The product development game

During the Innovation Games® summit held in San Jose, CA in January, 2013, Tom Grant gave a keynote presentation titled “It is time to change the rules at work”.

Grant characterized the state of product development as follows:

  1. Complexity: Our software products are so complex to develop, maintain and implement.
  2. Poor customer insight: We as developers don’t understand what the customer value is. Therefore, our software is not providing new opportunities to the customer which creates business growth or addressing real pains.
  3. Lack of understanding of how customer is like at work: Generally, we donot understand the customer’s world. Developers in many cases are expected to create products for various industries, for example, banking and health care.
  4. No honest conversation with our customer: Normally we don’t like customers or at least we are not sincerely trying to help them. We even call out them by phrases like:
    They don’t know what they want or even we claim that they don’t know their own business. The customer change their minds too often. No one is available to answer development team questions and so forth.
  5. Dysfunctional team: The cross-functional team who develops the product lacks productive communication. Team members don’t collaborate to figure the business value to our customer. Moreover, team members are from different non-aligned groups which add inefficiencies.

Minimal Viable Product (MVP) is a Leanstartup term which can be used as a driver for early understanding and validation of customer needs in product development . It advocates that we should focus on doing the minimal effort required to early provide valued increment to our customer as fast as possible. This is because software product development is experimental endeavor where fast feedback is key for adaptation.


We can play Product Box game from Innovation Games® with the customer to quickly arrive at:

  • Shared vision of the sought after product
  • Key product features bringing high business value


Depending on the context, we might consider first playing business model canvas from Alex Osterwalder. The business model canvas can help us identifying the following for the customer:

  • Product jobs which the customer expects
  • Customer pains which the product should remove
  • Gains which the product will provide to the customer

Customer segmentation (personas) is part of creating the product box. For example, my wife, my daughter, my son, and my brother in-law they all use same model of smartphone. Each of them represents a different customer segment, literally:

  • Housewife and post graduate student:wife
  • Teen: daughter
  • University student: son
  • Business man: brother in law

However, the same smartphone was appealing to  all of them. When I look at the smartphone of each, I found different menus and appearance. Essentially, each one of these personas has her own product box, when it comes to the smart phone of choice. However, the manufacturer has created a product that can address the needs of each.

I suggest that at least one participant from every customer segment should be part of the product box game.

Let me summarize this post in the following points:

  1. The current state of software products doesn’t create acceptable value to our customers.
  2. Business model canvas is a tool to understand the value proposition of product and customer segments.
  3. Play product box game with participants from various customer segments to arrive quickly at what we should develop as minimal viable product.
  4. Align team members by playing Knowsy from Innovation Games®.
  5. Arrive at insight of the features which the customer appreciates most by playing Buy a Feature.
  6. Use Remember the Future game to arrive at honest understanding of customer definition of success.

You can visit this link for matrix of which Innovation Games® are appropriate to a given scenario.

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