Idea for a “Practitioner’s Playground”

New creative thinking methods are regularly en vogue in corporate circles: from de Bono’s “six thinking hats” to innovation games like “buy a feature”, the urgent wish to find THE method to accelerate creative processes is probably as old as the market economy itself.

Veterans in this area start smiling when newbies report enthusiastically that they have found a brand new little helper with a fancy name that solves at least five difficult problems while being lots of fun. They might stop smiling when they have to sit through another ill-moderated meeting where whiteboards are filled with colourful notes which are to be clustered to find the same solution to the same problem as the last time. On some rare occasions, the veterans start smiling again because they have discovered a gem, a method that adds value to their own toolkit. Nonetheless, it is a game of luck.

Playing this game of luck with your colleagues is one story – playing it with customers is a totally different one. If you visit an end-user to get their feedback on your existing solution and brainstorm visions for a new one, you don’t want to take a lot of risks and you probable would rather be on the safe side. To make sure that creativity techniques really work and to bring both newbies and veterans together, SAP’s user research team has introduced a new community meeting series: the Practitioner’s Playground.

The concept: try out methods that look good on paper in a safe environment. And I really mean try it out, not only read about it. No matter what their role is, everybody can join a session, suggest a topic or host one – the only rule: stick to the time frames:

–          10 min introduction to the technique

–          60 min trying it out

–          20 min discussion to reflect: Does it really hold up to the promise and solve the problems it claims to solve?

Apart from the rating the technique gets, you gain experience with the set-up and requirements, for example, what materials you need, how long it takes, how many people can join, etc. Document the results, share it with the community, and you end up with a repository of techniques that really work for you.

You grow from having a messy toolbox to a neat and organized one full of tools with tags on them – this hammer works best with steel nails, but make sure you wear gloves while using it. Newbies know what the hammer can do for them, veterans find their tools quicker, and nobody gets hurt using a dysfunctional tool – how cool is that?

Example: Description of one of our last sessions

If you are interested in running your own “Practitioner’s Playground,” maybe you can find some inspiration from one of our last sessions on the topic:

“Creating storyboards”

During the 10 min introduction to the technique, the usability professional gave a brief definition of what a storyboard is, what it is good for and how to create it. This was followed by some tips and tricks to get started, for example “Focus on the story, not the drawing” and “Put the person in the center.”

In the 60 min allotted to trying the method out, the cross-functional attendees of the session split up into teams and started creating their storyboards. For this exercise, it is very helpful if you create an example project situation that can be used by the teams – otherwise they will lose time while discussing what example to use. Make sure that it is easy enough for everyone to understand, but complex enough to be of relevance for your work situation and your company’s product portfolio. Now let the teams explore – we highly recommend taking pictures!

When time is up, the 20 min discussion starts. Make sure to document your insights and make them available to attendees. This way, helpful information does not get lost and can save you a lot of time when you draw your next storyboard. An example for such an insight: “When the story is clear, consider who your target audience is before you start drawing – hand drawn smiley-style works well to quickly share idea with colleagues, for upper management or customers you might want to consider using a more refined visual language. Starting with the right medium saves a lot of time!”

If you know of some helpful templates, add them to the information bundle that will assist your audience in future activities. Post this information in an internal community or your organizations’ intranet page, and you have a great reference to point people to the next time someone has a method question for you as a UX professional.

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