So let's say you go to a requirements gathering meeting. You sit down with some internal stakeholder and hear the complaints and issues and try to understand everyone's feedback and perceptions. After about an hour or two or more of discussion, the group seems to gradually stop talking and winding down the meeting. It seemed to go well - you got a lot of information, so why complain?
Then about a week later there are changes, which are expected because business priorities change. However there are some new issues that, well, have a massive impact on the project and scope. Then you are sitting there going - "Man, couldn't we have learned that all a little earlier?"
Let's face it - talking is easy, listening is harder, but real communication is just plain difficult. How often are we in conversations where we say something, we hear the other person's response, and then a little later we wonder - what did we just talk about? It's hard to get out there what's important to you. And I think it's even harder for users of systems - users know what they want, but they don't write requirements for a living so they don't communicate them in terms of stories or bullet points or just plain needs.
So how do you get those requirements communicated?
Well, Luke Hohmann has a way with Innovation Games. I attended a two-day training seminar to learn how to get the right information out of people using games. Of course, we played the games too - probably the best part.
When we walked in the door, we designed a name tag. Well, using Mary logic, I wanted to make it pretty and girly. So I found a pink Sharpie (I didn't know that they existed), some glitter (ok, lots of glitter), and drew swirls and all that. I was honestly at a bit of a loss when I went to present my card (everyone had a great story, while I just wanted to make a pretty, girly card) - but man, I learned so much more personal information about the people there than i planned - it was awesome. I'm honestly bad with names (I need to meet you 2-3 times before i remember what your name is) - but at least I could remember people as "You are the guy who is from Canada" or "The guy with the eyeball on his tag."
By nature, I'm not a talker (you would never know this from my lengthy blog entries or from the fact that in my second life I'm a belly dancer - you'd think I'm extrovert extraordinaire...but it's true.). I'm happy sitting in the back of the room saying nothing for 2-3 days. Hell, I'll say nothing while working at home for a few days except for some IM conversations. But in this class - that won't work. You can't hide - Luke makes you get involved and get active.
I liked the case studies we had in class to learn about game application - they brought to mind some situations I was in where I had to get information out of people. For example, there is this game "Speed Boat" - a great way to have people talk about their "anchors" or complaints. Everyone loves to vent - making it a great game. Then there is product box where you get all scrapbook-y and pull together a box of what you think the product is and how it should be sold. And then a timeline game where you get people to list all of the times and events they use a product. And so much more.
It was an exciting couple of days - we all got involved and really learned more about how to use the games.
I mean, using games provide people a way to communicate their priorities, what is meaningful to them, their complaints, their relationships and heck - just get it all out on the table so you know what you are dealing with. What I liked most about the games - no more than 8 people can participate at a time. This makes the whole process more intimate and lets even the most introverted participate - I mean, it's pretty easy to get to know 8 people and a moderate just can't miss you if you don't talk. Heck, I was even talking a lot for me by the end of the class.
I can't wait to use the games with product users at usability testing or general sessions. Sure, it gets a little "arts and crafts-y" at times, sure it's super casual - but that's the best way to get people to open up, lose their guard, participate and communicate. This way, people are out of the lab and involved in their environment and discussing what really matters.
That's what these meetings should be all about, right?