Friday, June 26, 2009

Requirements generation using Remember the Future

My current client needed to get requirements for a new system from people who do not think in terms of functional requirements, use cases, or even user stories. Their understanding of the future hypothetical system was too vague and undefined for those levels of detail.

Instead, I decided to run a session of Remember the Future (RtF). Not only does RtF encourage vision creation, it is also inexpensive and simple to run. The client understood that RtF generates material that then needs to be collated and translated into more "usable" requirements.

The session had good participation from marketing communication, business, and front-line customer interaction folk. The client was surprised by the amount of material that was generated, with about a third of it being directly translatable into requirements.

One of the reasons why Remember the Future is good for this sort of situation where specific detailed requirements are problematic is that by looking back from the successful "reality" of the future and telling us in the past what it is like up there, it leverages the human mind's ability to confabulate.

While confabulation is distressing from a politician explaining their fiascos and amusing in a four-year-old explaining how the dog got on the roof, it forces a pure "blue sky" vision into specifics and tangible details.

We can then derive requirements from the specifics and go back to the participants to check against the "reality" that they imagined.

The material that was not applicable to requirements is also useful because it allows us to set and communicate system boundaries.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Innovation Games in Action

I had the opportunity to work directly with Luke Hohmann, founder of Enthiosys and inventor of Innovation Games, helping to facilitate the sessions he was conducting. The venue was the User Conference of one of his customers, a software company from Austin. The games used were 2020-Vision, Speedboat, and Buy a Feature.

There was a lot of preparation behind the scenes prior to the event. The users were being asked to provide feedback on the future direction of the product, so time was spent putting together lists of features that could be developed along with descriptions of them, etc.

2020-Vision was used with executive-level customers to prioritize features. This is a more facilitator-focused activity, where participants compare features in pairs deciding "better One, better Two" much like your optometrist does when fitting you for new glasses.

Speedboat was used to identify things in the existing product that people wanted changed or improved. This game begins as an individual-focused activity, as each participant begins by writing down things that they personally don't like. As the game progresses and people see what other people have said more and more interaction occurs.

Buy a Feature is a completely participant-focused activity that simulates a "market" for features that "cost money". Users discuss the features and debate what is worth spending money on. This forces people to combine their money to get expensive features beyond the budget of any one person. This game is a cognitive decision-making triumph, as it leverages Wisdom of Crowds, Prediction Markets, and fun.

At the event was a journalist/observer who noted that despite the apparent chaos of the activities, it was actually quite directed and successful. My response was that Innovation Games events are forms of dynamic, non-linear stability, which is much more robust in the face of random or unexpected events. (The standard example is that of earthquake resistant buildings--fixed and rigid "stability" or designed to sway with the movement of the earth?)