Planning Your Innovation Game
Planning your game consists of two parts: a high-level event planning process that is suitable for every game and a game-specific planning process that is unique to each game. This section addresses the high-level event planning process from two perspectives: your customer's and your internal team's. Part Two addresses game-specific planning processes in the detailed description of each game. I won't try to cover every aspect of game or event planning, because planning a successful Innovation Game is a lot like planning other events, and you can easily find resources on the Internet to help you in planning events. Instead, I'll try to focus on the most essential game-related aspects of a successful event.
Before reading this section, read the sidebar "Using Innovation Games to Plan Your Innovation Game" to plan your event. By using the Innovation Game Remember the Future to help plan your event, you will create a more effective event and you will gain comfort in using Innovation Games.
A Planning Timeline
The easiest way to plan your Innovation Game is to leverage the market research process described earlier by organizing the phases into a timeline, as shown in Figure 1.18. It is helpful to further break down the high-level phases into sub-phases because there is a natural progression to each phase.
Figure 1.18. A Timeline for Planning and Playing an Innovation Game
Using Innovation Games to Plan Your Innovation Game
You can use several Innovation Games to help you plan your event. 20/20 Vision can help you prioritize your goals for the event, and Speed Boat can help you identify how to improve the results of previous events. But the game I find most useful is Remember the Future.
Start by opening a blank document in your favorite word processor. Imagine that it is one week after your event. Now, write yourself a letter from your boss, congratulating you on a remarkably successful Innovation Game event. Be as specific as possible in the details associated with the event you will have had.
When finished, compare the results of your letter with the advice in this section. You'll probably find that you identified many of the activities covered in this section. More importantly, you're also likely to find some key items that are unique to your situation. In either case, you've played the Innovation Game Remember the Future, and in the process you've learned a powerful technique that can help you plan all kinds of projects.
Phases of Preparation
It is most convenient to prepare for Innovation Games in phases based on the lead time and activities associated with each phase. For example, determining whom to invite, securing the meeting place, and selecting the game can all take a fair amount of time, so they are included in phase one. Inviting customers and performing all preparation work is part of phase two. Final preparations include double-checking all supplies and making sure your team is ready. The remainder of this section reviews the activities of each phase in greater detail.
Phase One: The Five W's
The "Five W's" is project planning shorthand for the phase of the project that answers basic logistics and operational questions associated with the event. Answering them enables you and your customers to do everything from packing the right clothing to determining whether they might want to bring their partners or families to the event for any social or fun activities that you may have planned. This section covers just the "Five W's," and if you're an experienced event planner, this may be all that you need in this phase of planning your Innovation Game. Additional phase one planning activities are included in Part Three. And yes, for those of you who are keeping track, I've included more than five questionson purpose!
Whom are you inviting? Consider customers and your internal project team both. A good rule of thumb is between 12 and 36 customers; research has shown that 12 customers are expected to represent 70 to 75 percent of market needs, and 30 customers can be expected to represent 90 percent of market needs.
 Griffin, Abbie and John R. Hauser: "The Voice of The Customer" in Marketing Science, Vol. 12, No. 1, Winter 1993, pp. 127.
The top three customer benefits from playing an Innovation Game are
An opportunity to strongly influence current and future products.
An opportunity to meet and build relationships with other customers.
An opportunity to meet and interact with the product team, including the senior executives who are often present at such events.
Customers also get game-specific benefits depending on the game being played and/or the structure of the event. Examples of these kinds of benefits include
Exclusive insight into key features planned for future product releases and the ability to influence and change them.
An opportunity to share current pain points.
A way to make money or win some prizes.
Starting and Ending Well
Although not strictly required for a successful Innovation Game, it is typically helpful to have both a kickoff and a closing meeting for your Innovation Game.
The purpose of the kickoff meeting is to signify a formal start to your Innovation Game planning and execution. Run by the planner, it allows the entire team associated with the Innovation Game to come together and start preparing for the game. Contrary to what might be implied by its name, the kickoff meeting is rarely the first meeting in a project. In fact, a good planner will usually have many smaller meetings with product stakeholders before the kickoff meeting to better understand their goals and identify their questions and concerns. This enables the kickoff meeting to move smoothly and efficiently toward its goals.
The purpose of the closing meeting is to formally end the project. This meeting usually includes the presentation of results and agreement on the action plan. Ideally, it also includes an opportunity for the team to capture what worked well, what worked poorly, and what can be done differently for the next game. The closing meeting also allows the team to reach closure on the game and enjoy the satisfaction of a completed project.
What will you be doing? Consider both the games and related event activities.
Why are you doing these things? Why should your customer come? Consider your customer understanding and customer relationship goals and explicitly show them "What's In It for Them."
When is the event?
How long is the event? A safe estimate is two hours per game, with no more than three games in one day. Add additional time to handle your other event goals.
Where is the event?
What happens at the end of the event? Customers will want to know what they receive as a result of participating in the event. If you're going to send them a summary of what you learned (and you should), tell them.
Phase Two: Invite and Prep
In this phase of the planning process, you'll be communicating the key details of the event to your customers and finalizing all the logistics. Strive to keep an external, customer-centric focus on the information you share with your customers. They have questions, and while you should have answered all of them in your phase one planning process, you need to communicate this information in a direct, respectful, and straightforward manner. Part Three contains sample invitation letters that you can tailor to meet your needs.
I've found the following checklist helpful during phase two of the planning process:
Appropriate food has been ordered.
All equipment (A/V) is ready.
We have practiced playing the game.
All speakers have rehearsed their presentations.
The room is properly configured per the specific game requirements.
The team has been briefed on their roles.
All graphics and game-specific materials have been created. Be especially careful to give yourself enough time for preparation-intensive games such as Product Box or Prune the Product Tree.
All gifts and/or other materials have been delivered and are ready for distribution.
Event evaluation forms have been prepared.
This checklist isn't designed for every conceivable planning scenario, so you need to "check the checklist" to make certain you're covering all your needs. If you're new to event planning, consider hiring an event planning service. There are many great event planning services, and you should be able to find one that meets your needs. You should also check the Internet, as there are many useful checklists available for different event planning situations.
Here is where you give yourself a chance to triple-check that everything is readyand give yourself the chance to make a late night run to Kinko's or Walgreen's if something is missing! Refer to the "generic materials checklist" in Part Three to make certain you have all the basic materials that you need. The most important aspect of the final preparation phase is having someone on your team personally contact the participants to confirm their attendance. Use this information to plan your final seating arrangements, confirm your food purchases, and organize any materials you will be creating and/or giving to participants.