For a while I’ve been buzzing about Luke Hohmann’s innovation games and am looking forward to his new book coming out. Using games, stories and pictures is a great way to get people engaged in workshops and get to the crux of problems. One problem you often get with people sitting around a table is a small number of vocal people contribute loudly, leaving timid bystanders with good stuff to contribute afraid to get involved. Obviously a good facilitator will look to overcome this, but get people in pairs, give them blank cardboard boxes and coloured pens and ask them to produce the packaging for the product they want to develop and you’ve got a great levelller.
These exercises do take time and can really only be done one at a time. In an attempt to fuse together the “product in a box” identifying customer needs and “speedboat” which identifes the anchors that are holding the project back, I’ve used the analogy of a hot air ballon a couple of times to some success. You draw a huge hot air balloon on the wall with ropes teathering it to the ground. You then get participants to put the features that they’d like to see advertised on the balloon. Participants write these down on post-it notes and they are stuck on the balloon. Clearly if all these features were all written across the balloon they would not all fit if sized so they could be read when the balloon flies in the sky. So just like in Formula One where a logo on side of the car will be larger (and more valuable) than the advertisment on the back of the drivers helmet, you then identify those features that must be visible from the ground (high priority) and those that may only be seen on the ground (low priority). That’s the first part of the exercise. The second part is to get participants (again using the post-it notes) to imagine the ropes are project constraints that will stop the baloon flying. In the space of 40 minutes if all goes well you will have driven out the top-of-mind features the participants want the project to deliver (and priortised them) and identifed the top-of-mind risks and issues that particiapants have. And most importantly you should have everybody engaged; with any luck a bit of laughter will be heard on the way. And that can’t be a bad thing in a corporate meeting room.