Processing the Results of Your Innovation Game

Organizing Your Team

Conducting an Innovation Game is too much work for one person. You need a team organized around the following roles:

  • A planner who plans for and prepares your team for the games.

  • An organizer who handles logistics.

  • A greeter or master of ceremonies who greets customers and invites them to the game.

  • A facilitator who runs the event.

  • A helper who acts as the "go-fer" for the team.

  • Several observers who observe participants as they play the games.

  • A photographer to record the event.

A well-sized team should be one-third to one-half the size of the customer participant team. Each role is essential to the success of the game and will be discussed in greater detail.


The planner, typically a product or marketing manager, is the project manager for the event. Starting with the market research process presented earlier, they are responsible for ensuring that everything runs smoothly. How this happens varies considerably and depends on many factors unique to your company and its corporate culture.

One area of difference concerns the degree of internal collaboration required to manage the project. In some companies the planner will follow the market research process without much input from other people. In other companies, the first step of the planner is to organize a cross-functional team who will work together to define the goals and/or questions of the market research and how the organization intends to act on the results. Both approaches work fine. Innovation Games and the process for using them should be leveraged in the context of your existing project management structures, not as a replacement.

Other areas of responsibility for the planner include making certain everyone on the team is prepared for the game. This means that each member of the team knows his or her role and the responsibilities associated with that role, with a special emphasis on observers, because observers are the people most likely to unintentionally cause problems during an Innovation Game by trying to participate or control the process.

The responsibility extends to the customers who will play the games. The planner is responsible for making certain that invitations are sent to customers that frame the right set of expectations for participation. Part Three contains templates and sample letters for planners.

The planner may have additional responsibilities ranging from formalizing the budget for the games, selecting whom to invite, making decisions about any gifts given to attendees, and so forth.


The organizer manages the logistics of the event, including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Securing an appropriate location

  • Purchasing food

  • Acquiring and preparing materials

  • Inviting and keeping track of participants

  • Preparing place cards[6] and coordinating itineraries

    [6] Place cards are an elegant way to control seating. See Part Three for more information on how to use place cards.

  • Helping to collect results after the games are finished

  • Managing the real-time logistics

The organizer has a big job, and if you've never done it before you may want to consider hiring an outside event planning service to help you make certain things go smoothly.


The greeter (or master of ceremonies) welcomes participants, inviting them into the event and establishing a warm rapport. It is often a good idea to have the project manager who presides over the subject area explored by the game be the greeter. The advantage to this approach is that the greeter can leverage an existing relationship with customers who are playing the game. A key disadvantage is that it is hard for the greeter to be an observer because the greeter has varying responsibilities throughout the playing of the game. As a result, product managers who are greeters may find that they miss a lot of what's happening during the playing of the game. Although very few of the roles can be shared, the planner and greeter can be the same person.


The facilitator manages the playing of the game. They have the following responsibilities:

  • The facilitator explains the games being played, describing their use and answering questions from participants. To maintain consistency, it is best if the facilitator is the only person answering questions. In describing the games, the facilitator should emphasize that the primary purpose of the games is to better understand customers. As such, there are no right or wrong answers.

  • The facilitator controls the pacing and tempo of the game. While never rushed or hurried, the facilitator may pick up the pace when group interest starts to wane or allow things to progress more slowly if a lot of information is being shared.

  • The facilitator monitors participation levels. For example, if a relatively quiet customer is nodding her head in agreement but not speaking very much, the facilitator might ask her to state her point of view on a topic. Similarly, the facilitator will encourage customers to provide feedback and questions directly to other customers.

  • The facilitator manages time. This isn't the same thing as rigidly adhering to a predetermined schedule. Instead, it is making certain that everyone is aware of, and agrees to, the overall timing of the event.

The most important responsibility for the facilitator is to manage the game so that the outcomes created are most likely to answer the goals that motivated the playing of the game in the first place. In service of this highest-level goal, the facilitator is given complete authority over everyone. Using this authority properly often means that the facilitator must be fearless when interacting with participants and managing the customer team. By fearless, I mean that the facilitator must be willing to ask tough questions of participants. At the same time, the facilitator may have to go so far as to ask observers to leave the room if their presence or behavior hinders the game. For these reasons it is often advisable to hire a third party or use someone who is not intimately associated with your product as your facilitator.


A helper is the "go-fer" for the facilitator, so named because he or she is ready, willing, and able to help with anything that might be needed. I've used helpers to do such things as making certain customers playing Product Box have all the materials they need to collecting and taping Speed Boat anchor cards to the walls.

