Agile Innovation Games

We here at AgileScout love Innovation Games. We’re all about making work more exciting, engaging, and worthwhile to everyone involved. Work doesn’t have to be a drag. We’ve covered a couple topics on this before:

Thanks to Luke Hohmann we’ve been resourced with some of the top games. We decided to drop them here for all you Agile coaches to utilize. Have fun!

Bang-for-the-Buck

Goal: Prioritize Backlog Items

Bang-for-the-Buck involves collaboration among the product manager and development team to prioritize backlog items. Rather than blindly moving down your agenda without any direction, this game allows you to analyze the costs and benefits of each task, and to organize them in a way that shows you where to begin and in what order to go in. Graph each item against cost and value so you can prioritize your to-do list and start checking items off.

The Game

Prioritize instantly with Bang-for-the-Buck online!

Before the meeting, draw a graph with the “value” of the items on the y-axis and the “cost” of them on the x-axis, organizing each axis as a Fibonacci number. Write the backlog items on sticky notes and post them by the chart. Ask your players to write down any other tasks and to put them along with yours. As a group, take time to discuss where each item belongs on the graph. The product manager should focus on what the “value” position of the task is, while the development team concentrates on the “cost” placement on the x-axis. With multiple players, you can get different perspectives on the aspects of each item. After all the items have been posted, use the chart to get started on your agenda. Follow the graphed items in a clockwise order to optimize value delivery. If one item must be accomplished soon but is too costly to start right away, work together to identify how to move it to the left on the graph.

Why it Works

This game is helpful to prioritize both short-term and long-run tasks. By comparing the value and cost of each item, you can collaborate to alter approaches for the tasks depending on which are most important. The discussion and visualization involved in Bang-for-the-Buck helps you think differently about where to begin working; this not only increases efficiency and productivity, but also allows you to see an impact faster.

SWOT Analysis Game

Goal: Uncover How to Attain Your Desired End State

Often times your end state is not what you desired, as there are always unpredictable obstacles and detours that alter your trek to the finish line. But what if you could identify these interferences before you begin your journey? We have collaborated with the Gamestorming team to bring you this game, based on the well-known SWOT analysis strategy. With this activity, you can work as a team to uncover your strengths and opportunities, as well as your weaknesses and threats that prevent you from attaining your goal.

The Game

Begin by explaining your desired end state to your players. Draw a picture of it and add fun descriptions to create a playful atmosphere. Next, create a chart with four quadrants and provide dot stickers, sticky notes — preferably a different color for each quadrant — and pens to the participants. In the upper left quadrant, write “Strengths.” For 5 – 10 minutes, have players write their ideas on the sticky notes, describing anything that will help excel toward the goal. Repeat this process for each of the other quadrants in the following order:

  • Quadrant 2: Strengths – what you have going for you
  • Quadrant 3: Weaknesses – anything that can be improved upon
  • Quadrant 1: Opportunities – leads that you can focus your energy on
  • Quadrant 4: Threats – obstacles that you must surpass

After everyone has written their ideas, have them post their sticky notes on the respective quadrants. As a team, go through each category and cluster the related ideas together. Have players dot vote with the stickers you have provided to identify the most relevant clusters.

Next, collaborate with the participants to create broader categories for the clusters, such as “Customer Service,” or “Leadership.” As before, dot vote to find the most important categories.
To conclude the game, summarize your findings and work together to identify how you can use the results to your advantage to reach your desired end state. Engage the participants and encourage them to come up with fresh insights.

Why It Works

This game allows you to predict the challenges that stand between the present and your desired end state, as well as see the advantages you have that can be used to overcome these obstacles. Rather than waiting to see what should have been done in hindsight, identify what you must do to attain your goal. With the extensive collaboration involved, blind spots can be uncovered and deeper insights can be presented. The spatial organization will allow you to understand specific factors that will be integral in your journey to your desired end state.

Speed Boat

Goal: Identify What Customers Don’t Like About Your Product or Service

Customers have complaints. And, if you simply ask them to complain, they will. This may be OK, but be careful: the seemingly harmless snowflakes of a few minor problems can quickly become an avalanche of grievances from which you can never recover. I’ve sat through a few of these “let it all hang out and complain about anything sessions,” and just about everyone leaves the room tired, and frustrated. Think “angry mob” and make certain you know where the exits are located.

It doesn’t have to be this way. You can ask your customers what is bothering them if you do it in a way that lets you stay in control of how complaints are stated and discussed. In the process, youíll find fresh new ideas for the changes you can make to address your customer’s most important concerns.

