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Working with Company Blocks in Playing Lean

The Company Blocks were one of the biggest changes introduced in Playing Lean 2. The system used for investing in your capabilities in Playing Lean 1 was quite straightforward. Whenever you wanted to, you could invest in improving your ability to experiment, build or sell. 

In Playing Lean 2 we wanted to capture the fact that reality is less linear. Opportunities will come and go and can’t necessarily be saved for later. Now teams can improve their abilities by bidding for new “company blocks” that go up for auction every turn. The company blocks come in three flavours:

  • Experiment blocks - your ability to figure out what the customer needs.
  • Engineering blocks - the skills you need to build your product.
  • Sales blocks - the capability of your team to close the deal with customers.

If you win such an auction, the new block will replace one of the existing ones. This will make you experiment more, build faster or sell cheaper.

It also pushes players to pursue different strategies. The company with cheaper experiments might go for more customer insight, while the company that builds faster might go for more features in their product.

Players often ask what the auction represents in real life. It is meant to represent limited resources. It might be employees with a special skill set that are just now available in the market or some kind of accelerator program that requires effort from your team. Either way, you have to commit the resources required to win the company block.

We have collected some tips for you to consider the next time you, as a facilitator, are setting up a game of Playing Lean:

Organize the stacks. If you’re not playing the game yourself, remember that the order of the blocks in the draw stacks doesn’t have to be random. You can organize them into any sequence you prefer, for dramatic effect.

Sharpen the competition. There’s exactly one “Engineering” company block per team per phase of the game. That makes for a “nicer” game where every team gets their upgrade in the end. Feel free to remove some of them! Having fewer Engineering company blocks will create a more competitive game.

Get your stories straight. Go through the company blocks before the game and come up with stories of your own. Why are the MVP ninjas so fast? How can the rapid prototypers learn so much? Add some fun and a personal touch to the game with your own stories.

The auction is blind, carried out by having players hide their bids in their hands, with everyone revealing at the same time. This adds a fun, interative and competitive element to the gameplay. Teams will discuss tactics such as bidding on something they don’t really need, in order to prevent other teams from getting it.

You might do well to advise teams not to get too hung up on what the competition is doing, though. It’s the team that values the insights they get from customers highest that will win in the end.

If you're interested in finding out what other changes we've made to Playing Lean 2, check out our FAQ. There is also a gameplay video that will help you understand the rules of the game better and show you how it all works!

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