Book Review: Innovation Games


Innovation GamesOne of the most fundamental tasks in product management is requirements gathering. Product managers need to speak with target audiences, get a good understanding of their needs, wants and desires and then translate those into the language of requirements that product development teams can interpret and understand.

On one level, requirements gathering can be a rather mundane part of the job. Visit or call customers, prospects and partners, and talk to them about certain topics. Spend time with various people at a customer site and have them show you what they do and how they use your product. Have them tell you what they like and dislike about your product. Copiously take notes and then repeat the process again and again until enough data is collected that patterns can be seen and requirements created. Mundane and repetitive? Yes. Does it have to be this way? No.

Innovation Games, by Luke Hohmann, provides a set of clever tools and engaging activities that Product Managers can use to elicit feedback from users and prospects. The book’s tagline “Creating breakthrough products through collaborative play” nicely sums up the goal.

There are 12 games listed in the book. They are:

  1. Prune the Product Tree
  2. Remember the Future
  3. Spider Web
  4. Product Box
  5. Buy a Feature
  6. Start your Day
  7. Show and Tell
  8. Me and My Shadow
  9. Give them a Hot Tub
  10. The Apprentice
  11. 20/20 Vision
  12. Speed Boat

Each game is described under the following sections:

  • The Game
  • Why it Works
  • Preparing for the Game
    • Materials
  • Playing the Game
  • Processing the Results
  • How can I use <the particular game>

Not all games are applicable in all situations, and they are not intended to be. Me and My Shadow and The Apprentice require you (the Product Manager) to follow the user around or actually do their job in order to gain insights. Not always possible.

Others, such as Prune the Product Tree, Buy a Feature, Speed Boat and Spider Web are best done in group settings with a number of different users. I particularly like the games Remember the Future and Product Box.

Remember the Future asks users to think ahead into the future and answer the question “What will the product have done [at some sufficiently forward time in the future] to make me successful?” One of the arts of requirements gathering is asking the right questions. Remember the Future provides a very simple way of phrasing the question in the context of a necessary solution, versus simply a functionality request, such as “What do you want the product to do?”. The difference is subtle but significant.

Product Box is very different. It asks users to imagine they are selling your product, and they are in charge of creating the product box. They are given blank cardboard boxes, markers and other creative tools and let loose. They can put anything on the box they want, including marketing messages, images, features, pricing, you name it, to make the product as appealing to other users. While this may sound like a bit “out of the box” [sorry couldn’t resist 🙂 ] when compared to more typical requirements gathering techniques, it’s strength lies in the fact that it is driven by the user and their imagination, and not by the Product Manager and their biases or constraints.

Both Remember the Future and Product Box would be great tools to use if you are in the process of trying to define a new product. Instead of the typical pattern of PowerPoint presentation followed by Q&A; a follow up of one of these two activities can really get minds moving.

While not all people may be up to creating a Product Box, or may like being Shadowed, there is enough breadth in the games that appropriate situations can be found for many of them. Overall, what I most like about Innovation Games is that it is a low-risk and engaging way of turning what could be a mundane and repetitive task (for both the Product Manager and the customers) into something different and truly interactive.

If you want to know more about Innovation Games, check out the web site: http://www.innovationgames.com

Also, Luke Hohmann has a blog at http://www.lukehohmann.com

Saeed

[Full Disclosure] While I know Luke personally — I met him about a year ago in California and keep in semi-regular contact with him — that in no way influenced my opinion of the book or the games. Even before meeting Luke or learning of his book, I had successfully used some of these techniques — activities similar to Buy a Feature and 20/20 Vision — with customers. Innovation Games simply helps formalize some of the things we know and do instinctively as Product Managers, and provides a few new tools to help us do our jobs better.

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