I Wanna Party Like It's 2001

Last week I had the privilege of attending the first ever Innovation Games Summit in Silicon Valley.

Tom Grant of Forrester Research did a closing keynote. It's doubtful he said any of what I've written below. But there are certain sentences that continue to occupy my head after listening to him - and don't show any signs of leaving.

I've reprinted some of his slides here to illustrate my experience of his talk and my more memorable takeaways from it.

We've been really bad at building software that people actually want.

According to Tom, three main obstacles in how we work on software: 1) complexity 2) lack of customer insight 3) team dysfunction.

We've all experienced this. There is a whole lot of software out there that is poorly adopted. Most software startups fail. Tom sees three reasons for this: 1) project complexity 2) poor customer insight 3) team dysfunction.

So far, Innovation Games is the most effective tool for customer insight.

Luke Hohmann's work is among the most effective techniques to date.

To be sure, there are lots of methodologies out there. I personally am in the midst of a huge methodology shopping spree right now. Testing this and that, separating the wheat from the chaff.

It's not insignificant that a major researcher - whose job it is to watch everything carefully - thinks that Luke Hohmann's work is among the most effective techniques he has witnessed to date.

Invention and innovation are not the same.
Innovation is all about customer adoption.

Serious Gaming is what's next in our evolution as product makers.

Techniques and tools are a funny thing. Some are overtly empirical, and make logical sense just from reading the book. Others are a little more mysterious, and need to be experienced. They work, but you don't know why. Serious Games fall into the latter category.

The truth is that these methods are deeply rooted in cognitive science and cutting edge management theory. These are the techniques of the future.

But it's not just a matter of plug n play. The games you create for team alignment will be different than games for feature prioritization - will be different than games for out-the-box innovation. What's most exciting to me as a practitioner is the craftsmanship involved in choosing and applying all techniques (not just games) in diverse situations. I enjoy the feel of these tools in my hand, and they shall keep me occupied & obsessed for a long, long time.

"It feels a lot like 2001."

This is a sentence Tom actually did say (although I think he said 2003).

Do you remember what you were doing in 2001? In that year, separate groups had long since been experimenting with radically new approaches to software development. Seeing this, Uncle Bob rounded everyone up and called the first meeting that led to the creation and signing of the Agile Manifesto in 2001. The first conference - XP Universe - was held in Raleigh, NC the same year. More conferences would follow in rapid succession. Groups would rename and merge several times.

Today, the epic annual conference is put on by the Agile Alliance. But in 2001 the early "agilists" were, in a way, just a bunch of crazies. It would take a long time for the rest of the world to accept, or even understand, what they were doing. It didn't happen overnight. But now, even with all its challenges, agile (or the aspiration to be agile) now permeates companies large and small.

I can't imagine that software was ever not exciting. But right now, in the year 2013, there's something in the air. There are groups of crazies doing "new" (a relative term) types of customer research. Sometimes the groups work together, sometimes not. They just had their first conference, and there is another in Berlin in April, and another European summit in the fall.

The crazies are running around with sketch tools, craft supplies, and stickies. They are organizing people into games that don't seem like research, but yield breakthrough results in product and business strategy.

To be sure, it's an exciting time for product craftsmanship. It's exciting because we finally get to build a badly needed business corollary to the huge improvements that Agile and Software Craftsmanship have afforded us. We get to build the other side of the coin.

And we are up for the challenge.

Sue Kim is a Product Craftswoman. She likes building things that people actually want to buy.