Facilitating a Terrific Innovation Game Session
Not every person is an excellent facilitator, so here are some additional tips on how you can facilitate a terrific innovation game.
Your Goal: Understanding
Remember that your primary goal is to gain a better understanding of your customers. In terms of being an excellent facilitator, this means relying on proven facilitation techniques such as listening without prejudice, resisting the urge to lead the discussion, and avoiding justifying past decisions or making commitments about future products. Being a good facilitator can be pretty hard, especially when irate customers are venting their frustrations or unrealistic customers are asking for things that you, and often they, know just can't be done given the technologies or resources at your disposal. Try to keep in mind that customers who agree to participate in an Innovation Game have self-selected themselves as customers who are committed to your mutual success.
Practice Before You Play
Some of the Innovation Games profiled in this book, such as Product Box, Show and Tell, or The Apprentice, are pretty easy to facilitate. Others, such as Remember the Future, Me and My Shadow, or, Give Them a Hot Tub, are a bit harder, typically because they have more challenging preparation requirements. The phrase "practice makes perfect" applies, and if you're at all unsure of a technique, make certain you try it out with an internal team or a forgiving group of customers before going live. You'll feel better after you've practiced.
Allow Plenty of Time for the Session
As I was writing this book, I tried several times to figure out a few hard-and-fast rules to help you estimate how much time you'll need for each game. And I can't. The amount of time you'll need depends on far too many variables. Which game? How many customers are playing? How many games? How will you facilitate the game? Will you let customers talk as long as they want or will you hold them to a tight schedule? But completely copping out doesn't seem like a particularly good idea, either. So, instead of hard-and-fast rules, here are a few guidelines that have served me well:
Give yourself plenty of time during the game. Rush and you'll miss important things. Observing your customers may sound easy, but it isn't. Breathe. Be patient.
Give Customers Time to Play the Game
One of the worst things that you can do is ask your customers to play one of these games and then badger them into starting the exercise immediately. Give them a break. Most of the time, these games are such a radical departure from traditional meeting or focus group design that your customers are struggling to figure out if they're on the right planet, let alone in the right meeting! After you introduce a game, give your customers some time to think about what you have asked them to do. Remain available to answer their questions, remain observant for anyone who might appear stuck, but mostly, learn to be patient.
Quality, Not Quantity
You won't get any points if you play five games in one day but are so rushed and hurried that you fail to thoroughly explore the detailed information that customers will inevitably provide. Focus on quality. One exercise done well will provide you with a wealth of information. And because you're committed to your customers, you're going to be doing more of these games in the future. There is no need to rush, right?
Play Quiet Music
Consider playing quiet music in the background while participants are working. Contemporary, upbeat jazz, piano music, or Mozart works well, provided it isn't too loud. During breaks and lunch, turn up the volume and inject energy into the room with a mix of popular music. The music will provide an important set of auditory cues that will reinforce your agenda and the games that you're conducting. Like gifts, keep in mind that musical selections are highly personal, and while you may love country, others love rap and hip-hop. Stay relatively neutral in your selections and be prepared to change styles based on customer feedback.
Email Can Wait
When your customers are working, don't open your laptop or futz with your PDA. These can wait. Your customers can't. Remember that you need to actually write something on the blank 5"x8" cards that you've brought to capture your observations for later review. If you're doing email or playing a game on your PDA, you're not observing. And because customers can tell the difference, they'll actually start to act differently: Why should they give you their feedback if you're clearly not interested in the same?
Uh-oh...I Didn't Expect That
Innovation Games often evolve in unexpected ways. That's part of the fun. Indeed, a well-facilitated game is actually a bit chaotic. If you're the kind of person who has trouble "going with the flow" with a customer, think carefully about attempting to facilitate an Innovation Game. Consider, instead, a different role on the team.
Transcribe the Results
Even with high-resolution photos, it is best to transcribe everything that customers create. This makes postprocessing game results easier because you can move, group, and search text. It also makes it easier to find key phrases from customers when searching documents.
Give Them Feedback
They were kind enough to participate in your exercises, so you can be kind enough to provide them with a copy of your final report. Therefore, you should create two reports: an external report, complete with digital photos of the event, for sharing with customers and an internal report, with the observations and commentary of your team, highlighting how the results of the Innovation Game will be incorporated into your product and service development efforts.
Say Thank You
You don't have to pay them or bribe them with lavish gifts, although a token of your appreciation can make the event meaningful. You do need to say "Thank you" when the event is over, no matter what they've told you. And mean it when you say it, because if you don't, they'll know.
Customize with Experience
Although you should feel comfortable in modifying these techniques to meet specific needs, avoid this until you've gained experience in the techniques as they are presented.
A Good Facilitator
A good facilitator is someone who can laugh easily at themselves and the sometimes crazy situations that can happen when playing a game. Ground yourself in the belief that you will have fun, that you'll laugh and learn about what your customers really wantand you will. I look forward to reading in the forums about your experiences playing Innovation Games.