Stop just #Innovating , start #Empathizing


There I said it.

Everywhere you go today, the focus is on Innovation as a verb. You must Innovate. There are Innovation Frameworks out there that define a framework on how you can generate Innovations at your work and personal life if you follow a process. Some of these frameworks are openly available while some are proprietary. There are even geographical areas that are designated with the Innovation titles to hopefully instill the belief that Innovation happens there before anywhere else. And then there are the individuals that have Innovation in their titles and seem to be somewhat responsible for Innovation at their companies.

Are we Innovation-ed out?

While the focus on Innovation and those Innovation Frameworks are valuable and can produce ideas and innovations, you shouldn’t stop there. The additional focus needs to be on why you are innovating. What pain or gain are you trying to achieve. Traditionally if your gain is just to make more money, then the life of your Innovation will be short lived. How do we then generate long lived Innovations?


Innovation is an outcome rather than an action. I’m not sure how we got to the place where Innovation became an action and not an outcome. In some ways that is tantamount to changing for the sake of change. Let’s look at the definition of Innovation:

: a new idea, device, or method

: the act or process of introducing new ideas, devices, or methods

So what is missing? Well it seems like all I need to do is introduce anything new or different and I’ll be innovating. It could even be something worse.

The traditional definition of Innovation does not have any focus on value of the Innovation. This is a problem.


OK Terry, well if Innovation is an outcome and not the action, what is the action that creates Innovation?

I’m glad you asked. 🙂

First off the actions that create Innovative outcomes need to be client value based and not company based. If those actions are based on value, then the Innovations will also be based on value. If we don’t base Innovations on value we really will be changing for the sake of change. Some of these changes may be home runs, but others might be duds.

In business, value is defined and determined by the client. As much as we think some product or service has value, it only really has value when the client agrees to pay something for it.

So really the only methods that can result in Innovative outcomes are those that maximize client empathy and client understanding. Only with that understanding can we understand what changes will be innovative and result in more value for your client. At the core the Innovation needs to take away a client pain or provide a client gain.

If you need to be Innovative, seek to understand your client better.

Turns out those guys like Luke Hohmann, Clay Christensen, and Alex Osterwaldner were onto something.

But please stop only using Innovation frameworks to be innovative and generate innovations. Throwing a bunch of ideas at the wall to see if some stick is time-consuming and wasteful. If you focus on understanding your clients the Innovations will follow.

If you want to be Innovative, gather true Client Insight and Empathy.


What does #Protegra do?

I work for Protegra. I’ve worked here since July 23rd, 2001. I’ve performed in a variety of roles and worked on many projects for a wide variety of clients.

But many times we continue to get the question; “What do you guys do?” Some people limit us to a Software Development Consulting company. We often hear “I didn’t know you did that?” Other times people remember we like to do projects rather than resource augmentation.

So what does Protegra do?

We are a consulting company with people who endlessly care to find the ideal solution for the true business problem. Protegra endlessly strives to ask whether the proposed the solution is the best one. Is the suggested problem the actual problem or just a symptom? Can the solution be made better? Is this solution an ideal solution? Our focus is always on solution consulting before solution building. In our opinion, many people jump to solution building before solution consulting.

Have you confirmed you have identified the real problem and have identified the ideal solution?

Protegra solves a client’s business problems through the use of Software Enabled Solutions. Sometimes this is greenfield development, sometimes this is package integration, sometimes this may be mobile development.

The difference is in how Protegra does this. And there are three steps or methods:

1) Protegra uses Innovation Games and other methods to gather Customer Insight as to what the current pains and gains are for the client.

2) Protegra creates Empathy Maps to confirm the true problems and jobs to be done and create and propose ideal solutions to address those business problems.

3) Protegra then uses Agile methods to iteratively deliver solutions to remove the business problems as soon as possible in an iterative way.

When have we done it?

  • We have worked with inventors to realize their visions in a software solution
  • We have worked with government to create and propose a job matching solution in joint ownership with First Nations
  • We have worked with government to determine how we could deliver a Campground Reservation solution in 92 days – Parks Reservation Service
  • We have created a state of the art Payroll and Scheduling system with industry partners – Blue Canvas Group
  • We have worked with clients to find funding for ideal solutions though government grants

We’d love to help your company define an ideal solution to your perplexing problems.


