Embrace Gamestorming



First of all, let’s get this out of the way. Gamestorming is not new. Gamestorming is a collection of ‘games’ put together under the banner of ‘gamestorming’. As a business analyst (BA) I can assure you there will be many games in the book and on the website, that you have used in your role under different guises. 

Dave Gray (co-author of ‘gamestorming’) put it best when he described himself and his fellow authors as the Grimms brothers. The Grimms brothers, if you are not familiar with them- they brought together different fairy tales and published them in a book. 

Both Amy and I have different business analysis background, while we both have worked in large, complex technology programmes in the public sector. We have used different project methodology, Amy’s background is mostly in Waterfall, while nearly all the projects I have worked on have used Agile. We want to demonstrate in this article that you can use gamestorming with any project methodology. It’s less about project methodology and more about adapting games to meet your audience’s need.  

Why do I need to know about it…?

As BA’s, it’s very easy to fall to into the trap of saying ‘I am not creative’. However, when you think of methodologies like Soft System methodology (SSM), most of this is based around converting information in a pictorial format. SSM originated from the viewpoint that organisations and systems are complex and human beings by nature will view things in a different format. The key thing I always remember about SSM is that the methodology is not focused on trying to solve the problem but its more about analysing a situation. Gamestorming, takes a similar viewpoint – it's less focused on the problem you are trying to solve and more about the solutions you are trying to achieve. 

The other thing to note in this trap of ‘I am not creative’, is that when companies want to do something creative, they will usually bring in an external team to do this exercise and then expect their organisation to embrace new methods. Usually, this results in organisation not embracing their new tools, as they don’t feel like they have confidence or buy into the tools. This results in disengaged staff and wasted money. 

Everyone can be creative but … we need the right tools 


So, what is it…

Just like a game that you played when you were younger, there are three key components to it 

1.    The opening– what is the goal here, what are you trying to achieve from this game. This is the equivalent to setting out and understanding the rules when you are playing any game. It is commonly referenced to as being the ‘divergent’ stage. 

2.    Middle– this is where the exploring of the ideas takes place, refining these ideas. This is commonly referenced as being ‘Emergent’ stage. 

3.    End– this in effect is bringing everything to close, discussing and agreeing to the next steps. What is the outcome that you have achieved? If you think of it in traditional game format, who has won, who has come second and so forth. This is commonly referenced to as ‘Convergent’. 

Why you should embrace it 

Einstein said he’d spend 55 minutes defining the problem and alternatives and 5 minutes solving it. In traditional meetings, we tend to become focused on the problem/s we are trying to solve. From experience, I find that at least half of the meeting is spent recapping what we believe are the problems. By doing this, as a team, we don’t necessarily spot the opportunities that could make our organisation smarter.

The famous saying ‘a picture can say 1000 words’ is so true. In the above sketch note you can see what is being communicated in the drawing. Now, think about how big the document would have to communicate what has been drawn above. 

Creating ways to get people to think differently and to think outside the box, by removing constraints, will mean that as an organisation you are more likely to be innovative. 

Gamestorming can be used at any stage of the business analysis lifecycle. The two games highlighted below, we like to use within the lifecycle. 

 Try it out…...Decision making 

Getting stakeholders to make a decision is always tricky and it’s one of the areas that as a BA you have to constantly navigate around. When you have a list of stakeholders, they are often managing several tasks, which naturally results in their attention being divided across all areas. Getting this group of people to agree on priority is incredibly hard. 20/20 Vision -Is a great game to have in your toolbox. It helps your stakeholders to agree on prioritises for your organisation.  


How to play


·     Before the meeting, ask all the participants to send a list of their top two projects that they think the organisation should prioritise over other projects in the organisation.

·     Write all the projects on post-it notes – one item per post-it note. 

·     On a wall/ flip chart paper/ whiteboard, stick the first priority on there. Ask the participant who owns the project to describe the benefits of this project. On a post-it note write these benefits down. You can only write three benefits for a post-it note and each project only gets one post-it note. 

·     If other participants disagree with the benefit, then write their objection on a different colour post-it note

·     Do the above for the rest of the projects on the list. Before going to the next step ask the participants if there are any projects that are missing from the list. If there are, do the above exercise on them. This would be a good time to ask why these projects were missed off the original list. 

