Collaboration Framework Spotlight: Product Box to Science Fair.

Necessity may be the mother of invention, but fexibility is the progenitor of new collaboration frameworks, especially in in-person forums. Even with our long experience with live events and logistics, occasionally things go awry. Shipments are late or supplies we thought we definitely needed are sold out and unavailable. When faced with logistical snafus, Collaboration Architects excel as transforming problems into solutions.

Product Box to Science Fair
Protegra’s Terry Bunio transformed Product Box to Science Fair by using Tri-fold posters.

Protegra’s Terry Bunio writes on the Protegra company blog about just such an issue and how he was able to transform missing Product Box supplies into a new collaboration framework he calls, “Science Fair,” for an Agile Winnipeg User Group meeting.

Science Fair

The birth of Science Fair came from missing supplies (and the creative use of others.) For Product Box, we use white literature mailers, commonly found in most office supply stores in the U.S. Outside of the 50 states, however, we have to be flexible as they are often out of stock. As Terry writes, “I was hoping that the lack of white cereal-sized boxes was only temporary at Staples. Nope. They were nowhere to be found.”

Staples did have a selection of tri-fold display boards, the kind used by kids all over the world in science fairs. And Terry found a large selection of “animal stickers.” Using the supplies that were available, Terry had his teams create science fair “posters,” instead of Product Boxes, selling their bosses on the value of Agile.

product box takeout
Restaurant Takeout boxes are another common substitution when the typical white boxes can’t be found.

Terry writes that the new framework garned some unexpected benefits, including:
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  • More real estate or physical space for buiding out your argument.
  • Additional metaphor for talking about the problems, created through the use of animal stickers and the science fair concept.

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Have you had to adapt or change or create a new Innovation Game collaboration framework out of necessity? We’d love to hear about it.

 


Drinking Our Own Champagne: The Idea Engine 2.0 Design Jam

A little more than five years ago, Conteneo introduced the first scalable platform for visual collaboration, now called Idea Engine. Since then, we’ve built two other products, Strategy Engine and Alignment Engine, made drastic improvements to Decision Engine, launched a nonprofit to bring our techniques to the public sector and a whole bunch of other cool stuff! Unfortunately, along the way, Idea Engine received less love than it deserved and become a little stale. So stale, in fact, that we’ve decided to redesign and rethink the platform, reset our technology stack and create some powerful new capabilities that promote even more scalable collaboration and innovation. This is Idea Engine 2.0, and this is the first of several stories we’ll share about its creation. Our hope is that you’ll find techniques that you can leverage for your own products and services.

Getting Started!Design Jam 3

We kicked off Idea Engine 2.0 by “Drinking Our Own Champagne” and holding a Design Jam with our customers, strategic partners and advisors. A Design Jam is a special kind of Customer Advisory Board meeting in which we use collaboration frameworks like Prune the Product Tree to explore the next generation of our platform.
It’s critical to define your desired outcomes when planning an event, whether it’s in-person or online. Our desired outcomes for the Design Jam were:

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  • Develop a shared understanding of required/desired functionality for Idea Engine 2.0.
  • Review and improve design prototypes.
  •  Develop a milestone-driven release plan to make sure we have reasonable agreement on what we need to deliver first based on customer needs.
  • Develop a set of boundary situations; for example, what did we agree to do that we’re not doing?

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The milestone-driven release plan is a really important distinction between Agile planning and traditional planning. In a traditional process, we’d try to estimate the actual delivery dates, making premature and incorrect commitments to stakeholders. In a milestone-driven plan, supported through the collaboration framework Prune the Product Tree, we can confirm the sequence of value that our stakeholders need, safe in the knowledge that our development team will be working as fast as they possibly can.

Helping Stakeholders Help You

Because our customers and partners believe in our larger mission of using collaboration to solve technical and wicked social problems (see my Agile 2015 keynote for more on this), they regularly ask me how they can help. So, we asked our customers to prepare for the Design Jam by:
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  • Bringing an example of how they’ve been using Idea Engine 1.0.
  • Bring an example of a framework or interaction model that you’d like to use but can’t.

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Here are two examples:
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  1. I want to add an anchor to a Speed Boat and then drag that anchor on top of a Prune the Product Tree and have it show up as an apple.
  2. I want to build a document-centric collaborative framework. Instead of “icons” like apples, I want “sticky notes” that look and act like notes.

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Adjusting on the Fly

We also shared our agenda for the two days ahead of time (see right).

As common in these settings, we made a few adjustments. One worked poorly, four worked very well. Let’s start with my mistake.

I had intended to start the first session with the Innovation Game® Show and Tell, in which participants would show us positive uses of Idea Engine 1.0 and tell us what they wanted in Idea Engine 2.0. When we started though, we veered off track. What I should have done was facilitate the session more vigorously! Specifically, I should have pulled the room back into the game.

Unfortunately, I didn’t. I was working with an experienced team of facilitators, and I thought the “energy” of the room was such that they wanted to have a more open-ended discussion. I made a mistake, and we lost a bit of time.

Fortunately, after the session corrected itself during the initial design review, our customers provided a lot of terrific feedback on our new designs. I’m lad we did this, because we learned right away that one of our choices was incorrect. Somewhat surprisingly for me, the design review evolved into a discussion that included a review of our gaps. So, we had unexpected time in our agenda.

The first adjustment that worked well was adding a Cover Story/On the Cover activity to help us better understand how to communicate Idea Engine 2.0 to the market. We got a lot of terrific insights — some applicable right away and some applicable when we release some of the super cool ideas in Idea Engine 2.0.