The Game

Draw a boat on a whiteboard or sheet of butcher paper. You’d like the boat to really move fast. Unfortunately, the boat has a few anchors holding it back. The boat is your system, and the features that your customers don’t like are its anchors. Customers write what they don’t like on an anchor. They can also estimate how much faster the boat would go when that anchor was cut. Estimates of speed are really estimates of pain. When customers are finished posting their anchors, review each one, carefully confirming your understanding of what they want to see changed in the system.


This metaphorical game can be altered to suit your needs. For example, Jonathan Clark’s Speed Plane uses an airplane instead of a boat and replaces anchors with luggage. Customizing the game will make it more relatable to your business and can result in more valuable feedback.

Why It Works

While most customers have complaints, few customers are genuinely “against” you or your product. Even if they express extreme frustration, the reality is that they want to succeed in using your product. Giving them a way to express their frustration without letting a group mentality or a single person dominate the discussion is what most customers want. Speed Boat creates a safe environment where they can tell you what is wrong.

Many people don’t feel comfortable expressing their frustrations verbally. Giving them a chance to write things down contributes to the safer process. It also helps give them an opportunity to reflect on what is genuinely most important. The opportunity to reflect is especially important for those customers that just seem to be somewhat unhappy people (you know, the ones who complain a lot about the little details). Asking them to verbalize their issues, especially in writing, motivates them to think about these issues. Many of them will self-identify trivial issues as just that: trivial issues, and, in the process, focus on the truly big issues. Thus, they end up getting to voice their complaints, but they’re put into perspective, and when they get used to THINKING about their complaints, especially quantifying what the impact is, they are more reasonable and contribute more to success ñ theirs and yours.

That said, there are products where the sheer number of seemingly trivial complaints adds up to one truly large complaint: the product or service offering is just not that good. In this case, Speed Boat works because we don’t restrict participants to the size, shape, weight, or number of anchors that they add to the boat.

Video example

Prune the Product Tree

Goal: Shape Your Product to Market Needs

Gardeners prune trees to control their growth. Sometimes the pruning is artistic, and we end up with shrubs shaped like animals or interesting abstract shapes. Much of the time the pruning is designed to build a balanced tree that yields high quality fruit. The process isn’t about ‘cutting,” it is about “shaping.” Use this metaphor to help create the product that your customers desire.

The Game

This "Prune the Product Tree" game is customized for analyzing the benefits of attending a conference.

Start by drawing a very large tree on a whiteboard or printing a tree as a poster. Thick limbs represent major areas of functionality within your system. The edge of the tree – its outermost branches – represents the features available in the current release. Write potential new features on several index cards, ideally shaped as leaves. Ask your customers to place desired features around the tree, defining the next phase of its growth. Do they structure a tree that is growing in a balanced manner? Does one branch – perhaps a core feature of the product – get the bulk of the growth? Does an underutilized aspect of the tree become stronger? We know that the roots of a tree (your support and customer care infrastructure) need to extend at least as far as your canopy. Do yours?

Why It Works

You and your customers both know that features vary in importance. So, we tend to want to put our efforts behind the most important features ñ those features that provide the greatest value to customers. Unfortunately, sometimes this means that we put too little effort behind the features that are needed to complete the product. The Prune The Product Tree game provides your customers with a way to provide input into the decision making process by looking at the set of features that comprise the product in a holistic manner.

Pros/Cons Game

Goal: Organize Your Thoughts to Make Careful Decisions

Making a decision can be an extremely difficult process; often times when thinking of your options, the positive and negative aspects of the choices can get jumbled together, winding a tangled mess of confusion. Fortunately, in 1772, Benjamin Franklin developed the Pros/Cons List: a genius method that cleanly untangles the factors of your options and weighs the good and bad aspects of a choice against each other so you can uncover its potential. As simple as it sounds, this popular technique has been involved in decision-making processes around the world for centuries. With the collaboration of the Gamestorming team, we have created the Pros/Cons Game to help you organize your thoughts and make careful decisions.

The Game

To begin, draw a large t-table with “Pros” on the left side and “Cons” on the right. Describe an issue to your team and give them one of the options that could make the decision. Ask them to write the positive and negative aspects of the choice on sticky notes and to post them on the respective sides of the chart. Once all of the ideas are posted, spend time collaborating with your group, digging deep into the complex entanglement of the problem. As a team, organize the sticky notes by importance, placing the most pressing ideas at the top and the less important notes at the bottom. If you find that a “Pro” idea and a “Con” idea that are equal in importance, take them both off. If there are two pros that equal a con, three cons that equal two pros, etc., take all of them off the chart. This removal process will leave you with an unbalanced table, making the choice’s potential more obvious. Once you have removed all the notes you can, analyze your results and make your decision.

