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Design The Box

Object of Play

Before you begin, focus on the end. In this exercise, teams create the physical “box” that sells their idea—whether that idea will ultimately become a tangible product or not. By imagining the package for their idea, the teams make decisions about important features and other aspects of their vision that are more difficult to articulate.

This game is popular among software developers when setting out to capture the customer’s view of a new application, but its use doesn’t stop there. The game can help facilitate any vision-oriented discussion, and has been used to describe topics ranging from “our future methodology” to “the ideal hire.”

In all cases, the box is a focusing device: it wraps up a lot of otherwise intangible information into a nice physical object, prompting decisions along the way. When teams present or “sell” their boxes to each other, a number of things come to life, including the natural translation of features into benefits. Also, it’s fun to do. The results of the exercise may be simple drawings or an actual box, which may live on well after as a friendly reminder of the big picture.

Number of Players

Although the exercise may be done with a small group, teams working in parallel on different boxes will result in a more robust discussion during the “selling phase.”

Duration of Play

1 hour or more, depending on the number of groups and depth of discussion.

Setup

Although paper and markers will work for drawing a box, don’t hesitate to bring heavier craft supplies to bear. Consider acquiring blank white cardboard boxes from an office supply or mailing store.  Markers, craft paper, stickers, tape and scissors are all worth the investment.

It may help get the group’s creative gears moving by having sample boxes handy.  Cereal boxes, with their free prize offers, bold imagery and nutritional information, are good thought starters. Likewise, plain “store-label” boxes, gift boxes and toy boxes offer a range of voices. A group that is heavily entrenched in the business-as-usual paradigm will benefit the most from having this inspiration at hand.

How to play

The exercise moves through three phases: an introduction, box creation and sharing by “selling.”

Phase One: Fill the Box

Before a group can jump into creating a box, they need to reflect on what could be in it. To get people oriented, consider laying out some building blocks:

  • Possible names of the idea
  • Possible customers, end users, or buyers
  • Possible features, functions, or other important defining details.

This may be familiar ground, or it may be entirely new to the group. They key in setting up the exercise is to give teams “just enough” information to feel comfortable starting.

Phase Two: Make the Box

Give the teams a set amount of time, 30 minutes or more, to create the box for their idea.  Ask them to imagine coming across the box on a retail shelf, shrink-wrapped and ready for sale. In designing the box, teams may be helped by a few of these prompts:

  • What’s it called?
  • Who’s it for?
  • What’s its tagline or slogan?
  • What are its most compelling features? Benefits?
  • What imagery would make it stand out to you?

Teams may self-organize naturally; most participants will want to create their own box regardless of how they’re arranged. Make sure you have ample supplies for them to do so, and make sure they know that there is no wrong way to create their box.

During the game, there may be questions from medicine or about drugs, you cannot use the description for drugs, this is against the rules.

Phase Three: Sell the Box

Each team or individual should be offered the chance to stand up and “sell” their boxes back to the group. It may be worthwhile to keep a timer for these stand-up presentations, and consider offering a prize to the team that does the best job “selling” their box back to the group.

Look for a naturally occurring breakthrough as they present back their boxes. People put features on the box, but when they sell them, they translate those features into benefits.  Listen for the phrases “so that” or “because,” which bridge otherwise mechanical features into living benefits.

The exercise works well as an open-ended, divergent process, but may be run so that the teams converge on an agreed-upon, shared box. If agreement and alignment is a desired outcome of the exercise, note the differences and similarities in how each team interpreted their box. Build on the common ground captured in the similarities, and isolate differences for discussion. Consider running a second round, this time incorporating these agreements into a final shared box.

In any case, if there is a prize to be awarded for the best “box seller,” make sure it’s the teams that cast the votes. And have enough prizes so that if the box was created by a team everyone on the team will have a prize.

Strategy

Keep the boxes and display them in a prominent place. These may be more valuable (and visible) artifacts than any other documentation that comes out of the exercise. It may also be beneficial to record the presentations the teams give around their boxes, if it is not disruptive to the flow of the group.

The core act of “designing the box” may be altered to work for different contexts and participants.

This exercise goes by many names, and there are a number of good sources to look to for its variations. This version is based on and adapted from the game Product Box in Luke Hohmann’s book, Innovation Games: Creating Breakthrough Products Through Collaborative Play. Other sources point to Jim Highsmith of the Cutter Consortium, and to Bill Shackelford of Shackelford & Associates with the origination of the concept.

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“Design games” by Donna Spencer

Information Architect and Interaction Designer Donna Spencer practices knowledge games as part of her work. She calls them design games, which she describes as having these four essential characteristics:

1. They are fun, involving play to promote creativity.

2. They are hands-on, about making ideas real, not just talking about them.

3. They are useful, as opposed to the dreaded team-building exercise.

4. They are structured: they have goals and are planned so the goal is met.

Here’s a list of Donna’s design games:

The 4 C’s is a game that breaks down a problem into four quadrants: Components, Characteristics, Challenges and Characters.

Card sorting is a method for breaking down information into modular units and organizing the units into groups and subgroups.

Design slam is a way to quickly generate design ideas, and improve team dynamics, by breaking a group into small design teams.

