As a business analyst, I am regularly looking for new tools and techniques to add to my toolkit. I’d like to tell you about one such technique. It’s definitely a useful technique for business analysts, but could equally be useful for project managers or other types of consultants.
Speedboat is a quick, simple, and fun technique for identifying and exploring project/product issues with a group of people. This visual, interactive activity is a great way to collect feedback about real or potential problems.
The activity takes about 30 minutes, but you could consider using some additional time at the end to explore some of the issues that have been identified. The ideal group size is anywhere from five to 15 people. Here’s how it works.
On a large whiteboard or poster board, draw some waves. Then draw a speedboat with a nice, big, fast-looking motor. Label the speedboat to represent your project. Explain to your group that you all want the boat to be as fast as possible, but you think that there may be “anchors” that are holding it back. You want the group to help you identify those anchors.
Explain to the group that you are taking part in green-light thinking – you don't want to get into arguments over the validity of an issue, you just want to capture everything that the team identifies so that you can follow-up and discuss each issue in detail later. If you think that some of the issues identified might cause disagreement or argument, then you might want to establish some basic ground rules before starting the exercise.
Have the group brainstorm on issues, and draw each one as an anchor that is holding back the boat. Give the team about 10 minutes for brainstorming.
As the facilitator, you could choose to draw each of the anchors yourself, or you may want to allow team members to come up and draw the anchors. If you are a BA with a drawer full of sticky notes, then you could hand those out to the team and have them place them around the anchors on the drawing. Encourage each team member to identify at least one or two anchors, so that everyone is involved.
One risk with this type of activity is that the group may quickly try to start solving the problems immediately. With this activity, you want to start by identify factors that are holding you back from your potential, without getting caught up in solving them immediately.
Once you have finished identifying all of the anchors, you should review them as a team and make sure that they are all clearly understood. You might identify some common themes, discover some quick wins, or reveal problems that require further discussion. You can now start looking into possible solutions or next steps – just be careful not to spend so much time on one or two issues that it prevents you from reviewing them all.
At the highest level, the boat can represent an entire project or product, but you can also use the technique to drill down into particular components of the project or product. Here are some great examples of ways that you can apply this technique:
- Draw separate boats to represent each feature or module of a software product to find out what is holding back each feature or module from being as spectacular as it could be.
- You could use the technique to review phases of a project plan. Create a separate boat for analysis, development, quality assurance, etc., and then identify the issues that are preventing each phase of the project from reaching its potential.
- Use the speedboat to represent a goal or objective, and draw anchors to represent risks that could prevent the team from meeting that goal or objective.
- Use the technique with a small group of customers to identify problems with your product.
There are a nearly endless number of ways that you can apply this technique.
This technique can be an effective way to identify issues for many reasons:
- The activity can be done in a fun, relaxed way.
- The topic is framed around an understanding that we all want the speedboat to succeed.
- It gives people a mechanism for communicating specific issues, rather than making vague, unproductive complaints.
- Everyone gets a chance to contribute and identify their concerns.
- The activity is collaborative; when the activity is complete, everyone in the group understands the concerns of all of the other team members.
- It's a visual exercise that is more likely to elicit feedback than a meeting or email.
It’s good to have a large variety of approaches and techniques at your disposal, and this is a great one to have in your toolkit. This technique is collaborative, visual, and very interactive and can be very successful if you make sure that the activity doesn't devolve into a gripe session. If everyone approaches it in a constructive manner, with the goal of achieving true potential, then you can use it to collect some very valuable information that will help your project to succeed.