#Metaphor Games

Recently I was invited to participate in a focus group by Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries. The focus group was for people who were ‘collectors’ of wine and scotch. For my time I would be handsomely rewarded with a crisp new $100 bill. Naturally I was looking for cameras to see if anyone was playing a joke on me. My only disappointment was that I would not be sampling scotch.

Professional Curiosity

I never have participated in a Focus Group. Being a fan of the collaborative nature of Innovation Games, I was very interested in the methods and practices that would be used by the Focus Group. Initially there were the introduction exercises to get to know one another. The one we used was sharing the memory of our favourite meal – Where did it occur, what did we eat, what did we drink, and who was with us.

Then we did some ‘traditional’ brainstorming on characteristics of our favourite meals. I call this traditional because we all started yelling out ideas. I personally would have welcomed the use of stickies and Silent Brainstorming, but it did work ok as most of our group were pretty comfortable shouting out ideas.

The third exercise and most interesting one was where we had to imagine the ultimate new Liquor Store and then we each had to choose three pictures that best symbolized that store. There were over 30 pictures that we could choose from. Very interesting, the Focus Group was using Metaphors in a similar way as Innovation Games.

Why Metaphors?

So why metaphors? Simply put, metaphors get to the heart of the desires and needs. They get to the important whys. Instead of us throwing out ideas about displays and inventory in the new store, we talked about how we wanted the new store to make us feel. Those requirements tend to be more profound and lasting then whether the shelves are 2 tiered or 3 tiered or whether the red wine should be at the front or back of the store.

In Information Technology I see the correlation in getting the clients to think about the problem first and not jump to solution. Metaphors allow the free flow of ideas and prevent us from prematurely talking about aspects on the solution. It grounds us in the Why and not the What.

So in Innovation Games we ask where you want your company to go and what pains you are currently having. We purposely don’t talk about a potential solutions

It was very interesting to see the Metaphors being used in Focus Groups as well as Innovation Games though. There was more in common than I expected.

My new favourite #InnovationGame – #Agile Science Fair


I was asked to do a session for the Agile Winnipeg User Group and the first thing that popped into my mind was Innovation Games. Innovation Games are a critical piece in Protegra’s offering to gain Customer Insight on all projects. Recently we have used Innovation Games to assist the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce in creating their strategy. It really confirmed in my head that Innovation Games are the best way to gain Customer Insight no matter what the ultimate end product of the project is.

Agile Winnipeg Users Group

So I was very excited to be able to talk about Innovation Games and try one or two games in the session.  But it many cases, Agile teams have used Silent Brainstorming and parts of Innovation Games already even if they didn’t call  them Innovation Games. I wasn’t sure they would get the maximum value out of the event if I just did the SpeedBoat Innovation Game.

So I thought it would be the most impactful and fun to do the Product Box game. The idea was to do a Product Box on Agile. The objective was to create a Product Box that would let you communicate what Agile is and then try to sell Agile to their imaginary manager who has never used Agile. Fair enough. Seemed like fun


Ultimately though, Staples would not comply with our devious plans. This had happened once before when Luke Hohmann had presented at SDEC in 2012. Luke had graciously offered to also do a workshop the following day and one of the games we were playing was product box. But when I was looking for the plain white cereal sized boxes that we would use for our game, they were nowhere to be found. Eventually we found some mailing boxes that we could use for the game, but it wasn’t optimal.

So I was hoping that the lack of white cereal sized was only temporary at Staples. Nope. They were nowhere to be found.

They had the same inventory they had before… 😦

Science Fair

With one huge addition. They had in stock tri-fold cardboard boards like the ones used for science fairs.

This, I thought, is freaking perfect!

The Game

We started off the session with a few slides on Innovation Games and then got into the Science Fair game. I had purchased stickers, colorful sharpies, and colorful 4″ letters. (Which I thought were stickers. They were merely punch-out letters. But our ingenuous teams managed in spite of me) 🙂

I posed to them the situation.

“Your manager knows nothing about Agile, but you know it is the only way to develop software. Use all the supplies to create a poster board to communicate what Agile is and to try to convince your manager choose Agile for the next project”

I then also had purposely bought some animals stickers. I wanted them to use the stickers as Metaphors for Agile. I would ask why they choose a certain animal and what the animal represented about Agile. By doing this, I was using additional metaphors to gain insight into additional aspects of Agile they may not have communicated elsewhere.