Design the box is a game for thinking through features and benefits of any product or service. Design the homepage is a variation on “Design the box” to identify features and design ideas for a website or web application.

Divide the dollar is a game for apportioning features or resources based on value. It has some similar dynamics to Aaron Williamson’s Scenario Slider.

Freelisting is a method for quickly generating lists on a topic or category.

Idea Cards is a game for generating new thinking. It reminds me of Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies card deck, which is also now available as an excellent iPhone app.

Reverse it! is a game that asks teams to solve the opposite problem as a way to finding novel solutions.

Role play is a way to work through and experience scenarios.

Scavenger hunt is a game for exploring the usability of a system or web site, where people are given a list of features or other elements to find in a limited time.

Here’s the full list of Donna’s games, with descriptions and a link to the site for more information.

What do you think? Have you tried any of these games, or something similar? What kinds of game-like practices have you employed in your work?

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Origins of Games

Gamestorming makes vivid for me the culture in which I wish to live.  It’s a culture which meets us where we are, which encourages us to stretch and grow, just a bit at a time, with every game we play.  Each game has an object of play, and so we can feel safe that we know why we’re playing it.  We can play games that are tried and true, we can adapt them and combine them, and we can create entirely new games, as needed.

In my own words, it’s a culture of the poor-in-spirit who want to take many small leaps of faith (as in I’d like to check this out) rather than just one big one (as in Trust me!)  Gamestorming makes real my belief that every way of figuring things out can be shared as a game.  I’d love to know, apply and share a directory of these many ways in math, science, engineering, medicine, finance, law, ethics, philosophy, theater, art, music, architecture, agriculture, homemaking and many other fields. Happily, Gamestorming is an inviting community, and for me, a logical place from which to reach out to other practices and appreciate them.

And so I learned of Dave Snowden and the Cognitive Edge research network focused on sensemaking.  They develop and share a set of methods, some of which, like Ritual Dissent, are very much games in the Gamestorming sense.  I believe that others, like the Cynefin framework, make for advanced games, which take some time to learn. I engaged Dave by way of Twitter. He tweeted: Give me a reference to gamestorming and I will happily take a look.  The best summary that I could find was the Amazon review, which reproduces the back cover.  So I thought a good project would be to create a Wikipedia article on Gamestorming.

Wikipedia’s guidelines for inclusion don’t allow articles to be created for neologisms.  A subject most be notable.  So I included academic references to Gamestorming, such as Jon H.Pittman’s syllabus for Design as Competitive Strategy, Christa Avampato’s use of Gamestorming in her social media marketing class and Franc Ponti’s talk on Trends in innovation for restless people. I submitted my article for review by Wikipedia editors.  Within an hour or so, they put it up: the Gamestorming article.

I include below the references to the origins of the many games.  The Wikipedia editors took them out of the article.  That’s unfortunate because the Gamestorming authors took care to credit the people who created, popularized or inspired the games.  Some of the games have roots way back:

Since the 1970s, notably in Silicon Valley, new games are contributing to a culture of facilitating creativity:

  • 4 Cs is based on a game by Matthew Richter in the March 2004 publication of Thiagi GameLetter.
  • Anti-Problem is based on Reverse It from Donna Spencer’s design games website, http://www.designgames.com.au
  • Brainwriting is credited to Michael Michailko’s Thinkertoys and also Horst Geschke and associates at the Batelle Institute in Frankfurt, Germany, and also related to 6-3-5 Brainwriting developed by Bernd Rohrbach.
  • Bodystorming was coined by Colin Burns at CHI’94 in Boston, Massachusetts. See: Bodystorming.
  • Business Model Canvas was designed by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur, and featured in their book, Business Model Generation.
  • Campfire was inspired by Tell Me A Story: Narrative and Intelligence (Rethinking Theory) by Roger Schank and Gary Saul Morson.
  • Customer, Employee, Shareholder is based on the Stakeholder Framework developed by Max Clarkson in A Stakeholder Framework for Analyzing and Evaluating Corporate Social Performance in the Academy of Management Review (1995).
  • Design the Box is attributed, independently, to Luke Hohmann, Jim Highsmith and Bill Schackelford.
  • Context map, Cover Story, History Map, Visual Agenda and The Graphic Gameplan are credited to The Grove Consultants International.
  • Fishbowl is based on ideas from Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making by Sam Kaner et al.
  • Force Field Analysis is based on Kurt Lewin’s framework Force Field Analysis.
  • Graphic Jam is inspired by Leslie Salmon-Zhu of International Forum for Visual Practitioners.
  • Help Me Understand is adapted from Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision Making by Sam Kaner and inspired by Five W’s and H in Techniques of Structured Problem Solving, Second Edition by A.B.VanGundy, Jr.
  • Heuristic Ideation Technology is documented by Edward Tauber in his 1972 paper HIT:Heuristic Ideation Technique, A Systematic Procedure for New Product Search.
  • Image-ination is based on Picture This! adapted from the Visual Icebreaker Kit.
  • Make a World is inspired by Ed Emberley’s book.
  • Open Space was invented by Harrison Owen, author of Open Space Technology: A User’s Guide. See: Open Space.
  • Pecha Kucha / Ignite, first held in Tokyo in 2003, was devised by Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham of Klein Dytham architecture. See: Pecha Kucha.
  • Post-Up is based on exercises in Rapid Problem-Solving with Post-it Notes by David Straker.
  • The Pitch and Value Map are by Sarah Rink.
  • Red:Green Cards are by Jerry Michalski.
  • Speedboat, 20/20 Vision and Prune the Future are based on Luke Hohmann’s innovation games in his book Innovation Games: Creating Breakthrough Products Through Collaborative Play.
  • Talking Chips was inspired by the email program Attent by Byron Reeves.
  • Wizard of Oz was pioneered in the 1970’s in the development of the airport kiosk and IBM’s listening typewriter.
  • The World Cafe as practiced at The World Cafe.
  • Dave Gray, Sunni Brown and especially, James Macanufo contributed many new games to the Gamestorming book.

