What is this game about?
This is a game about strategic planning in software product development. People have different words for this kind of planning activity: product portfolio planning, project portfolio planning, strategic planning, product strategy, yearly planning etc.
My objectives in designing this game are:
- to illustrate the problem of lacking a clear and shared business strategy and having a transparent and shared way to evaluate business value in the context of different needs of different business units when deciding what to build next.
- to be plausible as a simulation of a conventional software-based product or service company with multiple departments dependent on IT for software and with traditional software development practices.
- to have an engaging and activating simulation that can be played in less than an hour with a small group of business and IT leaders.
Note: This game is in playtest
Although this is a finished iteration of this game, the game itself will be developed further in the future. The previous “final version” (V3) of the game can be found here. Version 5 will be developed in June 2013.
What has happened so far
- First playtest versions (1-3) were developed at Play4Agile 2013
- For the fourth version I’ve focused the scope a little, the deadline for that is April 15th 2013 (for Agile Finland Coaching Circle)
- After that the next iteration of the game could be due on the beginning of June 2013
By the way, if you want to read more about how I designed this game, I can tell you that I pretty much followed my empirical game design framework.
The Rules of the Game
Playing the game consists of running one or more strategic planning meetings and reflecting on how the meeting went. In the planning meeting the players take the roles of different business department leaders, the CEO and the IT manager and decide which themes to develop in the following months. Different planning meetings differ in the setup of the situation: the players have different kinds of information at their disposal to base their prioritization decisions upon.
The suggested format for a session of this game is: one phase of playing the game (with variant 1A or 1B), reflection, another phase of playing the game (with variant 2A or 2B), reflection and conclusions. The variants you choose should depend on the audience playing the game.
The game is best played with groups of five people, each one taking one role. It can also be played with more people. In that case just let the extra people team up with the different department heads.
The game variants
At the moment there are two types of game variants: the before variants (1A and 1B) and the a bit advanced variants (2A and 2B). The purpose of the before variants is to illustrate the dysfunctions in strategic planning in legacy mode. The a bit advanced variants are there for giving the players a taste of strategic planning where there is some information and a framework to compare different kinds of initiatives. Framework that allows comparing ROI or impact in connection to product strategy or similar.
I designed the variant 1A for organizations that do their high-level strategic planning decisions in a level of too high detail. In my opinion the Variant 1B is maybe more useful generally for people who have problems with not having a shared way to compare different initiatives based on business value, expected impact etc.
In Variant 2A there are explicit business goals set for each product department. Each proposed theme has expected impact described in terms of business goals. Variant 2B introduces the concept of Cost of Delay estimation. It might be useful to play both variant 2A and 2B if the group has enough time to spend to compare different methods of more systematic decision-making of what to build.
The game is about a company with three business departments: finance, industry and private. It also has an IT department responsible for developing the technical platforms and services the business services the other departments offer their customers. Each business department has its own customers and own products, but technically there are a lot of dependencies between the products of different departments. The power balance between the business department is represented by numbers (the higher, the more power): 10 for finance, 7 for industry and 4 for private.
The players play the heads of the three business department, the IT manager and the CEO of the company. More than five players can play. In that case the additional players represent additional managers from each department.
It is the start of January, 2013. In this meeting it is time to decide what we will build this year to improve our profitability.
Setup, variants 1A and 1B
Let the group select a facilitator (or facilitate yourself if they are only one or two groups playing).
Give the facilitator sheets to each player. Give the item/theme handouts in envelopes (sorted by role, role names in the front of the envelope) to the facilitator.
Give the planning sheets to the facilitator.
Setup, variants 2A and 2B
Same as for variants 1A and 1B (falicitator sheet, theme handouts 2A, theme handouts 2B), but in addition give the How we evaluate business value handouts to each player (2A, 2B).
- Facilitator sheet for variants 2A and 2B
- Theme handouts: variant 2A
- Theme handouts: variant 2B
- Business value 2A
- Business value 2B
The players are now ready to have their first round of planning meeting and development. In planning meeting, the heads of the departments decide what themes to build next. The IT manager has the final say (by the process) to select which themes go into development. The CEO has no process-related role in this meeting, but attends because she likes to stay hands-on with stuff. Needless to say, roles described by process might not reflect what actually happens.
The meeting is role-played. The time box of planning meeting is five minutes. The facilitator sheets have more detailed instructions.
After the meeting is over, it is time to reflect on the experience. I suggest facilitating the reflection phase a bit differently depending on the variant used.
Reflection for variants 1A and 1B
- Begin the reflection by asking: Why were both of the releases late?
- Continue by asking the groups to evaluate their ways of working in strategic planning with Net Promoter Score (would they recommend the way of planning to their friend or a colleague, in a scale of 0 (extremely unlikely) to 10 (extremely likely)
- What information they had to support decision-making (collect post-its on the wall)
- What information would they have needed to have in order to be able to plan in a more effective way (collect post-its on the wall)
Reflection for variants 2A and 2B
- Ask the groups to evaluate their ways of working in strategic planning with Net Promoter Score (would they recommend the way of planning to their friend or a colleague, in a scale of 0 (extremely unlikely) to 10 (extremely likely) and/or
- Ask about the positive aspects of their ways of planning in the variant (+’s) and the aspects that they think would need to be changed in order to improve it (deltas)
- Why did the company only do this kind of planning once a year
After playing a few rounds with different “rules” or “realities”, it is time to take a final stock of the experience. What can the players take away from this? What principles, frameworks, practices and information should be present to allow for effective strategic planning.
If you collected post-its with different kinds of information available and needed, you can ask the participants to complete the wall after the final round. And then you can dot-vote on what information do they think is most important to make effective decisions. Then you can ask them to reflect the result of that to the way they do this level planning currently. And even come up with proposed actions on how to improve their strategic planning.