Play Games with Me!

April 11, 2014 Tami Reiss

This past week, we led a Discovery and Framing session with a new client. At Pivotal, the 2 week D+F (as we call it) is an exploration into what should be built. We look into who the target population is, what the client’s goals are, and what could be built to meet the users’ needs.

There’s A LOT of ideation that happens, a good amount of user research, and the occasional pivot. At the end, the team has hopefully made some decisions about a path forward.

To get the team to a point of exhaustion of ideas, we play brainstorming games that are geared towards divergence. We like to have as many ideas out on the table to begin with because it’s a good predictor of success in the long run. When we’re trying to narrow down the list of possibilities we use activities that help everyone focus.

I’ve divided the games we played this past week into “Diverging” and “Focusing” below. Hopefully I’ll be able to add individual posts about each game at a later time and include photos.

Diverging games that produce ideas

  • Persona Empathy Maps: Start with a person’s name, age, and defining characteristic. Then add list of items related to what the person is Thinking, Hearing, Feeling, Seeing, and Doing. Stop when everyone in the room feels like they know the persona and can represent them in later activities.

  • Guided Brainstorming: A moderator provide descriptive prompts that help everyone picture one of the personas in a scenario. Then we individually write ideas on note cards that represent the actions our persona would do or that our application could to do help. There’s a 3 minute time limit, after which everyone presents their ideas to the group. Then we do it again with another scenario.

  • Bodystorming / Role Playing: Each team member is assigned a persona. Then one person acts as if they were the app, asking the user questions and team member responds as if they were the persona.

  • Yes, And: Write out scenarios at the top of big index cards or pieces of paper (one for each person participating). Each team member starts with one scenario and writes down something that the application could do for that person. Cards are passed to the right (or left, if you want) and then the next person adds an “AND” to the card. After each card has been added to by everyone, the cards go around again with the ability to add an idea or +1 an existing idea (or both). Go a few rounds until you feel like all the ideas are on the cards. Review the items that have many votes with the team. Allow people to talk about ideas they found interesting.

  • Spiderweb: Using a whiteboard or really big piece of paper, everyone gets to write up an idea and explains it as they are writing it. Then anyone can connect another idea to an existing one. You can also start a new node.

  • Storyboarding: Distribute papers that are divided into 4 segments. A moderator provides a prompt on something that has happened to a persona. Then everyone draws out four parts of a story that occur after the prompt. People share what they come up with and others talk about what they like.

Focusing games that narrow scope

  • This, NOT That: Label the board with two columns This and NOT That. Add features or goals that are associated with what should be built under the This category. Put things that should not be included or are not what the application is trying to be. (e.g. a find my friends app may also be a restaurant/bar finder is not a tip calculator)

  • Day in the Life: Write-up a schedule with times of a single day and some week/month milestones. Have everyone suggest activities that a persona would be doing at that time of day for daily activities or on the other milestone on the board. Add timeline items as needed. Then see if the features suggested work within the existing behaviors or clash too much so that a person would never use them.

  • 5 Whys: Start with a goal, ask why it’s important. Write that motivation above or below the original goal. Repeat by asking why that newly added motivation is valued until 5 why’s have been addressed. These goals/motivations help with deciding which features align with goals and which don’t.

  • Lean Hypothesis: Discuss the basic lean hypothesis statement and have it filled in. If features don’t fit in to what you’re building or help with knowing you’re right, they’re probably out.

  • Affinity Synthesis: As brainstorming ideas are presented, cluster them into themes and give them labels. Ideas that are one offs probably don’t fit in with the groups expectations for the product.

  • Goals/AntiGoals: List up the goals of the application and the anti-goals. Anti-goals capture everything that might be important someday, but present a threat to acheiving the immediate goals. If features are part of anti-goals, don’t worry about them right now.

  • Dot Voting: Give out a small amount of stickers (dots in our case) to each team member. Everyone puts stickers on the cards or papers that are hanging around a room. Items with a lot of dots are saved for evaluation. Ideas without dots are put into a folder or the trash, your pick.

The games above are just examples and can be used in an endless variety of combinations to meet your goals. For projects where there is a lot of confusion around where everything is trying to go, This, Not That is great. For others where it seems like there aren’t enough ideas, Yes, and may be just the ticket.

What games are you using to expand possibilities or focus your team?

About the Author


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