Nov 192009

At Scio, we use Innovation Games with our clients in several contexts, from new product definition to ongoing product management. For a new product design, the games help us work with our client team to uncover customer requirements that are still loosely defined, as well as to help our development team understand the key selling points of a product. For ongoing product management, the games help us work with client product managers to come up with new ideas, develop and prioritize their product roadmap and identify issues hampering their success.

Innovation Games are a series of serious games developed by Enthiosys, an Agile Product Management consultancy based in the Silicon Valley. Enthiosys developed these games to drive innovation by facilitating communication between clients, users and the development team in a structured but fun approach. By using a “game” approach, the activities remove personal agendas and psychological barriers that frequently exist when trying to reach alignment between stakeholders. Luke Hohmann, CEO of Enthiosys, has written a book about the games and methods behind them – Innovation Games: Creating Breakthrough Products Through Collaborative Play.

We recently started a project with a new client from the UK to develop a SaaS application for them using SaaSGrid (SaaSGrid is a SaaS Application Server developed by Apprenda). As part of the project kick-off and Product Design phase, three members of the client team spent a week at our Development Center in Mexico including the their product owner, the project manager and a development manager.

The visit was part of Sprint 0 (product definition and design), which is the first phase of our Agile Development process. The visit had five key objectives:

  • Finalize the high-level product requirements.
  • Define the technical architecture.
  • Define the UI approach and look & feel
  • Finalize the project execution plan.
  • Get the development team underway with the certainty that they had an accurate understanding of the project goals, the product key features and the overall vision and expectations of our client.

During this visit we used Innovation Games to reach some of the objectives we had in mind. We used four games:

  1. Product Box – day 1, morning
  2. Start your Day – day 1, afternoon
  3. 20/20 Vision – day 3, afternoon
  4. Remember the Future – day 4, morning

Our client provided their application requirements as part of their development partner selection process and those were used to estimate project scope and provide our price quote. It was understood at the beginning that the requirements were not 100% complete and some ideas about new requirements or the approach to implementing some elements had changed since the  document was written.

We began our games with Product Box. Our aim was to quickly surface the key features (and key selling points) of the product. After reviewing what came out of that game, we discussed in more detail the full set of application requirements, the company goals, and the overall project expectations.  We then followed with a session of Start Your Day. In preparation for this game, we had printed daily, weekly and yearly calendars on full poster-size paper. We played the game for all Personas, and with this activity we wanted to identify patterns of use for each persona.

On the third day, after we worked on defining user stories in greater detail and across all modules, we played 20/20 Vision. We printed all the features (each feature contained one or more user stories) on letter-size paper, and with masking tape, we started to place them on the wall. The client team went through an iterative process of placing features on the wall and moving them up and down, where the features at the top were deemed to provide more value to end users, and the ones at the bottom less value. This exercise helped us prioritize the product backlog. This prioritization, together with technical dependencies, is used to define the sequence of application development for the user stories.

On the final day of the visit, we worked with the client team in the Remember the Future game. The scenario we set for the game was: “The date is exactly three months after the launch of the product, what will the ideal situation look like?”. This brought up expectations about the number of paying customer they would have, the quality and performance of the application, etc. Then we asked, “what will each of our teams have done to make that happen?”. We worked backwards to bring out all the activities and milestones in marketing, development, testing, etc. that will be needed to get to that ideal situation.

Using Innovation Games was very productive for this project.

  • Product Box it helped us see that some of the requirements that we thought were secondary were actually part of the key selling points of the product.
  • In Start your Day we realized that some users will concentrate their usage of the system to specific hours of the day, where they will need to process data in batch modes. This suggested that we needed to design a UI optimized for sequential data capture for those users. Additionally, we discovered that we will have peaks in some batch processes, such as invoicing, at certain times during the month, as well as some reporting that needs to be generated once a year for tax return purposes.
  • 20/20 Vision was useful to prioritize features using end-user value, rather than how cool a feature would be or how attached a member of the client team was to a piece of functionality.
  • Remember the Future helped us see the dependencies between the work that each of us (Scio and Client) has to do to make the project successful, as well as establish a timeline that we will need to adhere to.

When as part of the agenda for the visit, we mentioned that we were going to use “Innovation Games,” our client was of course, curious about the idea. It is easy to imagine a “game” but not necessarily the business value behind it. We explained that the games are strong facilitation techniques that would be fun and productive, so they engaged with enthusiasm and played along happily. The results were great, and at the end of the week we all agreed that we accomplished a lot.

Although it is possible to obtain similar results using other facilitation approaches, using Innovation Games is a more engaging and fun approach to exposing all the different aspects of a product that surface during the games, which would otherwise be missed or discovered too late.

So let’s keep on playing – Serious games that is.

  One Response to “SaaS Case Study: Using Innovation Games for New Products”

  1. I enjoyed seeing how the Innovation Game approached worked in real life with one of your clients. We haven’t attempted this in our shop yet but I plan to give it a shot at some point in the future.

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