Benefits to Using a Professional Facilitator

The Qualitative Research Consultants Association provides a comprehensive set of reasons why you should consider hiring a professional facilitator trained in market research. From their web site,, these reasons go beyond the facilitation I describe in this book to include additional skills you are likely to find valuable when playing your game.

A professional knows how to

  • Establish rapport with respondents

  • Probe beyond rationalizations to uncover genuine motivations

  • Interpret and build on what he or she hears

  • Maintain flexibility in guiding the discussion without losing sight of the objectives

  • "Turn on a dime"adapt the approach when the professional and the clients encounter unexpected issues or insights

  • Manage the energy level and personality dynamics of the discussion

  • Avoid creating bias among respondents

A professional is prepared for challenging situations and is able to

  • Get around respondents' defensive behavior

  • Effectively handle talkers and nontalkers

  • Keep unexpected issues from sabotaging the discussion

  • Notice contradictions that don't "ring true"

  • Handle sensitive topics with diplomacy

  • Recognize problem respondents and act appropriately

A professional brings

  • Mastery of multiple techniques

  • Experience in diverse disciplines

  • Knowledge about relevant trends in other categories and industries

A professional does more than moderate. A professional also

  • Helps sharpen the focus and clarify the objectives of the research

  • Ensures objectivity from the design stage through final analysis

  • Stays focused on clients' business issues to ensure that the research findings are relevant and actionable

  • Builds a positive working relationship with clients

  • Helps keep the research team objective about the topic

  • Stands up to pressure when necessary based on the research learning

A professional ensures high standards by

  • Protecting client confidentiality

  • Protecting respondent confidentiality and anonymity [7]

  • Staying committed to nondiscriminatory recruiting

  • Being considerate and respectful of respondents and their differences

Enthiosys maintains a network of certified facilitators to help you plan, play, and post process the results of your game.

[7] This is not applicable when playing Innovation Games, as game participants will come to know each other through the playing of the games.


Observers watch participants as they play the games, recording their observations on 5"x8" cards. These cards will be collected and processed after the game. It works best if observers remain close enough to participants to overhear their shared conversations, but far enough to let participants speak privately if they so desire. Observers should refrain from speaking directly with participants.

Observers should write down anything that they think is important. It is really that simple. The goal isn't to write down only the most "important" or "meaningful" observation. In fact, striving to capture the "perfect" observation means that you're going to miss most of what is going on, because your brain is no longer observing, but trying to draw meaningful conclusions. Instead, the goal is to capture a lot of observations and then use the post-processing phase of the game to sort out the meaning of these observations.

Observations can include such things as

  • Statements about products or services:

    Example: "Sarah said our flip-shifter doesn't connect with the mega-cranzer."

    Example: "Ramesh wondered why we don't offer integrated traininghe said he'd pay for it."

  • Reactions of participants about the topics that have been discussed:

    Example: "No one seemed to agree with Ramesh. Should training be included?"

    Example: "Lots of customers need special end-of-month reporting."

    Observer Note Cards

    To help observers remember that their job is to observe, I like to print special 5"x8" cards with observer instructions that I put inside the stack of blank cards given to observers.

    Figure 1.19. Observer Note Cards

  • Things that surprised them:

    Example: "Why didn't anyone point out our online training videos?"

    Example: "Ming got our prices all wronghow could that be?"

  • Things that seemed to generate a lot of discussion:

    Example: "Lots of discussion about a potential partnership with Acme."

    Example: "Need to explore more about distribution channels."

Observers are typically drawn from the product team. It is best if your observers represent different disciplines, such as engineering, design, development, manufacturing, sales, customer service, distribution, and so forth. More observers are better, provided you don't overwhelm your customers5 customers and 20 observers is not a recipe for success. A better ratio of observers to customers is between one-third and one-half of the total number of customers. Thus, if you have 18 customers, you'll want between 6 and 9 observers.

You need to consider the benefits and drawbacks of associating observers with customers with whom they have personal relationships (such as in sales or marketing relationships). Some of the benefits include the natural rapport and comfort that exists and the ability to better convey some of the deeper motivations of the customers' behaviors during the game. One of the drawbacks is that familiarity often lulls observers into a false sense of confidence. They become lazy in recording their observations because they're sure they know how their customers will respond and fail to capture when customers don't act according to their preconceived ideas. A related negative behavior is when an observer forces a customer's response to fit their preexisting ideas.

