Kickstarter Lesson #121: Visioning

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:

Planning

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Questions

The following questions are just one way to have a visioning session. The questions apply to any type of business.

  1. How is the company living their mission today? How could they live their mission more fully?
  2. What is the best of what the company currently offers? How could they build on those strengths?
  3. How can the company continue to differentiate themselves within the industry?
  4. Where do you see room for improvement or growth within the company’s business model, strategy, or products?
  5. 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?

Structure

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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!

9 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #121: Visioning

  1. Thanks Jamey for yet another precious post. I can’t share any visioning sessions yet, but will treat this one as a template for any future sessions.
    BTW your KS Lessons are becoming more independent of Stonemaier Games, I think. Are you considering launching independent website for them?

  2. Great read.
    The template is much appreciated. I think that many of the mentioned elements are great pointers for any well organized meeting. It is always good to plan ahead what will be discussed before taking a meeting. Otherwise it is bound to go astray onto a more friendly discussion.

    I like to hear that this is happening with you guys. I trust it is an indication of the ‘impending’ growth which you deserve :)

    Thank you very much again & All the Best.

    1. Thanks Konrad–I agree that it’s really helpful to have the discussion topics in advance so people can start to think about them. As you said, I’m excited too about our potential growth after the visioning session. :)

  3. Thanks so much for continuing, focused sharing on the business side of this indie endeavor. I had planned on “visioning” with a core group of individuals after I am a little farther along, but I had never considered such a structured approach. I find it funny this template has very similar logical and helpful techniques we all discussed before in extracting helpful feedback from play – testers :-)
    Please, keep up the great work, sir!

  4. As the facilitator of this event, I wanted to add a few thoughts to what Jamey mentioned above. He did an excellent job outlining how our session unfolded, and here are a few nuances that I’d add.

    First, there are two key aspects to the idea of a vision–creating the vision and living the vision. Stonemaier Games already had a vision (mission), and they were looking for input regarding where to go with that vision/what it might look like over the next 5 years. If Stonemaier hadn’t already had a vision, this session would look very different…which brings me to my second key point.

    Visioning and strategy sessions can look very different from one time to another (which Jamey notes above, but I worry that such an important point may get lost in the rest of the post), and so can the facilitation tools used by the group. From a facilitation standpoint, the most important part of this whole process was developing a robust understanding of where the company was going into the event and what they wanted to get out of the event. For me, having a few key dialogues with Jamey in advance of the evening we brought everyone together helped us create the right questions to ask in advance and design the right exercises for facilitating the dialogue. If the company’s needs and desired outcomes had been different, we could have employed different facilitation tools.

    Also, it’s not explicit here, but there were a few important points between stages of our evening when Jamey and I had a short sidebar to ensure that we were on target for the desired outcome. For our evening, we had a very defined front end planned, then some flexible/divergent opportunities later in the night. For instance, there was a point later in the evening when I asked Jamey if he’d rather work towards focusing on 5 key ideas for discussion that the group considered to have the greatest potential impact on the company’s future (which we did, using the 5-3-1 voting exercise) or get the group’s input on impact/effort for all ideas using a priority matrix (which we eschewed). I bring this up for two reasons. First, it’s easy for a visioning/strategy session to come up short when you don’t have a facilitator who knows how long various exercises can/should take and how to play with whatever timeframe you have. A decent facilitator should be able to flex the schedule and the rules of each exercise if something is moving faster or slower than anticipated. Second, the outcome of one exercise or tool can impact the next direction you take or activity in which you engage the group. For instance, in step 2 of the “Structure,” we decided to go with a “pick three ideas” concept instead of an affinity/categorization exercise because, in the moment, I thought the first option would give us greater clarity and a better chance to meet our end goal. Categorization also would have taken longer and may have left us short of valuable discussion time later on. Overall, I guess this entire paragraph is further advocating for an experienced facilitator, rather than an “oh, I can see Jamey’s structure, let’s try that” decision!

    I hope this is helpful!

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