Strategy Through Games

    Note: In a previous blog, I mentioned that we were reading Luke Hohmann’s Innovation Games. We decided that our best learning would be through performing some of the games in this book, rather than discussing the content. My blog caught the eye of folks here at Adobe who were already working with Luke. The rest is history, as they say. Here is an excerpt of the article I recently wrote for the Adobe Program Managers’ Newsletter.

Games and play are fast becoming the techniques — not “du jour” but “de rigueur” — for gaining insight into customer requirements and innovating next generation products and services. There is a conference on games, a National Institute for Play, and TED Talks on play and games. Right here in Silicon Valley, both design innovation consultancy IDEO and the Institute for Design at Stanford, tout play methodology for achieving astounding designs for next generation customers and end-users.

After reading Luke Hohmann’s Innovation Games for our Globalization Book Club, we set about finding a way to “put into play” our learnings from the book. Much to our delight, Luke was already working with some product teams at Adobe. What if Luke could help us drive the creation of our 2012 localization roadmap and three-year strategy?

Along with members of our team, we invited internal stakeholders closest to the international customer. They represented CSO, ecommerce, product marketing, field marketing, developer relations and CHL, and regions such as APAC, EMEA, and LATAM. The event took place during two full days at the end of August.

Many program managers from other business units volunteered their time as official game observers, taking copious notes on the behaviors, verbal nuances, and interactions of the game participants. These observations, along with photos and videos, would serve as support material once we started to analyze the ideas resulting from each game.

Stories from the field, in the form of Show and Tell, started us off on Day One. While often poignant or funny, we could experience first hand the hoops international customers sometimes have to jump through when using our products. With the understanding of some typical pain points, participants were assigned different customer profiles and instructed to create an ideal Product Box to sell to the audience. The day was topped off with Prune the Product Tree in which the roots and trunk represent ideas that form the foundation of a strategy, and each branch represents an area of development to which the “apple” ideas are grown or pruned.

By the end of day one, several themes were beginning to emerge: customer personalization; end-to-end user experience; user-defined language settings; machine translation; community translation; and localization “in the cloud”. The next day would require fleshing out the themes into concrete project ideas.

Day Two started off with recapping the brainstorm of ideas of the day before. Now it was time to dive into the details and create project charters from the apples that remained on the trees. The most strategic charters competed in the Priority Tournament — a head-to-head, pair-wise, single-bracket elimination tournament to choose the top three projects. The Cloud-based Globalization idea easily slid into home plate. Next, the charters that would become part of the next year’s roadmap went toe-to-toe in a forced-ranking online Buy a Product auction.

With the most important and strategic projects in hand, we proceeded to analyze them in more depth using two side-by-side games: Spider Web and Sail Boat. In the latter, each team creates “anchors” – those issues that can weigh down a project. “Sails” could be added that can propel the boat forward. These might be opportunities, advocates or events that enable a project through rough waters and counteract the anchors. In the former, the network of people, projects and systems that are either impacted by the project or can themselves impact the success or failure of it, are drawn and linked like a web.

The flow of games, from expressing pain points, to sketching out general themes, to fleshing out specific ideas and charters, resulted in a clear idea of what our short and long-term roadmap will look like. The final themes resulting from the event were many. Here are a few highlights:

  • Community Translation & Customer Engagement – investing more resources on engaging with our user community to bring feedback into improving our products and expanding language availability.
  • End-to-end experience
  • Translation Technology – Making use of the “cloud” to deliver our services

Should you consider using Innovation Games or similar methodology? First and foremost, we discovered how important it is to include stakeholders in our strategic planning process. During the event, participants built better relationships with each other and communication channels opened up. We gained valuable insight into how an international customer interacts with our products — from the web to software purchase/download to documentation. Using games was a fun way of extracting serious ideas and it allowed people to be more creative and free in their thinking; they were less fearful of peer pressure in vocalizing their ideas.

From these charters and the other materials produced, we expect that we will architect a one-year roadmap and three-year strategic plan that will have, at its core, the ideas and inspirations of our international customers and internal stakeholders.