The Results

Like all Innovation Games, we had fun and the teams produced projects that were awesome and I had greater insight into what each team thought about Agile.

But I really liked two aspects of the Science Fair game as compared to Product Box.

1) Real Estate – The teams had much more space to use to communicate. This allowed for more messaging and content then I would have had on Product Box. It particularly gave them room to draw.

2) Animal Metaphor – This was a neat twist I thought, but the insight gathered was truly great. Some teams used all the animals to show how teams had to be diverse, some teams used Giraffes to show how visibility was crucial to Agile, and then two teams used multiple reptiles to show how the Minimum Viable Product would be created and enhanced in each iteration.


It was a fantastic event and I think I’ll try Science Fair again when we need to do Product Box. The additional space allows for additional creative elements in the game. I think I’ll also keep the additional metaphor I used. That provided additional context and insight.

Stanford Design School’s Design Methods #WpgIIBA #InnovationGames #Empathy

I attended the Winnipeg IIBA chapter meeting where we reviewed the Stanford Design School’s Design Methods. The presentation itself was quite well done. We ended up splitting into pairs and went through the nine steps in the process. For our session we used the ‘gift-giving’ experience as a situation we could explore with the Stanford Design School’s Design Methods.

The Nine Steps

The Nine Steps in the Stanford Design School’s Design Methods are:

1) Interview – Use your interview skills to discover information about last gift giving experience

2) Dig Deeper – Dig Deeper in your second interview and try to focus on motivations for the gift giving experience

3) Capture Findings – Review the Finding and try to document the needs and insights discovered

4) Define Problem Statement – Define the problem statement discovered

5) Sketch – Draw at least 5 radical ways to meet the user’s need and address problem statement.

6) Share – Share your radical solutions and gather feedback from the user

7) Reflect – Reflect based on the feedback gathered and generate a new solution

8) Build – Build a prototype of your solution physically that the user can interact with

9) Review – Learn from your user playing with the prototype. What worked? What should be changed?


I liked the process. In many ways the process reinforces the principles of short feedback loops in Agile and working in iterations. I have seen similar methods being used in Paper Prototyping and UX Design Studio. These hands on design methods work and engage the user.


I’m not sure if having a separate step to focus on Empathy and motivations result in greater client empathy though. Empathy is a personal relationship. Sometimes a 1-1 interview is a hard place to build empathy. Some users may not feel comfortable sharing their motivations face to face. Some users may not even be aware of all their motivations. Just telling people to interview to determine motivations probably won’t be successful.

So what to do?

Luckily we have the methods of Silent Brainstorming and Innovation Games to help uncover empathy and motivations. Unlike interviewing, these are different methods that allow lateral thinking to get to the motivations easier. I like to say they get you to the ‘why’ instead of the ‘what’

Innovation Games does this by the use of different metaphors. The metaphors use the psychological concept of projection. Projection is the process of people finding it easier to transfer their thoughts and feelings to another object instead of talking about themselves. This was typically done for the first time in Kindergarten when we had Show and Tell. Show and Tell is a great method to learn more about kids and their thoughts and feelings. With Show and Tell, kids will share how the toys makes them feel and not just describe the toy. This helps us get to the ‘Why?’

It is also a great exercise to get kids comfortable with talking in front of other kids as well. 🙂

Designing too early?

In fact you may say that by asking what people want without asking them why we may be jumping to solution mode. If we know why, the what could be changed. Maybe the what they asked for is just one possibility.

Next Steps

Shameless Plug – I will be presenting on Innovation Games at the next Agile Winnipeg User’s Group on May 14th. Register and come check out other methods to discover Empathy. We will play 2-3 Innovation Games and hopefully learn about each other. 🙂

When #Lean isn’t enough – #novel

We all know about Lean. At least most of us do. We need to Lean our processes and organizations. We need to make them more efficient and less wasteful. But the problem is that Lean is only for incremental improvements. Given an existing process, how can we make it 5%, 10% more efficient? But the problem is that many opportunities for business aren’t just about incremental improvements in processes, we need to develop the new opportunities and products. Does Lean help with this? Absolutely not.

So what are we to do?

Novel Innovations

It is all about Innovation Games and Empathy Maps. With these tools and methods we can actually build customer engagement and try to develop Novel Innovations. With Novel Innovation we can discover new innovation that deliver new markets and services. No longer are we talking about 5%-10%. Now we are taking with total green-field opportunities that can offer 100%-200% growth. We are suddenly moved from a discussion of cost cutting to growth.