The second adjustment was adding two Prune the Product Tree sessions. This activity not only helped us understand evolution, it resulted in a mutually agreed upon milestone-driven release plan.

The third adjustment was adding a super fun Magic Wand game in which stakeholders grabbed an imaginary wand and started submitting magic ideas for Idea Engine in the future. Surprisingly, some of these magic ideas turned out to be pretty feasible, and we’re adding them to our roadmap.

The most important adjustment was turning over the facilitation of a few activities to Deb Colden and Peter Green, two of our most senior and skilled facilitators.
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Agenda

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Day 1
8:30 AM     Assemble as a team and get to know each other
9:30 AM     Review existing uses of the platforms: What works.
11:30 AM    Break
11:45 AM    Review our understanding of key requirements for Idea Engine 2.0
12:30 PM    Lunch
13:30 PM    Overview of our proposed designs for Idea Engine 2.0
15:30 PM    Break
16:00 PM    Compare “desired uses of the platform” with our proposed designs to identify gaps
18:00 PM    Dinner as a team
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Day 2

8:30 AM     Assemble as a team
9:00 AM     Update/review designs and build a milestone-driven plan for implementing new functionality
12:00 PM   Design Jam ends
12:30 PM   Optional Lunch
13:30 PM   Continued work with the Conteneo team to enhance and extend our designs for those available.

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Deb helped us dig through a technique to challenge orthodoxies I learned from Scott Gilbert (presently working for the Salesforce Ignite team) and Peter guided us through a technique the Agile4All team uses to help Product Managers/Product Owners slice stories. Both proved tremendously valuable.

I also feel compelled to mention that Fallon Murray from Transamerica using the Idea Engine during our Design Jam to collaborate with her colleagues and provide real-time feedback from a lot of the Transamerica team. It was clever and something I’ll borrow in future sessions.

Key Themes And Results

Two days with customers generates a tremendous amount of data, and we’re still working on making sense of the results. However, we can report a few key themes: Job #1 is to make the current platform beautiful. Our stakeholders asked us to defer dramatic improvements in functionality and instead focus on a sleek, modern user interface.

However, there are a few key improvements in functionality that we need to address sooner, rather than later, and we’ll be implementing these in Idea Engine 2.0:
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  • Adding the “Central Question” to the game board.
  • Providing better “onboarding” for new users.
  • Keep the count of items, but pave the way for more flexibly adding items.
  • Build in-place and then extend.

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Our stakeholders asked us to be as agile as possible, ideally building in-place on the existing stack. This is like replacing the engine of the car while you’re driving, which we’re able to do because our dev team is so awesome. We’ve also integrated these results into our market-driven roadmap, and we’re looking forward to the next several months of hard work.

Next Steps

There is no settling of the dust, because we moved right from the Design Jam into a series of sprints to implement Idea Engine 2.0. We’re building and releasing in chunks of business value, and the dev team already has working software. Let me know if you’d like to join our Sprint/Design Review meeting: We’re eager to collaborate with all of our customers!


Conteneo Leaders to Speak at PMI 2015 Symposium

Luke Hohmann, CEO & Founder of Conteneo, and Laura Richardson, VP of Business Development, will be speaking at the PMI Silicon Valley chapter’s 2015 Symposium held at the Santa Clara Convention Center on October 5-6, 2015. This year’s theme is “Learning Organization And Thought Leadership” and features keynotes, themed presentations and unconference discussions.

Afternoon Keynote: Monday, Oct. 5

Luke’s keynote, “How to Prioritize a Project Portfolio” will be on Monday, October 5. He’ll speak to LhohmannPlantoReplanthose leaders who are frustrated by the limits of ROI analysis and the lack of collaboration that makes traditional approaches to portfolio prioritization an exercise in frustration. Created from more than a decade of experience working with Fortune 500 and other progressive organizations, the process Luke will describe in this keynote will reveal how leaders can harness the amazing power of collaborative frameworks and serious games to prioritize their organization’s project portfolio. The result is anEpic Win: a project portfolio prioritized to both business objectives and customer needs with an organization motivated to implement the same.

 

Breakout Session: Monday, Oct. 5

Laura Richard’s presentation will be “Technical & Wicked Solution Strategies for Agilists,” also on richardson_laura1-150x150Monday, Oct. 5.  Laura will discuss how the kinds of problems organizations are facing have changed as agile has matured from a process practiced by relatively small, co-located teams tackling mostly IT projects. Today, organizations are using agile to tackle many different kinds of problems in business as well as in the public sphere. Laura will highlight a series of enduring problems that agilists are supremely suited to tackle: Some of these problems are technical (like prioritizing your backlog, or a city budget). Others are wicked (like what to do when our software is late –which still happens in Agile! — or how to solve the California drought crisis).

Based on Conteneo’s groundbreaking work with leading non-profits Every Voice Engaged Foundation and The Kettering Foundation, Laura’s session will review both technical and wicked problems along with solution strategies for solving them. She will provide case studies, concrete examples and templates that are useful for business and public sector problems, with particular focus on how a team from Conteneo helped the Los Altos School District engage citizens in a wicked problem related to student enrollment growth.

Deb Colden, a Conteneo Qualified Instructor and Certified Collaboration Architect, will also be speaking at the Symposium on “Designing Great Value Propositions for Real Customers.”

More information on sessions and registration on the PMI Silicon Valley chapter website.