Chances Are the Team Will Talk

Although I recommend that only the facilitator speak with customers during the games, chances are good that observers and other members of the team will talk with customers. Many times this can be a positive experience, such as when an observer asks questions that allows the team to better explore and/or understand what a participant is saying. Allowing observers to speak, however, does carry some risks, which can be mitigated through the following guidelines:

  • Avoid making any promises on anything that you cannot directly control.

  • Avoid commitments to specific features or deliverables.

  • Never talk negatively about your product or your competitor's products. If a customer is expressing a complaint or a concern, listendon't commiserate.

  • Refrain from asking your customers how they would solve a problem. Your focus should be on developing understanding and identifying needs, not asking for their solutions.

  • If customers offer a solution, simply thank them.

  • Never say, "That should be easy." It sets expectations too high and can kill any negotiation opportunities.

  • Never say, "That is too hard." It can prematurely stop conversation about what the customer really wants and ways to achieve this. Besides, solving hard problems is fun and typically more profitable.

  • Listen nonjudgmentally. They are your customers. They're not stupid. They're not lazy.

It is essential that observers do not use laptops, PDAs, or cell phones unless it is a genuine emergency. Using these devices during a game is rude and disrespectful to your customers.


Perhaps my favorite role is what we jokingly refer to as the "Bad Wedding Photographer." The purpose of the "Bad Wedding Photographer" is to take lots and lots of pictures of the event with a high-resolution digital camera to help in processing the results and motivating others to take action based on customer feedback. In fact, many times people who have used Innovation Games have commented that the event photos were simply invaluable in helping others understand what customers did during the event.

We refer to this person as the "Bad Wedding Photographer" because we want to eradicate the notion that you should have a small number of highly posed or otherwise professionally created photos. Posing or posturing for a photographer will inhibit the free flow of information that is essential in an Innovation Game. You'll get the best results if you try to take so many photos that customers forget that a photographer is present. A good target is 200 photos. You almost certainly won't take that many, but trying to take that many will help customers feel comfortable with the person taking photos.

The Day of Your Innovation Game

The day of the actual event is where all of your preparation comes together. Although it is common to have some surprises, good preparation makes for a good game. The remainder of this section provides some general tips and techniques for playing the games. The detailed information on how to play each game is the subject of Part Two. Part Three contains detailed information that helps you plan the detailed agenda, including how much time you should allocate for the activities that often go along with the game.

  • Arrive at least two hours early, and earlier if you're playing a game that requires a lot of setup. Many of the games can require several hours to set up. I've played versions of Product Box and Prune the Product Tree that have taken four to five people three to four hours to set up. In the first photo sequence, we started with a traditionally prepared meeting room, and several hours later had it organized for Product Box. In the second photo sequence, we started with an empty conference room and organized for Prune the Product Tree to be played over lunch, working side by side with the hotel wait staff. Give yourself plenty of time.

    Avoiding the Biggest Planning Mistake!

    Arguably, the biggest mistake in planning an Innovation Game is explicitly trying to skimp on the roles previously described by not having a large enough team or trying to ask one person to take on more than one role. Other than the greeter and planner, and organizer and helper, roles cannot be shared. If you're observing, you're not able to run errands for the facilitator. If you're taking photographs, you're not observing. Organize your team for success by having enough people present.

    This recommendation is tempered by the number of people that you can assemble for your internal team. In one situation, a client of Enthiosys had only two observers for a team of 12 customers because of an unexpected, urgent business matter. We went ahead and played the games. The results may not have been as rich as we would have liked, but going ahead with the games was far better than canceling the event.

    Figure 1.20. Setting Up for the Product Box Innovation Game

    Figure 1.21. Setting Up for the Prune the Product Tree Innovation Game

  • Have a plan for what you should do with customers if they arrive early. Some options include letting them do other work, giving them demos of products or simply engaging them in small talk. Avoid starting your game until you have all of the customers you want.

  • Have a contingency plan in case a large number of your customers arrive late. In this case you might want to begin playing your originally planned game with the smaller number of customers so that you can manage your time. Although this can make it awkward for customers who arrive late to join the game, you'll still have the opportunity to get as much information as possible.

  • It is helpful to share contact information. An elegant way to do this is to purchase a business card holder and preload it with the business cards of your team.

  • Although I've rarely had a problem with customers using laptops, PDAs, and/or cell phones in an inappropriate manner, you may want to communicate your policy to attendees.

Innovation Games(c) Creating Breakthrough Products Through Collaborative Play
Innovation Games: Creating Breakthrough Products Through Collaborative Play
ISBN: 0321437292
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2006
Pages: 144
Authors: Luke Hohmann

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