So how do we move from Lean to Novel? By changing our focus from internal to external. Instead of looking internally on how we can help to improve the internal working, lets look externally and see what the clients actually want and will pay for. No longer can we just look internally, incremental improvements are not enough.

If you aren’t looking at your customers. your competitors are.

I can’t stress this enough. Innovation is not an internal exercise. Many innovation frameworks look internally and discuss how to propose and gather innovation feedback internally. Without the involvement of the client and the building of client empathy, it is an unfocused effort that is not likely to succeed.


Read Innovation Games. Learn how to build Customer Engagement and Empathy.These methods will highlighted Novel approaches that will change your business and create the next generation of the business.

Four Information Technology Roles over time #agile #innovation

As I was evaluating the current role of Information Technology in our Industry I looked back and it seemed to be that there have been four distinct roles that Information Technology has played with business over the years

    1) Recording and Reporting 

This role focused mainly on Risk Mitigation. In the early years of computing, there was great value to be gleaned by entering data in a consistent way and minimizing errors. There was also great value realized by then having all the data in one location that could then be reported on to provide key indicators for the health of the business.

Information Technology implemented systems to record the current state or what ‘IS’.

    2) Automation

Soon after Information Technology had implemented solutions to help in Recording and Reporting, focus turned to larger problems like:

1) Automation of workflows/larger processes

2) Scalability

3) Efficiency

4) Availability

I often refer to this as the golden age of computing as we turned the power of the computer to problems that were much easier to scale and make more efficient using a computer rather than adding more people. The benefits were also realized in many workflow projects where Information Technology assisted people in guiding what they were supposed to do in the workflow process. In this phase, the increased computing power was also brought to the forefront to provide processing power that was only dreamed about 5 years ago.

In this phase, Information Technology implemented systems to take business beyond ‘IS’ and towards what business ‘COULD’ do with automation.

    3) Agile

With the Agile Manifesto, Information Technology ushered in the new phase of Agile projects. Now we were focusing not only on the outcomes of the projects, but also HOW the projects were being executed to maximize value. This was done through reducing Cycle Time, Maximizing Client Engagement, and through Visual Project Management.

In this phase, Information Technology implemented project processes that showed how projects should be run.

These first three phases focused on improvement, refinement, assisting the business to get better. We are now on the cusp of the fourth phase where Information Technology helps the business grow.

    4) Innovation

There is much talk about Innovation and how people must innovate, but it remains somewhat elusive. What is clear is that Information Technology has a role to play in helping clients Innovate.

Information Technology is uniquely position to leverage visual tools like Innovation Games, Empathy Maps, Business Model Canvas to provide business the brutal visibility that Information Technology provided previously about the projects in the Agile phase. What is clear is that the trend that Agile started toward visual requirements must continue. Specifications have improved from Specification documents to Use Cases to User Stories to A Business Model Canvas. Each one more visual that the prior.

What is also clear is that asking people what they want and documenting the response in words is a very risky endeavor.

For the first time, Business Models can be captured on one sheet and what-if-analysis can be done like in the first spreadsheet programs to evaluate options and alternatives.

In this phase, Information Technology is analyzing and recommending business processes that show how business can grow.

We won’t just be helping companies to get better, but to be different.

Hang on… This should be fun…

Innovation Games – Why do I have to keep repeating myself? #SpiderWeb

I’ve been busy recently on a lot of activities and my blogging has suffered as a result. Now that my kids Hockey Seasons are winding down, I find myself having a bit more time. I’m hoping that my pent-up blog posts will become much more frequent in the coming months. One thing that drives my Blog posts is having the time to read. It turns out I usually find the spark for a blog post from an article that I have read.

And that is what generated the idea for this blog post.

I came across an article that listed the following five tactics to “Focus your Business on your Customer”. It seemed simple enough and I was motivated on reading it as I was getting more involved with Business Development. So what were the five tactics? Well, I’m glad you asked.

  1. If you have a Client Relationship Management system or are considering Client Relationship Management System I want you to rethink why you need it.
  2. Tie all of your systems together to create an Integrated Customer Service System.
  3. Provide your customers with a portal to your system.
  4. Write a customer service manifesto that ties together the mission, vision and values of your organization.
  5. Put a new face to customer service if the old one has failed, and failed again.

