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Innovation Games® to build the right thing

The last decade we have had quite some success with agile development. The agile community moved from a 14% project success rate in 2002 to a success rate of 45% in 2012. And Scrum emerged as the most popular agile framework being used 82% of the time in 2011. But there are still some problems to say the least. It is estimated the USA spends 150 billion a year on failed IT projects, the european union around 140 billion and The Netherlands around 5 billion a year on failed governance IT projects. That is serious money. Out of a large number of potential causes I think that the failure to validate early and often is one of the main reasons for failure.

The agile community now knows how to build the product right, but we are still a long way from building the right product. Agile teams are used to deliver working product for validation at the end of each iteration. Frequent delivery of working product motivates people as they experience real progress, provides transparency to all stakeholders so they understand exactly how the project is progressing and short deadlines actually increase productivity too. Frequent delivery also creates the possibility for customer validation keeping you from going of track too far. But all this is not enough to build the right product!

After each iteration agile teams ask themselves the following questions

  • What is preventing us from shipping today?
  • What is our minimal viable product?
  • Which features are innovative and make a difference to our customers
  • What are the real drivers and challenges of our customers
  • Which improvement will have the biggest impact

Validation is not going to provide the right answers to these questions! Not if you are looking for innovative results. For validation to work you first need a correct vision. For validation to work for innovation you have to discover what really drives people, understand their problems and create high customer empathy.

Most methods for understanding customers like focus groups, questionnaires and also validation do not give good innovative results. That is because these methods mostly activate the rational part of the brain. The problem is that the rational part of the brain tries to produce rational answers and those answers are often not the real thing. The real drivers, thoughts and motivations of people that provide you with innovative insights, are formed in the unconscious part of the brain. So in order to really understand our customers and be able to come up with innovative ideas we need to connect with their unconscious brain.

A good method for getting innovative insights  is through serious games. A subset of serious games are the Innovation Games®, these are serious games specialized in getting innovative insights from your customers. For example a game like Buy a Feature helps you answer what the most valuable features to be worked on are. Another game like Product Box helps you understand your minimal viable product. The fascinating thing about Innovation Games® is that they actually produce innovative insights. The outcome of the game is very valuable but lots of insights also come from the conversations and discussion that arise among the people during the games. It is in the game environment when people are really engaged in collaboration with others, moving things around and discussing points of view that their real drivers, reasons and motivations emerge.

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