How to be a Great CIO (VIII): Play the Innovation Games

Be a great CIO - Play the Innovation Games

A few years ago, I was just graduating as a ScrumMaster and the Agile community looked to me like a vibrant, energetic group, full of opportunities for learning. Through all that inspiration, I have had the seminal ideas for Agile Service Management so I was very interested in knowing more about the people behind Agile.

Through my Scrum professor, Tobias Mayer, I was invited to the Agile Alliance Board Meeting, which was in Paris…in the cold January winter, that is.

So there I was, lost in a French bois in the outskirts of the Light City, freezing, trying to find the meeting place. Finally, I arrived, and the night proved magical and profitable.

Luke Hohmann, my contact, amazed me, as did many of the other participants. They were so eager to learn, and so eager to share what they had learnt. Most of these knowledge transfers happened in real time, from group to group, from whiteboard to whiteboard.

I ended up with a long list of books to read (some of them would change my mind forever) and several new friends. Luke even gave me his book, Innovation Games,  as a present.

To tell you the truth, I’d rather play than work. I am the playful type. In fact, I like to think of everything I do as a game. Software creation, that’s a game. Running a company, that’s a game (sometimes it is not). Even playing Wii Tennis, that’s a game too.

On the other side, I take playing soccer very seriously. But I digress.

My point: the idea of doing something productive while playing really resonates with me. For instance, I love Planning Poker (you use it, right?) for estimating software development effort. So, I took Luke’s book with great interest.

Innovation Games’ idea is to get information from your users, customers and peers while playing simple games. They are simple, fun, and usually short. Most of them require nothing but paper and pens.

My favorite is one called “Buy a Feature.” As users (or customers) need several things from you, sometimes it is really hard to prioritize these things. Present them with a list of possible new features, ask them which ones they want right away, and they will say “all of them.”

So, you sit a group of users together. You give them a list of the features on your roadmap and some “play money.” You put a price on the items on the list, and they have to use the play money to acquire the ones that they really want.

The wicked part is that you price some items higher than the money you give to them individually, so they have to actually pool with other customers to acquire some features. Here is the fun. They will have to actually negotiate and convince others to get the feature they want, and you can be there observing how the value and justify each one.

And you come away with a perfectly prioritized list of features to deploy.

There are many other games: to understand complex customer needs, to remove bottlenecks, to improve sales effectiveness, to discover breakthrough opportunities, to improve strategic decisions, and more.

Just check them out at the Innovation Games Company Web site. They will be happy to provide you with facilitation services, too, but you can test the waters without any down payment. You can even use their site as a way to play the games online—no need to force anybody to travel.

In a world where communication is difficult, where you don’t have the time to produce all the things others expect from you, where your customer’s real needs can be difficult to comprehend even for them…the Innovation Games are a vehicle to understand each other’s priorities and needs better.

In a fun, playful way.

Did I mention I like the idea?

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