Please, let’s remember all who have created games. They are our points of departure for Gamestorming as a culture.

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Facilitation Advice From the Gamestorming Community

an overflowing inbox, full of your advice

On May 4th we asked for your help: to share wisdom with students preparing to facilitate their first workshop. Your response flooded our inbox; it was reflective, generous, vulnerable and helpful. Thank you scrum masters, designers, authors, consultants, coaches, teachers, students and Gamestormers all over the globe.

Common themes:

Prepare to improvise Write your word-for-word script, rehearse even the jokes but prepare to throw it all out as you walk into the room.

Clarify your role As the facilitator you are not responsible for the answers, only to shape the journey on the way to their discovery.

Establish your emotional state The room will follow your cues – what do you need them to be?

Set the tone Be thoughtful with your first activity, it is the foundation for the rest of the workshop.

Connect with the workshoppers Collective and individual connection will energize the room and put you in tune with the path you’ll need to follow.

But read for yourself.

We’ve credited sources where possible.

Be thoroughly prepared and be fully prepared and willing to let go of all your plans and preparations to go with whatever happens and is needed at the time. Materials and preparations are a back up plan, follow your intuïtion and look for what the group needs at that specific moment; what are they not doing by themselves, what is the next step they are not taking. Focus your efforts there.

-Gamestormer

Remember to create personal connection and learn to listen more intently to voice, not only words. Moderate activities to Energy levels constantly

-Gamestormer

Prepare before you get into the room, understand the purpose and who will be there; how do you support everyone working towards that purpose? Remember you are primarily there to support the achievement of the purpose and not delivering content. Therefore, focus on how to make the most of everyone’s contributions and how to keep them engaged with it – vary the activities to support different ways of working (eg. solitary vs collaborative). Also, if you need to produce a report/findings make sure the participants are producing things you can draw on directly afterwards eg. prioritisation matrix or roadmap.

Claire Agnew

Set up the session with a clear centre line. Know your stuff (practice, practice, practice) and gain agreement up front to keep bringing people back to centre when they stray – if you have a clear centre line to draw people back to they will appreciate the level of productivity you achieve.

-Gamestormer

1. Be familiar with the virtual platform that you are using, be it Zoom, Google Meet, WEbecs etc.
2. Be mindful of your virtual presence. Tone (speak clearly, varying your tone and at a moderate speed), body language (dressing , do not move around too much as it is distracting), engaged by looking at the camera hole.
3. Enlist a “co-host” to help you to navigate and take care of other engagement activities with audience. For e.g. polling, look at Chat messages. This will help the main facilitator to better focus on delivering their messages.
4. Add interactive activities such as poll, breakout room for discussions, type their views in chat box.
5. Practice, practice and practice, to build confidence.

-CL Goh

Relax, anything you add to the meeting/workshop/event is better than it would have been without a facilitator. Everything is oops of learning, and we all get better through that experience. But in the end, everything we do makes things a little better and a little more likely to have good results.

-Gamestormer

Facilitation is about designing, creating, and holding a container for the participants to fill up with great ideas and outcomes. Design a session that has just enough structure for them to stay on purpose but loose enough that they can have fun getting there.

-Steve Silbert

The first time I was put in charge of facilitating a project, I remember feeling the need to grasp the opportunity, having to show all that I know. It was only later that I realized that it is important to really grasp the situation, talk to the others involved, and make use of what THEY know before passing any of my own judgment.

-Johannes Neukamm

1) Co-create and agree on-line etiquette with the group. This includes talking order. One of many ideas that sticks with me is”participants talk once until everyone has had an opportunity to contribute”
2) all participants use headphones to cut out amplified background noise
3) create a hand-drawn frame and place it around your laptop camera…. this is to encourage you to focus on the frame when talking to give the impression of looking at fellow participants to “connect“

-Gamestormer

Start with an authentic check-in to create the social foundation to be productive and innovative together. all goes well when the team is united more deeply (than how’s the weather and what’s your name). even if things go wrong they all pull together to find a solution. And check-out at the end, even if it is a thumbs up or down, or a one word checkout. so people feel complete, util you meet again! tips for checkin in here http://www.thecircleway.net/circle-way-guidelines

-Sandra Otto

keep the final objectives in mind – not your beautifully crafted session plans. Sometimes everything runs as you expect, but more often people head off in new directions. Be ready to follow them down those rabbit holes by focusing on the objectives, not the methods you think you need to get to your objectives. You might find yourself in Wonderland!