·     Pick two random projects off the list and ask everyone to decide between these two projects, which has a higher priority for their organisation. If the participants are undecided, then I would suggest you take a vote. It is important that you don’t let the participants waffle and delay making a decision

·     The project that has been deemed higher priority, should be stuck on the wall/flipchart/whiteboard above the other project.

·     Pick another project off the list and ask the same question – ‘does this project have priority than these two projects’, if yes then add this to the top. If not add it to the bottom of the list. If they think it has a higher priority than one but not the other, then stick it in the middle.

·     Do the above exercise on all of the projects on your list. 

 By, the end of this game you should have prioritised list of projects for the organisation. Things, to note in this game is that you will naturally have people who struggle to make the decision, so it is important that you keep referencing back to the benefits that are attached to the project

Top tips or key points?

Don’t be scared of having a fuzzy goal- embrace it. I personally feel if you have a fuzzy goal you become more solution agonistic and find that as a team you are really exploring the problem that you have on hand. Also, with a fuzzy goal, you will find that less time is spent as a team on the solution and more about how you can overcome the problem you are facing – this allows you to tackle the problem in a different manner. 

Humans beings are generally visual creatures and we embrace things, so try to use less text as possible. 

People are generally deemed to be more creative in the morning so we would suggest that you hold any creative or brainstorming games in the morning. 

Only use the tools that you have available in the office. If you only have post-it notes and sharpies use them. There are many uses for post-it notes; in one sessions, I got the participants to create origami out of post-it notes  


Dip your toes in

If you feel that the organisation you work for may not be open to embracing gamestorming. Then, there are small things you can do to dip your toes. 

1.   Create a clock to represent your agenda 

a.     On a whiteboard or flip chart paper draw a large circle 

b.    Write the outcome that you want to achieve from the meeting in the middle of the circle 

c.     Divide the circle into different segments, the segments will represent all the things that need to be discussed. Dependent on how much time you are going to spend on each area will depend on how large the segment will be on the circle

d.    Explain to all attendees how long you want to spend on each discussion point. Before you start any point of discussion on the agenda, you can set a timer to the amount of time that you have given for that item. 

This is a really good way to visually display the agenda to your attendees. By using a clock metaphor, the attendees will naturally start to associate the amount of time that should be spent on the different areas of the agenda.  

2.   Ice breakers – Squiggle bird 

Love or loathe them, ice breakers are here to stay. We like squiggle bird as an ice breaker because it is a nice way to start a session in a creative manner and get people energised. 

a.     You will need to provide the attendees with pen a and paper. Start by asking everyone to draw squiggly lines, we would suggest you get them to do draw about 5 squiggly lines.

b.    Ask, everyone to pick their favourite line. First, ask them to draw a beak on this line, then two legs with some feet and a tail. 

c.     You, can then get them to draw these features on other lines on their paper. 


This ice breaker is great at communicating how human brains are brilliant at identifying patterns, we don’t need everything explained to us in granular details. This tool is also, good for getting people that may not physically be at the meeting involved in the meeting/workshop.

3.   Process map- Draw how to make toast

I first came across this tool via Tedtalk and I have used it constantly throughout my career with both my public and private sector clients.  This is good tool to use before, you have a big workshop on stakeholder management or eliciting requirements from your end users. 

a.     You will need to provide participants with pen and paper. Ask everyone in the room to draw a picture/ process map to how they make toast. We would suggest you give everyone about 3 mins. 

b.    Once, the time is up, get everyone to talk through their drawing, if you have the time. If you don’t have the time, then pick a couple of people in the room to talk through their picture. 

This tool is a brilliant way of demonstrating how system thinking works. We have used this tool in works to demonstrate how even for simple things, people can approach it many different ways. I, personally like to use this tool before a requirement workshop, as a way to demonstrate, how important it is to be clear on requirements. 

If you have any questions, please contact either @AmyMorrellBA @RohelaRaouf on twitter or Linkedin. 

Author: Rohela Rouf, Business Analyst

My name is Rohela Raouf, I have been working as a business analyst for a few years. I have had the privilege of working across multiple programmes across the technology landscape. I am currently working in public sector helping to deliver a critical product for a large government department.

I have a passion for building services around user needs and delivering them quickly- learning from the users and iterating on the product to create a product that the users want to use.

If you have any questions, feedback- let me know  via twitter- https://twitter.com/RohelaRaouf



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