2 October 2014 | 9 Comments
Last Friday, Stonemaier Games held its first official visioning session. Alan and I have discussed the company’s future in the past, but we hadn’t invited other people to participate in a structured brainstorming session.
I’m really glad we did, because a ton of great ideas came out of the visioning session, several of which had much greater emphasis than I would have otherwise guessed.
I was a little worried that all of these ideas would result in more work for me–I run the company’s day-to-day operations, and I work about 10-12 hours a day, 7 days a week–but in reality the visioning session helped to focus and prioritize many of the things we already do while leaving room for growth that isn’t necessarily dependent on me.
Now that I’ve gone through the experience, I would highly recommend a focused, intentional visioning for any Kickstarter creator, whether you work alone or if you’re part of a team. Here’s how to do it:
Overall, you can have a visioning session at any time. There are reasons you might want to wait until after your Kickstarter project to do one, because if you don’t fund, that changes a lot of variables, but it also can’t hurt to have a visioning session before you launch. Once you’ve decided to partake in visioning, here are some of the steps to take:
- Find a moderator. I’d highly recommend having someone designated to keeping the visioning session moving along at a good pace, someone who is good at cutting people off if they get off topic and then returning to that topic at the appropriate time. Otherwise you could end up talking about a tangent that goes nowhere for an hour.
- Pick a day and a location. Work with your moderator to pick a day and location. I thought ours went really well being on a Friday evening from 6:00-10:00. The time flew by, but it wasn’t too short. We served dinner, and I hosted at my home office.
- Choose the participants. Create a list of 8 people at most, expecting that a few of them won’t be available to attend on the day you’ve selected. Pick a few people who are very familiar with what you do, as well as a few other business-oriented people or people in your industry whose opinions you respect. If you expect for Kickstarter itself to be a big part of the discussion, make sure all attendees are very familiar with Kickstarter.
- Send out confirmation and preparation materials. In your confirmation e-mail, include your mission statement, the questions below (for people to start thinking about), and a list of all the things you already do (people may not know those things, so letting them know up front will reduce redundancy).
When the day arrives, make sure you have food, drinks, Sharpies, and plenty of sticky notes.
The following questions are just one way to have a visioning session. The questions apply to any type of business.
- How is the company living their mission today? How could they live their mission more fully?
- What is the best of what the company currently offers? How could they build on those strengths?
- How can the company continue to differentiate themselves within the industry?
- Where do you see room for improvement or growth within the company’s business model, strategy, or products?
- If resources (money, time, people) weren’t an issue, what ideas, no matter how outlandish, would you throw on the table for the company to try?
As you ask the questions above, you’ll use a specific structure to get a lot of ideas out in the open and then focus on specific topics:
- Idea Generation. When you reach questions 3-5, hand out the Sharpies and sticky notes and ask the questions one at a time, allowing for about 10-15 minutes per question. Instead of people answering the questions out loud like in traditional brainstorming, you’re going to have them write their ideas on the sticky notes (you’ll do this too). This will be VERY difficult for extroverts, but it’s really important, so your moderator will need to be firm and focused. As each idea is written down, the moderator will pick it up, say it out loud (to help generate more ideas, but not discussion), and stick it to the wall. Do this separately for questions 3-5.
- Idea Selection. After a short break, give people 10-15 minutes to look over the wall of ideas. Each person will select the 3 ideas they’re the most excited about and that they think will have the greatest impact on the company. They will remove those sticky notes from the wall as they select them. Again, there is no discussion during this time.
- Idea Presentation. Take a short break while the moderator removes all of the remaining sticky notes from the wall (keep those ideas for you to explore later on your own). Then reconvene to go around in a circle and give each person 1 minute per idea to say why they think that idea will be impactful and why they’re excited about it. After they talk about each idea, open the floor to anyone else who wants to express their thoughts about the idea in brief. Do this for all of the selected ideas, placing those sticky notes back on the wall after each idea is discussed.
- Leadership Filter. At this point, just so you don’t waste anyone’s time, if you (the leader/president) know that you’re already doing any of the ideas or if you absolutely wouldn’t consider any of the ideas, remove those ideas from the wall. Use this “veto power” sparingly.
- Voting. Give each participant a sticky note that says “5” on it, another that says “3,” and another that says “1.” Then, in a free-for-all, let people place those votes on any of the ideas on the wall (these are the ideas you just presented to one another). You can place all of your votes on one idea if you want, or you can spread them out. The 5 is worth 5 points, 3 is 3 points, and 1 is 1 point.
- Final Tactical Discussion. During a quick break, the moderator will tally up the votes to determine the top 5 ideas. This is where the big discussion of the evening happens, because you’ve finally narrowed down all of these amazing concepts to 5 ideas to pursue. Spend about 10 minutes in open discussion about each idea, followed by 5 minutes of discussion about what the next steps are to start to work towards those ideas. You want these to be more than just general concepts–these should be specific action points to move forward with.
When you reach the end time you originally stated to the participants, thank them for coming and send them on their way!
Before I conclude, I just want to emphasize how important I think it is to have a formal, intentional visioning session. If you work with other people, you probably talk about cool ideas and dreams all the time. That’s great–keep doing that. But the structure of a visioning session can help you generate way more (and better) ideas than you possibly could over a casual discussion over e-mail or at the water cooler, and it will help you figure out which ideas to focus on and prioritize.
If you’ve ever participated in a visioning session that took a different approach to the one I mentioned above, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!