-Katie Streten

Have a plan. Be sure what you want to achieve and especially take your time for ice-breaking in the beginning. Have an activity planned for the welcome and ice-breaking according to the audience age. A good start will help you through later struggles. And to decrease nervousness: breath. Before you go into the room, breath calmly.

-Gamestormer

Set the tone early. The opening exercise needs to make it clear that it is a safe space to be visionary and to be wrong. I sometimes ask the room “What’s one thing you believe that no one else agrees with?” Or “If you could wave a magic wand and overcome one character flaw, what would it be?”

-Greg Larkin

Ask a lot of questions

-Gamestormer

Imagine that you need to make the most of the time that people are spending with you. Prepare for each session within the time block, knowing you can change the plan on the spot. Think of props, food, timing, drinks, breaks and work very carefully on planning the time blocks. Once you have it all mapped out you can change as you go along depending on the expected outcomes and what is happening in the moment.

-Alison

Know your stuff, love your stuff and be yourself. (If you know what you’re talking about and care about the subject matter, care about others learning it, then all that’s left is to be yourself – that’s what will get the material across better. Oh, and, tell stories. Stories make your message accessible 🙂

-Vikee Rayner

The facilitator isn’t a trainer, not a teller, nor a seller of information. Get to know your participants (not audience) and empathize as far as possible. In facilitation content isn’t king as it is in training. Empathy is king. So, in preparing for a facilitative session I would strongly recommend as careful a study of the participants as possible — their ages, backgrounds, preferences, learning styles, whatever you can lay your hands on.

-Leslie D’Gama

You are working for the group, you are there to facilitate people, to help them and it’s not about you. Try to make a connection between you and the group since they can help you too. Let they to help you and they will appreciate you for it.

-Silvia Alba

Remember the the 80/20 rule. 80 percent prep, 20 percent running the actual event.
Make yourself a script, prepare your handouts/materials well advance, have your slides done, and then practice! Do a trial run through with colleagues. If you’re facilitating with someone else, you must practice together.
If you do all this, by the time you go to do it live, you’ll feel much more comfortable. All the prep, means you’ll be able to handle a curveball (and there always is one) and you’ll feel and sound natural because it’s not the first time you’re running it.

-Melinda Miller

Focus on the groups needs, not your own

-Gamestormer

I always prepare a detailed time-boxed slide, with everything written out – knowing that everything has been planned and accounted for gives me the freedom to really focus on my participants and making sure the workshop output is all that it can be. I also recommend blocking time in your calendar in the days following the workshop, to ensure everything is captured and circulated back. Last tip – facilitating a longer activity can be surprisingly exhausting. Plan ahead for some downtime so that you can recharge.

-Genevieve Metropolis

From professor Langlois of the Université du Québec, in his LEADEX workshops: Your job (as leader, or facilitator) is to create a positive, memorable experience for those involved. I learned this in 2004 and it has been a validation of my approach; since it has become my mantra.

Facilitation is not about me the facilitator, but about the participants.

-assume you are with friends

-ask open ended questions

-mirror what you understood and ask if it’s accurate and if there’s more

-be genuine and open, otherwise you come across as pushing an agenda

-be complicit, like this is an elite clique (smile with a twinkle in your eye)

-use humor Facilitation is not about me the facilitator, but about the participants.

-assume you are with friends

-ask open ended questions

-mirror what you understood and ask if it’s accurate and if there’s more

-be genuine and open, otherwise you come across as pushing an agenda

-be complicit, like this is an elite clique (smile with a twinkle in your eye)

-use humor

Another foundational quote, from Stephen Haines of San Diego’s Haines Centre for Strategic Management: «People will support what they help build».

Facilitation is a powerful way to get people involved in building a future state.

-Gamestormer

Level the playing field. Whenever I facilitate, I make sure that I get this message across at the start, that I am one among them playing the role of facilitator not instructor. By doing this, you set the expectations at the right level both for you and for the audience.

-Gamestormer

Besides a great design that you have co -created with key sponsor and maybe participants too, set intentions of how you want to be experienced. I often say to myself that I will be an ocean of love. This often works for me and I usually add one or two intentions based on what I assess the group will respond to and benefit from to bring their best most hopeful, creative selves. And, importantly, no matter how busy I am with prep I greet people as they enter, and “R before T” put relationship before task. A few welcoming words and a question to bring about exchange are more valuable than can be expressed.

-Michele Berry

Pause for 5 seconds after you ask a question to allow people to “hear what you said, process what you said, come up with a response, articulate their response”. I literally count to five in my head to give people time to process. Second, is a mindset. You are not responsible for the outcome… your job is to focus on the process. Similar to an umpire of a baseball game. Keep the participants focused on the rules/process. The game is there’s to own the outcomes.

-Gamestormer

People are going to share so many interesting ideas on content, templates, games… logistics are a lot less sexy… and getting logistics right will make or break a workshop. If you get it right, they won’t notice how well planned it is, but if you get it wrong your reputation will suffer no matter how good the content is. So here are thoughts on the practicalities.

+ Try to figure out the space (real or virtual) first. Where will you pin things, where will you do breakouts, how will you bring people back.