Why It Works

The Pros/Cons Game involves visual organization and critical thinking to aid your decision-making process. By separating the positive and negative aspects of a decision, you can better understand the benefits of your options. Who knows — perhaps if Benjamin Franklin had not created this effective technique, his ideas and decisions would not be available for us to benefit from.

Plus/Delta

Goal: Collect Constructive Criticism to Improve Future Events

People always have ideas about how to improve products, meetings, conferences, etc., but these thoughts are often structured as complaints. With Gamestorming’s Plus/Delta game, you can take this negative feedback and transform it into useful information. This not only creates a positive environment, but also provides you with insight on how to improve your event for the future.

The Game

Get constructive criticism instantly. Play Plus/Delta online!

As facilitator, start the game by drawing a t-chart with a plus sign — representing positive observations — on one side, and a delta symbol — representing changes — on the other. Next, ask your players for positive aspects that should be repeated in the future, and elements that need to be improved for following events. Arrange the ideas in the plus and delta columns, respectively, placing those of higher priority toward the top, and the less critical ones near the bottom. This extra organization will help you keep track of the most important ideas.

Once all of the ideas have been posted, work as a team to analyze the results. How can you apply the criticism to enhance future events? What should you continue to do well? Use this time to learn how you can progress.

Why It Works

Asking for areas of improvement can be dangerous, as it commonly leads to unproductive, discourteous remarks. The Plus/Delta game turns these negative comments into valuable information, and allows you to learn from the past in order to understand what can be improved for the future. Whether concluding a conference or analyzing aspects of a product, this strategy is effective for any business, event, or service.

How-Now-Wow Matrix

Goal: Form Original Ideas to Implement

While creative ideas often form during the brainstorming process of a project, originality can be lost as time goes on. Complicated plans, difficult decisions, and limited resources often force you to resort to used, familiar ideas. This unfortunate phenomenon limits your boundaries, shoving you into the corner of mere potential. To surpass the stagnant stream of stale strategies, you must think outside of the box to generate new, feasible ideas. Ironically, with Gamestorming’s productive game, you will think inside of a box to do so. Use this activity’s visual organization to create original ideas that can be implemented efficiently.

The Game

Create original ideas online now!

On a large poster or white board, draw a 2×2 matrix with “originality” on the x-axis and “feasibility” on the y-axis. Label and color the cells to identify the category of each idea, as seen in the image to the right.

  • How (yellow) – original, difficult to implement

– This represents ideas that are innovative, but not feasible. This area is good for setting future goals.

  • Now (blue) – unoriginal, easy to implement

– This is for used ideas that are familiar and known to work well

  • Wow (green) – original, easy to implement

– This category is for creative ideas that can be executed. Aim to form as many ideas in this category as you can.

Next, put large posters around the room and have your players write their ideas on them. Give 9 colored dot stickers (3 yellow, 3 blue, 3 green) to each person. Throughout the game, players will place the respective colored stickers next to the three ideas that they believe are best for each category. After all the dots have been used, determine which ideas have the most stickers of each color to identify if it is a “How,” “Now,” or “Wow” idea. If one idea has an equal amount of blue and green stickers, it is considered blue. If green = yellow, the idea is green.

Why It Works

Just like how authors suffer from “writer’s block,” it is common for workers to experience creative deficits. Fortunately, by collaborating and graphically arranging ideas, participants can expand their boundaries to let their innovative thoughts flow. Also, the extensive input from the players provides multiple perspectives to alter ideas and to ensure the feasibility of the suggestions. Resist the temptation to resort to overused ideas; play How-Now-Wow Matrix to identify what you can do to make your project a success.

Empathy Map

Goal: Understand What Your Stakeholders Want From Your Business

In an ideal world, you could perfectly understand what the stakeholders in your company want from your product or service. Unfortunately, this is difficult to fully accomplish, as the expectations of those integral to your business are often not apparent until a change has already been made — for better or for worse. With XPLANE’s Empathy Map, you can collaborate with your stakeholders or your own internal team — taking the perspective of your customers or business partners — to strategically analyze the desires and needs of those important to your company, and to uncover ways to improve your product or service.

