Benefits of Value Poker (2 of 2)

Last time I described how to estimate value on story cards. Now, lets talk benefits. Ultimately, the real value of this game is the conversations it creates. But along the way there are plenty of other benefits. The licensed dissent the game allows creates many insights and ideas.

The most obvious benefit of Value Poker is simply: at the end of the game you have a value based priority order. A team could, simply, take the highest value story and start work on it, deliver it and move on to the second highest. What could be better?

But actually, having value on the cards brings many other benefits and creates many options. For a start, having thought about the value of individual pieces ones perspective on the work to be done changes. What looked like a large chunk of work, a single monolithic product, might look like a stream of valuable features.

Value beats how-long

Moving the conversation away from “how long will it take” to “what value will it create” provides a whole new perspective. One which many have never appreciated before.

Rather than simply start at the highest value and work down conversations about the order of work become more than just technical “A depends on B.” One can think of value dependencies: customers can only get high value A they also have low value D. In which case, is D really a distinct thing, or is it part of A?

Both technical and business dependencies are exposed. All sides get to see why doing the most obvious thing might not be the right thing to do. The team might consider how else they may unlock the high value story without the need for the low value story. Maybe a subset of low-value D should be included in A. And maybe the rest of D isn’t worth doing.

Sometimes these insights only appear because teams are able to be adversarial. In most work environments people show respect. If a Product Leader ask for something few would openly say “That is pointless” or “Why would you do that?” but when playing Dragon’s Den people are allowed to openly question and think-outside-the-box. Indeed, since many have seen the game show people naturally fall into the roles and need little encouragement to challenge ideas. It becomes easy for a lowly engineer to say “I don’t see the market for this” or “Why would I buy this when product XYZ does that?”

Better than Word and PowerPoint

This in turn leads to two more benefits. First the Product Leaders need to be clear about what they want, why they want is and why they see value. They can’t hide behind PowerPoint charts or long business plans, they need to explain their point and defend their position in real-time. Product people are made to up their game.

People sometimes say to me “These two stories can’t be compared, they are like apples and lemons.” But money – even fantasy money – is a great leveller, it measures such asymmetric things. After all, the money you get paid for labouring over a hot keyboard each day can be used to pay your rent, buy a beer or take a holiday. How else could you compare the value of having a roof over your head with drinking beer?

This approach allows everyone involved to have a say. All the brain power in the room, all the knowledge, all the neurodiversity, can be exercised and used. New ideas, start flowing. Dragons and Product Leaders frequently see new or missing features which could be included enhancing innovation benefits.

In one game the Product Leads were proposing an app based around lunch time food trucks. They pitched story after story to the Dragons who gave it low value. The idea didn’t fly. After a quick consultation the entrepreneurs switched from pitching stories with benefit to food truck operators and pitched on Hungry Jo customers. The valuations rocketed. This is where the value was.

With all the discussion, the challenge, the reply, the adjustment something else happens: everyone builds a great shared understanding of what the product is supposed to do, how the entrepreneurs see it being used and who the target audience is. It becomes a great way to understand requirements and specification – far better than reading a dry document or even a PowerPoint presentation. This is why even playing this game with the engineering team can be highly rewarding.

Scheduling to maximise value

Believe it, or not, giving the stories a value can also help with scheduling – even without effort estimates. Once a story has a value one can ask “If this story is work 100,000bp today, what is it worth next month? in six months? in a year?” If the value never changes then the story can safely be postponed indefinitely because the value is always there. If on the other hand the values falls rapidly then the story needs doing soon. Sometimes, there might be more total value from doing a low value story (which will loose value soon) before doing a high value story which will hold its value.

Some readers will notice this is the start of a cost-of-delay conversation. One might now start to talk about Time-Value Profiles. Equally, only when you have value on individual work items can you really start doing cost-benefit, and biggest-bang-for-your-buck, analysis.

Finally, one big benefit I hope you’ve realised along the way: this game is a lot of fun. Not only does it help teams understand but it helps teams bond.

Want to play?

If you would like me to run this game for your company or your user group or meetup please get in touch.

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