+ Make sure you build in time contingencies, things usually take longer than you think they will. Even getting people into and out of break-out groups takes time. You may feel pressure to squeeze more in, but the quality will suffer if you don’t give people enough time to work through ideas, have disagreements, work through disagreements etc

+ Pre-plan how you will do break-outs either using a pre-planned list or a game eg line people up in order of their birthdays & divide the line into 2, 4 etc.. Don’t tell people to organise themselves or it gets cliquey or awkward.

+ Keep lots of pace changes, some fast exercises, some slow. some digital presentation & some analogue, some sit down exercises, some standing. It keeps people alert

+ Snacks. At the start of a workshop lots of great snacks set the scene & get people excited for the day (especially important if you have people who would prefer to be somewhere else). Keep the snacks going throughout to keep energy up. If virtual, get people to pre-organise their snacks and you could even use this as a fun warm-up.

+ Don’t skimp on warm-ups and try to gradually use them to encourage people to open up and be a little bit vulnerable. Silly stuff is good. Warm-ups may seem a waste or precious time, but they build the rapport necessary to create a safe space for non-judgemental creativity.

+ Music can help to keep up the energy during break-outs and signal when time is up

+ Lay out a master plan of how the workshop will run (details are not necessary) at the start. If people have a sense of what will be expected they will stay focussed.

+ Make sure you have all the kit you need (boards, sticky notes, tech back-up plans etc. Also important is thinking about what printouts you need eg templates, reference material etc. And have spares.

+ Have a welcome plan, especially if attendees don’t know each other. They won’t all arrive at the same time, so think about what is happening in the space between the first person arriving and starting the workshop

+ Be flexible… things never quite go to plan, so you may need to change things up as you go, that’s pretty normal, don’t be hard on yourself.

-Gamestormer

Prepare
+ Review the list for facilitating (assume your professor has given these, if not find a list)
+ Develop a list of probing and follow-up questions
+ Research info on audience
+ Prepare an opening that is a story or questions to pique curiosity

Onsite
+ Start on time even if the audience is not ready
+ Focus on the audience and supporting their ability to connect with each other and share ideas; walk around and introduce yourself before the session starts
+ Watch your energy level – and smile
+ Walk the room; if there are slides go to back when they are being used – your role is a guide on the side not a sage on the stage
+ When there is a question, re-frame it and throw it back to the audience – and if possible, to those who are not speaking
+ Watch the time and make sure you leave time for the ending
+ Have a strong summary statement that reflects what happened during the session
+ Provide a call to action at the end
+ Thank the audience for engaging

PS
If there is work time for the group during the session remember you are still facilitating and paying attention to their tasks and the time; move from group to group; capture good ideas to share; listen to their discussion and help if they are off track; continue to monitor time; and, DO NOT fiddle with your phone or stand in the corner and talk to other facilitators. Once the group has reconvened, share what your saw and heard.

-Gamestormer

It’s about them; not about you. Listen intently and learn the different types of questions to ask to keep a group moving. Where they go is up to them; not up to you. Emergence is a very exciting property of good facilitation.

-Gamestormer

I’d say they could observe the experience as they lead it and take cues from the group – to see where they can improve next time and where the group is suggesting what works and what doesn’t.

-Mike Rohde

Know yourself thoroughly , ask yourself why you are in facilitation. Knowing this, enjoy yourself, equipping yourself with the necessary knowledge , trends, state of the art practices and co explore with fellow practitioners.
Do off line facilitation work shops with your friends , community and known circles, to get the feel.
Be thorough with tools, technology and logistics .
Reflect on the sessions ,feedback and make improvements .

Don’t worry how people react or if they don’t want to follow your instructions. It is mainly a sign of their emotional state of themselves, not something because of you.

-Gamestormer

Team with a co-facilitator. Facilitation can be an endurance sport. There may be a question you are trying to answer, but no matter how many ways you phrase it, you can’t get a particular individual to understand. Another facilitator, with different experiences can calmly come in and offer a different perspective that might click for that individual. It is also very helpful to have someone who can help with logistics, if something needs to be addressed when your attention needs to be elsewhere.

-Gamestormer

Have a game plan and even have a back up in case things go belly up. And then when you execute it, own it. Even if you have to pull some “fake” confidence out to feel like you pulled it off. How do you get fake confidence? Practice your introduction in a mirror before hand. Be an actor/actress. There is truth to fake it until you make it that I have even put into play as a librarian.

Remember you will build with each facilitation experience you give so your “fake” confidence will grow into true confidence with experience behind it.

-Michelle Boisvenue-Fox

Embrace imperfection

-Gamestormer

Come with a plan. Rehearse that plan. You can even create a spreadsheet created with your facilitation plan detailed down to the minute.

Then throw that plan out the window.

Be present.

Respond to the room and let the facilitation evolve as both the people in the room and you gain more clarity on the ideal outcome of the session.

Aim to conclude with a consensus of next action

-Adam Kreek

Be transparent when trying something new to you. The group doesn’t have to know everything is new to you… just say, “I’d really like to try xyz with this group…”

Be quiet sometimes. As a new facilitator, I told stories and got chatty to cover my nerves. With feedback from video and colleagues, I have learned to breathe instead.

When something goes wrong, move on. Things happen – technology, typos, skipped steps in an activity – just acknowledge and move forward. People will remember what you spend time on and what is uncomfortable, so apologizing at length could overshadow the good stuff.