The Game

Analyze your customers and business partners instantly online!

Begin the game by creating an empathy map on a large white board or poster. Draw the profile of a head with physical features such as eyes, ears, a mouth, and a nose; this will help players identify with the character and project themselves into it to form more accurate ideas. Divide the map into five sections, portraying what the targeted persona sees, thinks/feels, hears, gains, and is challenged by.

Throughout the game, have your players write their ideas about the character’s experiences on sticky notes, which they will then stick onto the respective section of the empathy map. Ask them to look into the mind of the targeted persona and think about the sensory experiences of the character. Consider what the figure is observing from your company. Is it hearing good things from external sources? What does it want to gain from your services? This game works best when players genuinely work to uncover the impactful sensory information your stakeholders process. Project yourself into the persona and empathize with it to understand how you can improve your product or service.

Once the chart is complete, work as a team to analyze your empathy map and to think of how to apply the results to your product.

Why it Works

The Empathy Map is applicable to any business, as it provides insight into key players who are necessary for your company’s success. Learn how to provide a better user experience by viewing the perspective of your stakeholders and identifying how to improve what they see, hear, think, gain, and are challenged by. Through the extensive collaboration and visual organization involved in this game, players are able to form a deeper understanding about what customers and business partners truly want from your company.

Cover Story

Goal: Think Big to Uncover Your Company’s Potential

One of the most effective techniques to recognizing common dreams people have for your company is to ignore all limits and imagine what “could be.” With The Groveís Cover Story game, players can unleash their visions for the company and sprint toward success. During this creative activity, participants imagine a future accomplishment of the company so spectacular that it gets published on the front page of a newspaper. Cover Story uncovers shared goals and can lead to realizing true possibilities that were once unimaginable.

The Game

Click here to play Cover Story instantly!

Start by drawing a large cover story poster for each 5 – 8 person group. Feel free to arrange the chart however you want, but make sure it has the following six components:

  • Cover – states the spectacular success accomplished by the company
  • Headers – reveal what the story is about
  • Sidebars – include parts of the report
  • Quotes - testimonials about the accomplishment from anyone imaginable
  • Images – pictures that support the cover story
  • Brainstorms – used for writing down ideas before starting the activity

After taking 5 minutes for players to silently ponder where they want the company to go, have the team members collaborate with their groups and fill in the components of their charts. This can last 30 – 45 minutes.

Once all the cover stories are complete, give each group 5 – 10 minutes to present their big-picture ideas. As a team, work to recognize any commonalities among the stories and reflect on how these similarities can actually be applied. While some of the stories may seem extravagant, the collective thinking process may uncover real possibilities for your companyís future.

Why it Works

Without a creative outlet, it is easy for companies to get stuck in a mundane slump, not progressing toward its potential. Cover Story allows you to dream of the improbable, which could lead to envisioning what is attainable. By freeing yourself from all restraints, you can release your imagination and think big in order to realize what direction your company should move toward. Play Cover Story to deviate from the road of restrictions and identify your companyís goals.

Impact & Effort Matrix

Goal: Find the Most Efficient Way to Reach Your Goal

There are often multiple routes leading to your goal, but how do you know which one to take? Before starting down a round-about road, take time to reflect on all the possible strategies in order to find the most direct path to your goal. In this game, possible actions are mapped against two factors: the potential impact and the effort required to implement. Play this version of Impact & Effort Matrix, popularized by XPLANE, to get the most effective results without putting in unnecessary work.

The Game

To begin, draw a 2×2 matrix with impact level increasing from bottom to top and effort level increasing from left to right. This will create a different impact-effort combination in each quadrant.

  • High Impact, Low Effort: The best ideas go here!
  • High Impact, High Effort: Further study is likely required.
  • Low Impact, High Effort: Probably best to avoid these.
  • Low Impact, Low Effort: Further study is likely required.

Ask players to write down their ideas for how to reach the desired goal on sticky notes. Then, as each person presents their strategies to the group, have the entire team collaborate to decide where the ideas should be placed on the matrix.

Why it Works

While it is great to know where you are going, it is also critical to understand how to get there. The spatial organization and group collaboration involved in this game helps identify how to optimize the benefits and minimize the costs of reaching your goal. Resist eagerly advancing without thinking of the most efficient path to reach your desired end result, as is may take you on a twisted road of wasted time and low pay-off. Instead, play Impact & Effort Matrix to map out the most effective way to arrive at your objective.

