (Thanks to Andrea Tomasini for introducing the idea to me.) In sailboat, you still have an anchor, but you use a sail instead of the motor. In addition, I add the boat’s destination as a tropical island in the distance; customers can describe the goals they hope to accomplish with your product.  Between the boat and the island, beware of rocky reefs hidden in the waves; what risks or obstacles stand in the way of reaching the sunny destination? This game is versatile; I’ve also used it for agile retrospectives.

Buy a Feature

This game is simply brilliant. Having a hard time deciding how to prioritize features? Give each feature a cost (based on estimated effort to build, for example) and give your stakeholders play money. Not too much money, though! In fact no one participant will have enough cash to buy a single feature by himself. They’ll have to negotiate with each to decide which features are most important.

Product Box

When you need to decide the vision for your product, this is a fun and engaging way to realize it. Get a blank box the size of a cereal box, and ask each participant to create the box that would make them want to buy your product. The limited real estate on the box forces participants to decide what’s most important to them. You might think your group isn’t creative enough to do this, but you will be surprised how engaged people become, even if they’re not artists. Give them plenty of markers, pens, colored paper, magazine images, glitter, etc. and see what emerges.

The book describes nine more great games, which are a great addition to your toolbox. The Innovation Games® company has also developed online versions of many of the games, including Buy a Feature, allowing distributed groups to play collaboratively.
Ansgar October 20, 2010 at 7:44 am

Great ideas. Thank You!

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