-Gamestormer

It’s important they understand to not try to be the smartest person in the room, but instead, ask the smartest questions :wink:. Have a bunch of questions mentally (or physically) ready. And if ever they ‘seize up’ and don’t know what to do, use those questions. Like: What’s the most important thing we want to get out of this meeting? What would it take to finish this meeting early? (that’s a cheeky one, I like that one). Is this the right thing to be discussing now? If I was the boss/main stakeholder/team/anyone else you need to talk to after this, what’s the main outcome of this that you tell me? How would you summarize this discussion as a tweet?

-Ben Crothers

Over prepare. Conduct full-dress rehearsals with all the accoutrements so you create in yourself a ‘muscle memory’ that automatically flows through facilitation. A foundation of preparation minimizes surprises, allows you to gracefully respond when they arise and return to the facilitation plan.

-Gamestormer

I think they need to be prepared: agenda, activities and materials in advance, they need to dominate instructions and repeat instructions in a clear and simple manner. They need to take time to define key messages they want to leave to the audience and personal stories or examples to reinforce them.

-Martha Roa

Practice breathing. No meeting and no facilitator is perfect. One thing that holds true in every engagement I facilitate is that something unexpected always shows up. So learning to take a deep breath and pause so you can re-orient to the present has been the most helpful tip that was passed down to me, so I pass it onto others.

-Gamestormer

Plan
Practice
Remember that noone knows the finer detail of the plan except you (so it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t quite go to plan).
Be yourself

-Mary-Ann Shuker

Don’t expect it to go as planned. When it doesn’t, be kind to yourself and others.

-Gamestormer

1. Make the content your own and deliver from your truth. Don’t be a regurgitator.
2. Experience for yourself the processes you want to deliver
3. It’s better if everyone starts with acknowledging they don’t know the answer – including you – so true emergence can be experienced
4. Learn how to host yourself before you host others
5.It’s not about you: people are there to have an experience hosted by you, not about you, so…
6. Relax and enjoy the experience together. If you don’t have fun with the problem you’ll never solve it.

I remember my nerves radically shifted when I realised being up front of a room of people facing complexity was not about me, but about them. And all I was there to do was help them tap into their wisdom, creativity and remember what they already knew.

-Gamestormer

“Raise your hand if you can hear me” > I love this as a way to quiet down a boisterous room.

I’d also say to remind them that you must be overly prepared, and then things will shift regardless, but it’s that preparedness that allows you to be able to shift and adjust. If you hadn’t prepared at all, you’d be lost.

-Amanda Thompson

Remember your job is to keep away from the content and maintain a neutral stance. Focus your energy on moving the group forward – it’s not about you!

-Gamestormer

Smile – even if you have to force it a little because you are nervous and you want to do well. A smile will put others at ease and releases dopamine, endorphins and serotonin into your bloodstream – all good things that help you to be present in the moment. Its free, you carry it with you everywhere and it has immediate impact. Also, embrace being a beginner at this and be gentle with yourself. We are all learning, all the time.

-Gamestormer

I find it important to start the day with rules/expectations and an ice breaker to get everyone in the group comfortable talking. The most important rule (in my opinion) is to make sure everyone stays open to ideas of others.
So exciting – workshops are fun!

-Allison Squires

Connect personally with your audience before launching into the session – a brief moment in which you share something small/simple and at whatever level of depth fosters comfort and safety for you and the group.
This can be a small insight about yourself, your journey to this session, a personal interest in or reflection on the session’s subject matter or this particular group etc. You’re prompted to pause before starting and pushing off into the session from a place of human engagement rather than the adherence to runsheet/script.

-Gamestormer

Your goal as a facilitators is to help a group reach a meaningful outcome, but also remember how people FEEL when they leave your workshop is as, or more, important than what you are teaching them.

-Chris Federer

Your workshop needs to be prototyped and practiced. Make sure that you get a chance to run through it as much as possible to iron out any quirks. Having a good flow will allow you to focus on the participants. Also work out your timings and stick to them

-Gamestormer

Be extremely comfortable with design and make sure you be as clear as possible with it. Especially the learning objectives.

prepare like crazy … including jokes and stories and pauses etc. …. BEFORE the session….however emerge with flow DURING the session….hold the design lightly not tightly … Be a scientist while preparing but an artist while delivering

Do a good audience analysis if possible… if you know them and their context well, there will be less surprises

Set it up well … try and manage expectations of everyone before delivering

get the audience to speak as early in the session as possible… choose a game or an activity …

Enjoy it … cut yourself some slack…gracefully accept any screw ups but make sure you LEARN from them”

-Gagan Adlakha

Be perfectly prepared, as if your life depends on it. And once you start with the workshop: let go and trust in the process.

-Gamestormer

Be clear on the aims of the meeting/retreat/etc. beforehand (engaging stakeholders in that process) and discuss these at the start of the gathering to ensure there’s buy-in (and, if not, discuss any possible changes). For the kinds of processes I facilitate, the goals typically include some more process-y stuff (e.g., teambuilding) and some more product-y stuff (e.g., strategy development).

-Gamestormer

Work with your own strengths – as a government worker years ago I was asked to facilitate a lot of business planning, with only a small amount of training, because I was friendly, gentle and diplomatic. I was nervous but once you realise you’re only facilitating, not decision making, you can make the most of your skills.

