Solving Real Problems through Collaborative Innovation Games: An Interview with Michael Vizdos

[interview]

Michael Vizdos: Yeah. It's vital that you make some really, really good connections. That's been a huge part of my success over the years. Don't be afraid to talk to people and I do invite people when they're there, let's talk. Whether it's innovation games or any other topic you want.

Jonathan Vanian: Let's just explain a little bit about innovation games. What are they?

Michael Vizdos: They're really a way to get people to collaborate and the session is really going to cover what is collaboration and why is it important. It really does spur on a lot of information about when you don't have any collaboration, you're kind of screwed with conflict because there is no conflict because there is no trust. This is a great tool and there's a great set of tools within innovation games to allow people to use different techniques at different times to help eliminate that fear of conflict and build more trust. Which is really one of the cornerstones that, if you look at the five dysfunctions in teams, it talks about.

Jonathan Vanian: It's battling the fear of conflicts? That's interesting that it's not even necessarily the conflict that's there, it could be just the fear of leading into something, or stepping on someone's toes.

Michael Vizdos: If you look at the Bruce Tuckman model where he talks about forming, storming, norming, and performing this is really helping teams get out of that storming phase where they've got to actually face the conflict and get out of it as a team.

Jonathan Vanian: What are some examples of conflict that a team could be facing?

Michael Vizdos: A lot of times people that I work with are introverts, I guess is the right word. Most of the people in this industry, we don't get energy from groups. Here we are in an agile world where people are throwing us into groups and saying work together

Jonathan Vanian: Share your stories, start collaborating.

Michael Vizdos: What the heck. It brings up a lot of problems and what I see a lot is almost passive aggressive behavior. People that say, oh yeah, we want to do agile and then they do everything they can to trip it up.

Jonathan Vanian: When they trip it up, what do you mean by tripping it up?

Michael Vizdos: With any change, you want to go back to doing what you were doing before. Whether it's weight loss, or quitting drinking, or quitting smoking, any kind of change is hard. These innovation games really do help work different ways in getting past that as a team.

Jonathan Vanian: Let's talk about an example of an innovation game. Maybe we're dealing with some passive, aggressive people here.

Michael Vizdos: One of the great ones that I use at retrospectives, let's say a Scrum agile team, is something called speedboat. Where we actually draw a speedboat, and I'm not really a good artist by the way, up on the wall and really have people put a scene around this speedboat. It's a boat that's above water and there's an anchor that goes down. People get pretty artistic about this. It's kind of scary how artistic some of these things look by the end. Really the purpose of this is to identify the good and the bad that's happening. Instead of going through what went well, what didn't go so well, this really does help open up some different conversations around what's happening that is good and bad from many different points of view.

Jonathan Vanian: It's asking everyone to contribute something to the overall picture.

Michael Vizdos: It really does give you a good indication as a group of, 'god, does this thing all suck? Are we doing well?'

Jonathan Vanian: Are we a sinking ship?

Michael Vizdos: Most of the teams that I work with is on one extreme or the other. They either want to up their game because they're a high performing team, or they are totally screwed.

Jonathan Vanian: How about another example of a type of game?

Michael Vizdos: Maybe for prioritizing features, and this is really in the product backlog refinement, there's a game we play called 'buy a feature'. It's a competitive game to have people all get different kinds of money and say, here's the feature list we have, here's the money, game on. Figure it out, right? Who's going to get the highest value features?

It's good because really with that, everybody doesn't get the same amount of money so that all the dynamics change in that game which is really fun to watch.

Jonathan Vanian: They're not given the same amount of money so they're divvied up just random portions? How many people are usually involved in these games?

Michael Vizdos: Anywhere from 5 to 50 and they do some of them that have 500 or 1,000, they're huge games these days. I haven't done any of those that big.

Jonathan Vanian: Are these games scalable? A game that can work with 5 teams can work with 500?

Michael Vizdos: Yeah.

Jonathan Vanian: OK, so they are.

Michael Vizdos: Luke has a lot of these games on line now and I know he publishes a lot of stuff with cities and counties around the US, especially on the left coast. I'm not involved in any of those.

Jonathan Vanian: About how many games are there? It's a pretty broad question but, for people just getting into it what can they expect? How many games can they expect if they try to do the research?

Michael Vizdos: If you do the research there's probably about a dozen games right now. A dozen to about 15 or 16. Like with anything though, it's a good tool box to know why are you playing this game? Because playing a game just to play a game is dumb. It's like doing those ice breakers at conferences, or whatever, you're like, what the heck.

Having a purpose and knowing a purpose, that's really what we're going to talk about during this session. What is the purpose of this? We'll go through actually how you do it and then debrief about what was good and bad about that.

Jonathan Vanian: Can you give an example about a time when you had a client who was, let's say, they were doing really poorly and how games came over to benefit them?

About the author

Jonathan Vanian's picture Jonathan Vanian

Jonathan Vanian is an online editor who edits, writes, interviews, and helps turn the many cranks at StickyMinds, TechWell, AgileConnection, and CMCrossroads. He has worked for newspapers, websites, and a magazine, and is not as scared of the demise of the written word as others may appear to be. Software and high technology never cease to amaze him.

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