Circles and Soup

Timing

  • 1 hour

Players (5..8 recommended)

  • Project team (manager, director, developers, designers, programmers, etc.)
  • Neutral facilitator recommended

Ingredients

  • Internet access
  • A past project to reflect on

Directions
The goal of this game, introduced by Diana Larsen, is to efficiently form high-quality plans through retrospective analysis by recognizing factors that are within the teamís control. Before identifying what you want to improve, you must first be clear on the dimensions you can regulate and what you need to adapt to. Clicking on the link to the right will take you to an “instant play” game at innovationgames.com. Here, the image will be used as the “game board,” which consists of three concentric circles. Each circle represents a different element of your project:

  • Inner circle: “Team Controls”  – what your team can directly manage
  • Middle circle: “Team Influences”  – persuasive actions that your team can take to move ahead
  • Outer circle: “The Soup” – elements that cannot be changed. This term — explained further by James Shore – refers to the environments we work in and have adapted to. Ideas from the other 2 circles can identify ways to respond to the barriers floating in our “soup.”

You will find an icon of blue squares at the upper left corner of the board. Each square symbolizes an idea, which players describe and drag onto the respective circle.

All edits of square placements and descriptions made by the players can be seen in real time. Communicate throughout the game using the integrated chat facility to get a better understanding of each move.

Key Points
Negative self-evaluating activities often end up emotional and unproductive. Take advantage of this gameís visual organization and extensive collaboration to avoid the blame and hopelessness that cover up ideas for future improvement. By identifying factors your team can control, influence, or cannot change, you can collectively discover how to respond to and overcome various situations. Play Circles and Soup to recognize what you can do to avoid barriers and gain insight on what actions will most effectively enhance your project.

Actions for Retrospectives
Timing:†1 hour

Ingredients:
Internet access

Players (5..8 recommended):
Event leader
Employees / team members or event attendees

The goal of this game, based on Nick Oostvogelís†Actions Centered, is to examine multiple aspects of an event in order to form original ideas on how it can be enhanced in the future. Clicking on this image will start an†ìinstant playî game†at innovationgames.com. Here, this image will be used as the ìgame board,î and there will be five different icons that players can drag onto the chart and describe to capture their ideas.

  • Puzzles: Questions for which you have no answer, represented by a question mark.
  • Risks: Future pitfalls that can endanger the project, represented by a bomb.
  • Appreciations: What you liked during the previous iteration, represented by a smiley face.
  • Wishes: Not improvements, but ideas of your ideal project, represented by a star.

The chart is divided into five quadrants for the five categories of thoughts.

All moves can be seen in real time by each participant, so everyone can collaborate to edit the ideas. Also, you can use the integrated chat facility to encourage the players to expand on their ideas and come up with fresh insights.

Key Points:
This unique strategy involves extensive teamwork and spatial organization, so your group can think differently about retrospectives and brainstorm changes for progress. Also, by writing thoughts down and working together, participants will be more comfortable providing ideas for how to improve the event rather than feeling as if they are criticizing past ideas. Play†Actions for Retrospectives†to reflect on the past in order to advance toward the future.

The Whole Product Game

The Whole Product Game was inspired by Ted Levittís “Whole Product Strategy,” which categorizes products based on customer expectations in order to help companies differentiate their products. Use this online game to discover opportunities to attract and keep customers.

Timing: 1 hour

Ingredients:

  • Online access

Players (5..8 recommended):

  • Product Manager / Product Owner
  • Development Team or Customers

Directions:


The goal of this game is to discover effective ways to differentiate your product from the competition. Clicking on this image will take you to an instant game at innovations.com. You will see this image used as the ìgame boardî and an icon of light bulbs in the upper left corner symbolizing ideas. To add an idea to the board, simply drag it to a region and describe it.

As facilitator, invite customers or your own internal staff, taking the perspective of the customers, to play the game. Players drag the light bulbs to one of the four regions of the game board. The regions represent:

  • Generic Product ñ the fundamental ìthingî that you are marketing
  • Expected Product ñ the minimal conditions customers expect from your product
  • Augmented Product ñ aspects of your product that go beyond customer expectations
  • Potential Product ñ what could be done to your product to attract and keep customers

Players can edit the placement and description of each light bulb, which can be viewed in real time. Use the integrated chat facility to communicate with your players throughout the game to understand the reasoning behind each move.

Key Points:

  • This productive game involves visual organization and critical thinking to gain insight on what can be done to make your product stand out from the competition. Expand your point of view by playing The Whole Product Game to understand what your customers truly want from your product.
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