Oh Boy

The article promised that “Do these 5 things and your customers will love you!”

Why do we need to keep talking about these things? In all the things being discussed, not a single one involves talking to the client! What does the client feel? What are their pains and gains? Do clients really care about your systems or the value they provide?

Why I love Innovation Games

I love Innovation Games for their singular focus on the customer. I adore playing Spider Web to highlight the interactions most of us don’t have with our clients. If you have never played the game, the idea is that you place your name at the center and the people you most interact with in a circle around you. You then draw lines to the people you interact with most frequently. Make the lines thicker for those people you interact with more frequently.

After all this is done, you ask the people to see how many actual clients they interact with frequently.

99% of the time this causes an audible gasp. And we wonder we why have challenges with our clients. We hardly ever talk to them!


Once people find out I work at Protegra, there are usually two questions that get asked. For those people who have not heard of Protegra, they ask “What does Protegra do?”. I will be writing multiple Blogs over the next few weeks on what Protegra does and how we visually and intuitively work with clients by using Innovation Games, Empathy Maps, Business Model Canvases and Value Proposition Canvases. Cool Stuff. Stay Tuned.

For those people who have heard of Protegra, they ask “What is it like to work at Protegra?”

I’ll try to address that question in this blog post.

Coming Home

I was away from Protegra over the last three years on a client project. Typically at Protegra we like all of our Protegrans (Yes, we call ourselves that) to work at our building. This is because of the sense of community and affinity that can be built and the collaboration and information sharing that is maximized when people can discuss ideas face to face. In addition, providing the opportunity for “Water Cooler” discussions can lead to the generation of the best ideas.

I should state that the client site I was at was as good as it could be. The clients were awesome and the project was a great learning experience. The client treated us like employees and the amenities were top-notch.

So I really wasn’t sure to expect coming back to Protegra after such a long time away. What would it be like? Would it be any different from the last few months? What it is like to work at Protegra?

I have now been back for 3 days and it is like being home. The amount of free-flowing ideas has made me smile and made my head spin at the same time. The meetings where everyone has an equal voice to propose ideas and discuss opinions is really quite unique. When everyone feels comfortable enough that they can propose anything and discuss anything, you have created an atmosphere like a home.

Protegra is also one of the few places I have been at where people seek out collaboration when they don’t need to. A decision could be totally within control of one person, but they will still seek out 3-4 other Protegrans and ask them what they think. And that to me is the indication that you have a special place. The focus is not on individual authority and advancement, it is about making the best decision for the client and Protegra as a whole. Why wouldn’t I seek out other opinions to make the decision the best it could possibly be?


So what is it like to work at Protegra? It is like being at home where you understand that even if you disagree, you can talk about it and your opinions will be respected and everyone is there to build something larger than just themselves.

To me, that is pretty special.

In my upcoming blogs we will talk about what how we work collaboratively at Protegra.

Why #Winnipeg needs #InnovationGames

After another week of reading people shouting into the wind, I was again reminded of why Innovation Games are important.

I came across the Elephant Talk website the other day that provided the pro-union stance. Now I’m not aligned with any political party, but it again illustrated how society seems to shout rather than discuss.

Everyone seems to be shouting out their points without first seeking to understand the entire complex situation.

Why I Love Innovation Games

Innovation games and specifically the “Buy a Feature” game requires people to have a discussion. It forces people to realize that there isn’t an endless amount of public money. It requires people to work with each other to set priorities and to make compromises.

It never is as easy to just say we need to fund Education or Health Care. Where are we taking money away from? How much money, for how long? Do we all agree on the priorities? The “Buy a Feature” game encourages these discussions.

Come on Winnipeg!

San Jose just recently completed the third annual Budget Games where citizens participated and provided feedback to their councillors on what they felt were the civic priorities for the next year. This type of engagement is rarely seen in politics nowadays and has resulted in San Jose citizens saying they both love and respect their councillors.

Now when have you heard that locally?

If you are intrigued and would like more information on how these budget games can work, please check out this following link.


I wonder how we can get the civic and provincial governments interested in Innovation Games? I will be volunteering on Parent Council at my children’s school and I know I will be bringing Innovation Games with me to better understand parents needs, wants, and desires.

I only hope we will see their use on a broader scale in the near future.