-Gamestormer
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Friend or Foe?

Any product change, project plan, change management initiative requires assessment of and approach to working with stakeholders, a term we use to describe anyone who can impact a decision. Stakeholders often slow or block change; in other cases, they bust obstacles and accelerate progress. To increase your likelihood of success, check out this activity from visual thinker Yuri Mailshenko and identify your stakeholders to understand how they feel about your work.

Object of Play
The object of this game is to create an organizational map of your stakeholders. In some cases this may look like your org chart. In other cases situation and context will dictate a unique shape — likely familiar but undocumented. In addition to mapping stakeholders’ organizational relationships, you’ll also analyze their contextual disposition regarding your initiative.

Number of Players
5 – 15

Invite players from across your project’s organizational spectrum to ensure thorough stakeholder mapping. Colleagues with experience from similar projects or relationships with suspected stakeholders may provide valuable information. Invite them, too!

Duration of Play
30-60 minutes

Material Required
Organizational Design Analysis works best on a whiteboard. Substitute a flip chart (or two) if necessary. To run a good session, you will need:

  • Dry-erase markers, we recommend using at least three colors (black, green, red)
  • Dry-erase marker eraser (or paper towels)
  • Sticky notes
  • Camera to capture the results

How to Play

Step 1: Map organizational structure

  1. Invite your players to a five minute stakeholder brainstorm, ask: Who are our project stakeholders? Ask them to consider teams and individuals both inside and outside your org or company. Have players write one stakeholder per sticky note.
  2. Once the brainstorm ends, have each player present their stakeholders by placing their sticky notes on a wall and provide to the group a brief description of their thinking.
  3. With all the sticky notes on the wall, ask the group to organize them into a rough org chart. This needs only to be an imprecise draft.
  4. With the sticky note draft org chart as your guide, create a cleaner version of the org using a whiteboard and dry-erase markers. Ask for a scribe to map the organisation top to bottom. When the scope is quite big (for example, you are mapping a large enterprise), map the parts of the org structure that are less relevant to the analysis with less detail, and vice versa.
  5. To help with navigation, label all stakeholders.
  6. Denote future parts of the organizations (ones that are missing at the moment but are important to be considered for potential impact).
  7. Draw a border around the areas that are affected by the change/initiative or are in the focus of the analysis.
  8. Your whiteboard map could now look something like these:

use dotted lines to identify matrixed teams
use dotted lines to identify matrixed teams

use colors to cleanly delineate multiple org dimensions
different colors work, too

Drawing considerations:

  • Avoid using prepared artifacts like your company’s official org chart. Create on-the-go with full engagement of the group.
  • Draw people. Draw a person as a circle and the upside down letter ‘U’. A group of people could be just three persons put close to each other; avoid drawing departments and teams as boxes.
  • Many organizations are matrices of different kinds. Introducing an extra dimension might create visual clutter. Try to avoid that by either using a different style of a line (dotted or dashed lines) or a different color for a weaker organizational component.

Step 2: Add insight

  1. Begin a group discussion with the goal of mapping stakeholder disposition and level of support regarding your initiative.
  2. Discuss each stakeholder one-by-one, try to uncover:
    1. Disposition towards the initiative: are they for, neutral or against? To what degree? Why?
    2. Level of impact: how much influence will this stakeholder have? High, medium or low?
    3. Relationship strength between stakeholders: who do they influence? who influences them? To what degree?
    4. Participation energy level: high, medium or low?
    5. If you are having difficulty dispositioning a particular stakeholder, move to the next one. Additional conversation may help you get unstuck and you can circle back to the troublemaker.
  3. As you near consensus, draw your findings using tokens or icons. Discover what works best for you, some examples:
    1. A green smiley face for a supportive stakeholder
    2. A battery with one out of three bars charged for a low-energy stakeholder
    3. A cloud overhead signals a confused stakeholder

use tokens and text to label different dimensions of stakeholder dynamics
Use tokens and text to label different dimensions of stakeholder dynamics

Strategy
Org charts are quite unambiguous and offer little room for opinion. This exercise’s value comes from mapping less obvious things like stakeholder influence, disposition and decision making power in relation to the initiative. Defined structures are rarely challenged but a necessary foundation. What is interesting is something that lies beyond the official org chart – people’s attitude to the topic of discussion, their real power and influence. Players will share their opinions openly — and surprisingly!–in a safe, structured and collaborative setting.

Complementary Games
You understand who your stakeholders are and the org design dynamics facing your project, now what?

  • Who do – identify what you need from each of your stakeholders
  • Empathy Map – get inside their heads to understand their pains and gains
  • Understanding Chain – create the story your stakeholders need to hear to contribute to your success!

Source

Activity developed by Yuri Malishenko – visual thinker, agile coach, product owner

Activity titled by Stefan Wolpers – agile coach and ScrumMaster.

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Agile UX Sketching and Scrum

Last-Import-09-300x300“Use a picture. It’s worth a thousand words.” That was the advice of Arthur BrisbaneEditor The Syracuse Post Standard March 28, 1911. Despite originally referring to newsprint, the adage still holds true in the digital age.

