Friday, October 16, 2009

Taking Innovation Games for a SPIN

Friends Playing a Board Game
I'm a big fan of Luke Hohmann's Innovation Games. They are a fun way to gather qualitative information about your products from your customers. At last month's Austin SPIN (Software Process Improvement Network) meeting, I had the privilege to help facilitate some Innovation Games. Jeff Brantley did the heavy lifting and presented an overview of the games included in Luke's book. Then, we divided up the group and played a couple of games.

My group played Speedboat to get some ideas around what things were slowing down people's process improvement efforts. I chose this topic since it had been mentioned at last month's meeting that the officers were soliciting ideas for topics at future SPIN meetings. Instead of waiting for folks to email items in, playing Speedboat gave us a chance to quickly get ideas and conversation from a dozen people all at the same time. As we looked at similarities between items, two areas that stood out to me were "people issues"- getting and keeping commitment from people at different levels in the company and cumbersome change processes (ie- Change Control Boards (CCBs)). Plus, everyone got some experience with a game.

I've been impressed with the Austin SPIN meetings I've been to recently. The group is energetic and engaged and the officers seem very focused on bringing in topics and presenters that have something to give. I've learned new things at each one and this professional development focus differs from the SPIN meetings I'd been to previously. Admittedly, those meeting were over 10 years ago, but they seemed to feature a speaker trying to sell a tool and a bunch of people looking for jobs. Neither is a bad thing, in and of itself, but the mismatch between presenter and audience made for a depressing evening. Not so anymore!

Another thing that this meeting reinforced was the flexibility of the games. Besides being great for getting qualitative market research, I've used them for retrospectives, community learning around Agile requirements, and process improvements. Jeff mentioned using them with churches and community groups for planning. And now for generating program ideas. Leave me a note with any other uses you've found for Innovation Games.

Now, get out and play!

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