Teaching Lean Startup Principles With Legos

By January 27, 2013 No Comments

As I’ve mentioned previously, Daxko is starting to adopt Lean Startup principles to help drive innovation and new product ideas. As we started planning for our annual Daxko Kickoff meeting, I thought it would be interesting to do some sort of group activity that reinforced some of the ideas and principles that we want team members to embrace as we move into 2013. Particularly, those around customer development, experimentation and learning. I was inspired by Chad Holdorf (an Agile Coach at John Deere) to try and do something with Legos. He teaches Enterprise Scrum using small teams building a city through multiple iterations using Legos.

I bounced the idea off of Will S and he liked it, so together we set out to design a game that mixed Legos with Lean Startup principles. After several late nights, long lunches, play testing, and multiple trips to the Lego store, we felt like we were on to something and this might just actually work. I thought about the game a lot over the holidays and made a few minor tweaks right before we traveled to Birmingham for Kickoff 2013. Here’s how things went…

We split up our entire software products organization into 10 teams of 6-7 people. We intentionally mixed the teams up so that they represented a good mix across the organization. We also tried to put people together who don’t normally work together on the same team, product, or job function. Next, I introduced the game – Lego Motors!

Congratulations! You’ve been busy pitching a business idea for a new car company and a venture capitol firm has been crazy enough to give you some funding. Now it’s time to get to work!

Each team has a goal to make as much money as they can by building cars that these customers will buy. How they do this is up to the team. There is a time limit of 30 minutes to build and attempt to sell to the customers.

We convinced a few people on the leadership team to act as customers and encouraged them to get creative and use props to help “sell” their character. We met with these customer actors the day before and talked through the game mechanics and the principles we were trying to reinforce. This turned out to be a critical factor in making this exercise a success. Each customer had a script to work from. The script included their prioritized list of needs and the associated value for each. Customers were coached on how to talk about their needs without listing specific features. We wanted the teams to be forced to meet with the customer multiple times in order to learn enough about what they really need and value. The customers were also given a list of achievements to award. We created achievements to help reward behaviors that we wanted to reinforce.

After the game was over, we went around to each team and asked them for what achievements they had unlocked, and which customers they targeted. The results were pretty mixed. Most teams sold at least 2 vehicles and earned at least one achievement.

Next, Will went through the achievements and tied them back to the Lean Startup principles that we were trying to reinforce.

We received a ton of positive feedback after the exercise. A lot of people commented that the hands-on nature of Legos combined with the mechanics of the game itself really helped drive home the concepts we had been talking about all morning around being more innovative and experimental. Everyone we talked to had fun and they got to interact with people that they don’t normally see or talk to on a daily basis. Plus, we now have almost 10,000 Legos to play with at the office.

Here’s a short video of the exercise:
Lean Startup Legos

To learn more about the Lego Motors game, connect with Jason B on twitter.

Jason B. is a software testing professional that loves a good challenge. When he’s not running waterfalls in his kayak, he’s working to make the world a more “agile” place.

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