Phase One Planning in Greater Detail
Although the core of phase one event planning is answering the "Five Ws" listed in Part One, our experience is that successfully planning an Innovation Game requires you to consider a fairly comprehensive set of questions. This section provides additional questions for your consideration, organized around the core questions presented in Part One. If you're going to do a lot of planning, you might consider using the resources available from the Meeting Professionals International web site, www.mpiweb.org.
Whom are you inviting? Consider customers and your internal project team both.
Whom are you going to invite (customers)? Whereas the discussion of segmentation strategies in Part One provides broad guidance on whom to invite, in this phase you'll have to identify specific people. A common question is, "What if the people we want to invite compete against each other?" Our experience is that unless your product is fundamentally tied to the axis of competition, chances are good that direct competitors will participate in the game and you'll get good results. This happened to us when working with a Fortune 100 client on a product launch exercise. The client selected Product Box and had invited several large customers and partners to participate. This was not a problem, because our client's product was not the axis of competition among these customers.
A related question concerns the power structure of the participants. We've run sessions where managers grabbed control of the game, completely ignoring the input of their subordinates. In other sessions, managers and subordinates collaborated to produce extraordinary results. There are no firm rules, but try to remain aware of the relationships that exist between game participants.
Whom are you going to invite (internal project team)? As outlined in Part One, a cross-functional project team that enables you to staff for all the roles in a team is the best structure. In terms of cross-functional teams, consider asking representatives from all areas of your company, including marketing, sales, service, development, executives, quality assurance, and technical publications.
How many customers will you invite? A good rule is between 12 and 36, because research has shown that 12 customers are expected to represent 70% to 75% of market needs, and 30 customers can be expected to represent 90% of market needs.
Will you coordinate and/or pay for their travel? As the host, you need to determine the degree to which you will be planning and/or paying for your customers' travel. You need to tell customers as early as you can about this so that they can prepare accordingly. If you're conducting the event at a hotel, you should get a significant discount on rooms.
What will you be doing? Consider both the games and related event activities.
What do you need them to do to prepare for the event? Be as detailed as possible; few things frustrate a customer more than not having the opportunity to prepare for a game.
What else, in addition to the games, are you planning to do at the event? Are you planning on "fun" activities? What do your customers need to bring to fully enjoy these activities?
Will you be doing something before the event? Customers' travel plans can vary by quite a bit, and although some customers might be able to drive to the event, others may be traveling quite a long distance. In these circumstances I recommend having an optional dinner or reception the night before the event.
Why are you doing these things? Why should your customer come? Consider your customer understanding and customer relationship goals.
Mentioning Innovation Games in the Invitation
Customers should be given an overview of what they'll be doing at the event, including what they need to do to prepare for the game, but it isn't a requirement to explicitly state that they'll be playing an Innovation Game. For example, when Aladdin Knowledge Systems invited customers to participate in their Security Council meeting, they never mentioned that customers would be playing Speed Boat or Buy a Feature. Instead, the agenda items for these games were described as "An opportunity to share current pain points with Aladdin representatives and to provide insight and direction to potential future HASP product features."
Of course, explicitly mentioning that customers are playing an Innovation Game can pique curiosity and generate excitement. When Emerson Climate Technologies chose to use Spider Web at their 2006 Technology Advisory Council meeting, they described it as follows:
Give us your vision
Help fuel innovation by letting Emerson know what you really value in future versions of our products and services. Instead of reviewing developed products, you will develop the requirements for the products and software that will eventually serve your and the industry's needs. The Enthiosys Innovation Games are proven techniques to create innovative products and services.
You should feel free to choose the approach that you feel most comfortable with.
Will you compensate them? Although rare, there are some situations, such as when you're going to take your customers away from an important job, or when participating in the games might cause them financial hardship, where you might consider compensating them for their participation in your game.
You may also consider whether you will be giving attendees a small token of your appreciation for attending the event. You can be as creative as you wish because there is an entire industry of promotional products at your disposal.
When is the event?
How long is the event? A good rule is two hours per game, with no more than three games in one day.
Have you remembered to include refreshment and bathroom breaks? Have you allocated buffer time in your schedule?
Where is the event?
Have you provided full logistics information and directions?
Does this location provide the necessary infrastructure (A/V, Internet, electrical, wall space, room space) for your event?
You may need to consider a few additional questions:
If you're a public company and you're going to discuss potential future product plans, you may need to prepare and recite a "safe harbor" statement from your legal team before the game.
Similarly, if you're a public company and there is a chance that pricing or price-related issues may be discussed, you may also need to recite an anti-trust and/or similar statement from your legal team.
Do you need them to sign an NDA?
Do you need them to assign all rights to the ideas discussed to your company as a condition for participation in the game?