Sketching for understanding” is an efficient and effective way to gather tons of ideas in a short period of time while cultivating shared understanding across agile teams. With the right structure and active participation, sketching with Scrum teams can really pay dividends throughout the release life cycle.

Use the following guide to help plan and facilitate your next agile sketching session. Continue reading Agile UX Sketching and Scrum

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Facilitating with Constraints

Many fields have long embraced constraints as necessary for creativity. Without bounding the problem you’re trying to solve, it’s difficult to see the big picture, to know where to start, or how to focus your attention – much like trying to write a paper without a thesis. Lately, there is increasing acknowledgement of the importance of constraints such as Jonah Lehrer’s Wired post highlighting the research of Janina Marguc at the University of Amsterdam.

It turns out that constraints are also an engaging and effective way to facilitate a conversation, something I’ve learned working with designer Scott Francisco.* Whether you’re trying to balance a budget, plan a meeting, or design a building, workshop activities that make the constraints visible enable better conversations and decision-making.

Here’s how it works:

1. BOUNDARY: Identify the key constraint that defines the problem you’re trying to solve. For instance, the budget (money), the duration of the meeting (time), the size of the building (area). Then create a boundary like a simple square on a large sheet of paper that represents this constraint at some scale (e.g.: a 1” square = $1000, 10mins, 100 square feet, etc)

2. GAME PIECES: Create “game pieces” that represent the different pieces your trying to decide on: different programs within the budget, different possible activities within the meeting, different spaces within the building. These can be color-coded slips of paper / cardstock / post-its. They must be at the same “scale” as the boundary so you can see the relative size of each idea or component. (This may help you realize that one proposed program would take up most of your budget, for instance.)

3. GAME PLAY: Gather a representative group of 12 – 18 stakeholders committed to finding a solution that works by the end of the exercise. Then, play out different scenarios arranging the components to see what “fits” inside the boundary constraint. This can be as one group or with teams working in parallel then comparing and combining results. Along the way, you can discuss and document the merits of each component, the trade-offs, and other options. Do this multiple times to take the pressure off getting it right the first time and photograph each iteration so that you can compare.

4. BONUS ROUND: As an additional option, once you’ve agreed on what fits inside the boundary constraint, you can also continue the discussion to relate the different elements by arranging the components on a sheet; for instance, which programs within the budget depend on each other? What should the sequence of meeting activities be? What spaces within the building should be next to each other?

By making the constraints visible and tangible, you enable a better conversation and unlock the creativity of your group to solve problems together. You also have a visible record of the decisions made as well as a shared sense within the group of what’s involved, how the different components go together, and what’ve you’ve agreed on.

————————–

*  Scott Francisco developed a space planning facilitation tool called the Sandbox which uses a kit of parts to try out different workplace design concepts within a limited amount of space. You can read more about it here and here. We subsequently took the principles of the Sandbox and applied it more broadly to the kinds of exercises described above.

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6-8-5

Object of Play

Rarely are ideas born overnight. And for an idea to become a great idea, it takes considerable work and effort to develop. Part of the reason we end up with under-developed ideas is that we stick with the first good idea we have — rather than taking the time to explore complementary approaches. 6-8-5 is designed to combat this pattern by forcing us to generate lots of ideas in a short period of time. The activity can then be repeated to hone & flesh out a few of the best ideas.

Number of Players
2+

Duration of Play
5 minutes to play each round
15-20 minutes for discussion

How to Play
1. Before the meeting, prepare several sheets of paper with a 2×2 or 2×3 grid. You want to create boxes big enough for players to sketch their ideas in, but small enough to constrain them to one idea per box. Prepare enough paper for everyone to have about 10 boxes per round.

2. As the group is gathering, distribute sheets of paper to each player. Or instruct the group on how to make their own 2×2 grid by drawing lines in their notebook.

3. Introduce the game and remind players of the objective for the meeting. Tell players that the goal with 6-8-5 is to generate between 6-8 ideas (related to the meeting objective) in 5 minutes.

4. Next, set a timer for 5 minutes.

5. Tell the players to sit silently and sketch out as many ideas as they can until the timer ends — with the goal of reaching 6-8 ideas. The sketches can and should be very rough — nothing polished in this stage.

6. When the time runs out, the players should share their sketches with the rest of the group. The group can ask questions of each player, but this is not a time for a larger brainstorming session. Make sure every player presents his/her sketches.

7. With time permitting, repeat another few rounds of 6-8-5. Players can further develop any ideas that were presented by the group as a whole or can sketch new ideas that emerged since the last round. They can continue to work on separate ideas, or begin working on the same idea. But the 5-minute sketching sprint should always be done silently and independently.

Strategy
6-8-5 is intended to help players generate many ideas in succession, without worrying about the details or implementation of any particular idea. It’s designed to keep players on task by limiting them to sketch in small boxes and work fast in a limited amount of time. 6-8-5 can be used on any product or concept that you want to brainstorm, and have the best results with a heterogenous group (people from product, marketing, engineering, design…).

6-8-5 works great in the early stages of the ideation process, and are often followed by a debrief and synthesis session or by another gamestorming exercise to identify the most fruitful ideas given the team’s business, product, or end-user goals.

6-8-5 has been used in design studio workshops for rapid ideation. This game is credited to Todd Zaki Warfel.