Setting up the “Buy a Feature” innovation game

Late last year, I partnered with Mariah Gauthier and Matthew Ruderman to design a series of Buy a Feature innovation games. The games were used to gather feedback on the design of an Office 365 education site. During the game, we presented users with a list of education site features, along with corresponding prices for each. Participants were asked to “buy” the features they wanted using play money.

The hardest part of designing the game was pricing individual features and determining the amount of play money each participant would receive. How do we decide which features are the most expensive? And what formula should we use to calculate the amount of play money to provide each participant? If we gave our participants too much money, they wouldn’t have to prioritize their feature needs. If we gave them too little money, we’d lose valuable insights since only a few features would be purchased.

This guest blog post outlines the process we took to determine feature pricing. We hope this helps you as you plan your own innovation games. Enjoy!
– Sarah Haase

Post from Mariah Gauthier:
Supporting internal end-users of Office 365 at your organization can be challenging. We live in a tech-centric world, which means that consumers want access to on-demand support options hosted via a modern platform…even in the workplace. With Office 365, the tools for building a solution to fit this expectation are accessible, but you’re still going to need a game-plan going into it. There are many options for what you are able to include in an Office 365 education site, including (but certainly not limited to): descriptions of products, news announcements, Q&A, training options, and Tips & Tricks relevant to your specific environment. This being said: it takes a significant amount of time and available resources to build-out this solution from scratch, making it difficult to know where to start.

Innovation games, and the specific use-case of Buy a Feature, give you the ability to prioritize your list of possible “features” by engaging the opinions of the audience that you are designing for: your consumers! Buy a Feature allows players to prioritize a list of options that are available to be included in the design of a given solution. Players are given a budget and a list of possible features, with the goal being to fund the features that they most want to see included in the final product. For more information on how Innovation games can support your SharePoint/Office 365 strategy, check out a recording of Sarah’s Minnesota SharePoint User Group session.

Buy a Feature is a great way to engage your end-users in a way that both is innovative and inclusive. However, before the games can begin, you first need to walk through the steps of compiling the list of possible features to be offered in your proposed solution. For example: after doing some brainstorming, you come up with a list of 10 offerings (i.e., “features”) that you could potentially include in the design of your Office 365 education site. At this point, you can begin to determine the individual budget of each player and the total value of all of the offered features combined. I used Luke Hohmann’s book, Innovation Games: Creating Breakthrough Products Through Collaborative Play as a guide to determine these thresholds. The key is to determine what proportion of the Total Feature Value that you want players to have access to. I went with an approximate 50% ratio, meaning that the combined budget of all players in each round of the game would amount to about half of the total value across all of the offered features.

# of Players Individual Budget Total Group Budget Approx Total Feature Value
20 $15 (20×15) $300 (300×2) $600
10 $20 (10×20) $200 (200×2) $400
5 $40 (5×40) $200 (200×2) $200

After establishing your figures, you can then move in to assigning each feature with a price to be used during the game. To do this, review your list of possible education site offerings and consider which options will be the easiest and least time-consuming to build, and which will take more effort to create. Choose a scale of weight to use in this exercise (for instance, a scale of 1-7) and allocate accordingly. Once you’ve weighted each feature, you are then able to calculate your list of prices. I found that the best way to do this was to create a quick Excel workbook. I’ve included a template for you to use in your own applications of Buy a Feature. One important tip going into the pricing phase of your exercise: make sure that features with a weight of “1” are priced low enough so that an individual player can buy it independent from the rest of the group. Part of the value of this activity is in observing how players choose to purchase features, whether it be on their own with only their personal budget as a resource, or by choosing to collaborate with other players to buy features at a higher price-point.

The next step in this process focuses on deciding the number of innovation game sessions that you want to hold, and the rate at which you want to schedule them (example: 2x per week). There is no hard-and-fast rule for how many Buy a Feature sessions that you will need to hold to get a solid set of findings, although I would suggest hosting at least five (this will vary widely depending on your use-case). The overarching goal is to continue running sessions until you are no longer collecting any new data. Once the data that you are collecting becomes redundant (i.e., the results that you are getting are consistent from game-to-game), you can stop holding sessions and start analyzing your findings!

Some tips that I can offer you in prepping for and running your sessions:

  • Consistency: In order to get a strong set of results, make sure that you are consistent in the methodology that you employ across each hosted session of Buy a Feature. I would suggest putting together a PowerPoint deck to refer to during each game that details an agenda, rules to the game, and a list of features that includes a description of each offering and a price.
  • Quantitative Data: During each session, players will be independently or collaboratively funding features. Make sure that you have an easy-to-use method of recording which features have been funded, whether it be a team member recording these results and reporting them to the group live, or an automated way of calculation. This will depend greatly on if sessions are being hosted in-person or virtually.
  • Qualitative Data: A huge benefit to engaging Buy a Feature is that not only do you get quantitative data (fully funded vs. partially funded/not funded features), but you are also going to get qualitative data through observing how players understand and strategize during the game. I would highly suggest having someone on your team taking notes throughout game-play, to gather some of the rich findings that go beyond the budgeting aspect of the activity. This is also helpful because you can look back later and understand which features, if not successfully funded, were still important to the group.
  • Final Thoughts: At the end of each session, survey the players individually to find out what they consider to be the top 3 features. The reality is that not every player’s ideal set of features is going to be fully funded – the aim of this exercise is to understand the overall prioritization of the group, which may not align with each individual user’s opinion. Through utilizing a post-game survey, you can draw a comparison between individual opinions and the consensus of the group as a whole.

After hosting your sessions, you will be able to review your data and use it to form a well-researched and market-based set of next-steps. The beauty of Buy a Feature is that through engaging your end-users on what they want to see included in a solution, you can avoid falling into the trap of assuming you know what your users need!

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