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7 most common mistakes in using Playing Lean and how to avoid them

Playing Lean has surely become an important tool in a coach's or educator's toolkit, as it teaches players Lean Startup and innovation by simulating real life situations, but without the risk of them loosing anything.

The game engages them, develops problem-solving and decision-making skills, and opens them up to understanding new (and sometimes difficult) concepts.

But, as players make mistakes during the game, facilitators do them too while facilitating a game session.

Simen and Bruno have both seen a fair share of beginners mistakes after training more than 150 Playing Lean Facilitators worldwide. They have also learned from their own mistakes, and shared them in one of our first Playing Lean webinars.  

Managing expectations

The biggest mistake Simen has seen, and has also done himself, is managing expectations with stakeholders what the workshop is about. You can expect the players to be energized and curious about Lean Startup and innovation, but you can't expect to have fully formed Lean Startup experts after a couple of hours of playing the game.

This is critical in the beginning, as it can be very painful for the facilitator if  he/she isn't fully clear on what the workshop is about and what to expect.

Giving up control of the workshop

The game is fun, but you've been hired to educate people, to teach them something new and create some results. You need to be in charge of driving the learning and identifying points.

It’s also important to note that each facilitator has their own style. Some are more hard driven and some are more relaxed. Both styles are fine, as long as you don't give in to the chaos and noise. 

Not setting up the venue for success

This may seem like a trivial thing, but you don't want to waste precious workshop time on setting up the table and looking for accounting sheets and cards. That time should be used for an introduction to the players to Lean Startup, some key concepts and the rules of the game. You don't want to dive straight into playing the game. 

Not following the energy of the room

Once you have done the introduction and started playing the game, a common mistake is failing to follow the flow of the workshop. As Bruno says: “Meet them where they are.” Step in if you see a struggle with learning, but also if you see them having fun allow it but still make sure they're learning. 

Team setup and managing teams

One way you can influence the flow of the room is team setup. You will have people of different skills and levels of knowledge of Lean Startup. At the beginning of the workshop, ask people who knows something about Lean Startup. Usually the people who are Lean Startup experts, will want to let you know they are. You can even mingle before the workshop and to get to know more about your workshop attendees.

If you, for instance, have a few Lean Startup experts, you will want to distribute them on teams, and you will also want to give them some responsibility to get them on your side during the session. You don't want them challenging you and asking you some hard hitting questions. You also want to look for board game experts, people who play strategy games, as they can help you with explaining the rules. 

Bruno recalls a workshop where he had 4 teams - two teams of 3, and two teams of 2. In one of the teams with 2 people he had a Lean Startup expert and a player of strategy games. The team absolutely crushed the game. They didn't just win the market, but also cut out other teams from entering the market. The workshop was still fun, but also a good learning experience for Bruno for future setups. 

Another important thing in managing teams is setting up the number of players you have on each team. Plying Lean is best played with 12 players - 4 teams of 3. 4 teams of 4 is the absolute max. If you have fewer players go with fewer teams, but you still want to have more than one player on each team. The dynamic is better and they will learn more as they will have a teammate to discuss with. 

If you're in a situation where you have so many people that you need two tables, it would be best to have a person at both tables who knows the rules well, so you can go between  tables and facilitate. We don't recommend this for corporate clients, but for open sessions on conferences and meetups, where you can have walk-ins, and the whole session is more about having fun. 


Another mistake that falls under the flow of the game is your role as a facilitator. It is easy to become overeager. You want to teach attendees everything, but time flies fast in a workshop. You should keep your stories that are related to the lecture point 30 seconds long. Also, it's great to insert your own stories that are relevant to the audience. Playing Lean is a framework and you build your own stuff on that. 

No time for retrospective

A reflection at the end of the game rounds everything up, it gives some closure. You want people to leave with more energy and with more knowledge, and you can also provide some hints where they can learn more (books, podcasts, online courses).

We hope that these points will help you in setting up a great Playing Lean workshop! 


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