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The making of Playing Lean

The road to creating any great product is a bumpy one with many learning curves. In one of our previous webinars, game creator Simen told the story of all the bumps that Playing Lean went through, and how the game went from idea to product.

In 2013, Simen was running a software methods focused consultancy named Iterate. He had a client who he was going to teach Kanban in a workshop one day, and Lean Startup the second day. For the first day he used the Kanban board game. Attendees seemed engaged, into the experience and curious about Kanban even though it is very technical. The second day he held a classroom type session to teach Lean Startup. The engagement wasn't the same, so after the sessions he decided to buy a Lean Startup board game to provide a better learning experience. After searching for one and realizing there isn't a Lean Startup board game, as any good entrepreneur, Simen decided to make one.

He started with a basic prototype. The core concept with the triangles, squares and circles was there from the start. The first public testing was at the Oslo Agile conference in 2013. Even though not everything was working, you could see that people were really into the game and seemed to be drawing good Lean Startup Lessons from playing it. This was the first big moment for Playing Lean, when Simen realized the game had potential.

With Simen's very busy schedule, further development of the game was put aside and the prototype ended up on a shelf collecting dust. A few months later he got a call from Tore, a student at the time, who wanted to write about the game. Since there wasn't really a game to write about, he proposed Tore to come on board and help him develop the game.

They tested the prototypes with colleagues and clients as well, to see if this was something they could use in a workshop context. After numerous test sessions, the main concept of the game was developed. As the game evolved some concepts stuck, but some didn't like Build Measure Learn cards, and the economy part of the game where they used (Monopoly) money to buy experiments, which was later replaced with worker units. 

After a full year of testing, it was time to get the game out, so Simen and Tore launched the first Kickstarter campaign in January 2015. Unfortunately, funding was unsuccessful with 20% of the goal reached. After some research, they found that all projects that reach 20% of their funding goal, end up funded in the end. This was the second big moment where Simen realized there was real interest in the game, but the campaign itself was lacking in execution.

They evaluated the campaign and drew three lessons from it:

  1. Build momentum before going into a Kickstarter campaign.

You have to get people excited about the product before the campaign - put the word out on the street, have them sign up to your newsletter and wait for the launch. They also got an endorsement from Ash Maurya, which was a perfect fit for Playing Lean since his book was the main inspiration for the game.

  1. The product has to look like it's done.

The prototype they had looked a bit scruffy, so Holger came on board and gave the game a professional but playful look.

  1. Set the target as low as possible and build on early success.

Manufacturing a board game can be quite costly, so finding a manufacturer with a low minimum was difficult. Even though they found one that had a minimum quantity of 100, they opted for the best game manufacturer with a minimum quantity of 1000 and set the goal according to the cost.

With these three lessons implemented, a few months later the second Kickstarter campaign was launched and the goal was reached in just 10 hours. By the end of the campaign, after 30 days, the game was 500% funded.

The game was finally out and available for purchase, and by late 2017 Playing Lean was sold out. Instead of just ordering a reprint, we decided to gather all the learning from the previous two years and come up with an even better and more valuable iteration. For Playing Lean 2 we partnered up with Alexander Osterwalder, inventor of the Business Model Canvas.

In 2018, the third Kickstarter campaign was launched, and the game was funded in 14 hours.

So, maybe you’re wondering what’s next for Playing Lean? We’re constantly looking into helping professionals teach Lean Startup easier, faster and more fun, so we’re currently experimenting and testing a mobile app that would make some things easier for both players and facilitators. But, you will have to wait to hear the details in a future announcement...

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