Playing the Game
Arrive early and be respectful of the cultural norms of your customers, including the way that they dress. Don't force them to immediately use your product. Instead, establish a rapport and let your customer control the pace at which the visit unfolds. You'll get your chance to observe your customer. Honor all requests to stop making observations or to leave the room, especially when concern or fear is expressed ("You're not going to tell my boss that I'm not sure how to operate all features of this machine, are you?").
To Video or Not Video
You may think that capturing participants on a video camera for subsequent review is the best way to play this game. Although a record of behavior can be compelling, I recommend against this for a variety of reasons:
Observers tend to become sloppy in their observations when they think they can go back and watch a video tape.
Unlike the role of the Bad Wedding Photographer, in which lots of photos take the place of a few high quality photos, video needs to be more professionally obtained. The need for greater degrees of professionalism (that is, making certain the camera isn't jiggled, providing adequate light, ensuring that audio levels are correct, and so forth) substantially increases costs.
The professional aspect of the video tends to highlight the fact that participants are being watched, which often causes them to change their behavior. This can be contrasted with the Bad Wedding Photographer, as many times participants forget that they're being photographed (especially when a lot of photographs are taken and they are not asked to pose for the camera).
There are often complex legal issues associated with videotaping subjects, especially in Europe, and EMEA.
It takes between 5 and 10 hours (and some say longer) to review one hour of video. In other words, video review is a slow, expensive process. More importantly, in many cases it does not produce a materially better result than recording your impressions in real time and then reviewing your results as a team.
Whereas videotaping customers usually creates more problems than it is worth, carefully selected photographs can be your best friend. By focusing on the results of the work, you can record the most essential elements of the work and avoid many, if not all, of the issues (especially legal issues). If you really think that video is superior to photographs, consider that in the real estate market, prospective buyers tend to prefer a few well-chosen photos (which just about anyone can take with high quality) to a video walkthrough.
There are times when even I will concede that a video record is the most powerful way of communicating your observations. A skeptical product team who just can't believe that their product is hard to use can be convinced a redesign is required when they observe customers struggling to accomplish basic tasks. If you feel that you simply must use video to accomplish your goals, then do so, but keep in mind the potential land mines discussed earlier.
In most Innovation Games, observers record observations on 5"x8" cards, one observation per card. In this game it is better to bring along a simple notepad or notebook and jot down the details you think are necessary. I prefer unlined paper so that I can make quick sketches. Others prefer graph paper. As you make your observations, record the time, location, and customers involved. If it helps, bring along a voice recorder and record your observations.
As soon as you finish with your customer, find a private location and immediately write down everything that you can remember. The longer you delay, the more that you risk forgetting. While you're recording your observations, try to avoid making evaluations. That comes later, during the normal phase of observer note processing. In this phase you should simply focus on your perceptions and observations.
Here are some of the things you may want to capture in your observations:
The people who interact with your customer.
The products and services that they use at the same time they are using your products or services.
Utterances, body language, or facial expressions that give insight into their emotions as they use your products or services.
The physical environment and larger context of their workspace.
Your own feelings and reactions to what is going on.