Lean Startup Snowflakes

Stay Updated: Posts | Comments   Follow us on Twitter

Timing: 60 minutes (can be extended to 90 minutes by running more iterations). Setup/explanation takes 10 minutes; we’ll run 4-5 iterations of [3-minutes of execution, 3-4 minutes debrief, and 3 minutes of planning].



Pretend money (unit bills [euro/dollar], approx 100 units); ream of paper; 2 pairs of scissors for every 4 participants; audible timer; markers and flipchart for each table or dry erase board; optional gum or tape to attach snowflakes to the wall

Room needs tables that seat 4-8 people; for each table set up 1 pair of scissors, $5, and 5 blank sheets of paper. In a prominent location, add a label that says “Paper: 2 for $1; Scissors: $3″. Set up a big visible chart for each team either on dry erase or flip chart; set up these column headers:

Iteration, Cash on hand; WIP; Scissors Count; Sales Qty; Paper on hand

Instructions:If you’ve got more than 20 people, you’ll need an assistant–it’s fine to pull someone from the audience.  Start a 3-minute timer countdown and say: “Your objective is to run a profitable business by creating and selling paper snowflakes. I’ll demonstrate making one for you right now to prove it can be done in under 3 minutes. First we fold a triangle, then fold that in half and in half again to ensure we have at least 3 axes. We give the triangles a rounded edge as so; then cut out shapes along the folds, and unfold it to produce a snowflake like this. You’ll have a limited amount of time to cut–since we’re not really here to make snowflakes–we’re here to experiment with running a business. After a 3-minute iteration, we’ll do a de-brief, then you can have 3 minutes to coordinate with your team (sprint planning) followed by the next iteration. If you run out of supplies, you can buy them at any time from the front of the room here. Paper is 2 for $1; Scissors are $3.  Your table can self-organize around how to build the snowflakes. Any questions?” If they ask anything about acceptance criteria, say we can discuss when they come to sell you a snowflake.

Assistant/Customer Instructions (SPOILER–do not share this with audience):

Minimum acceptance criteria: snowflake must have a general sense of being round, it must have 3 axes of symmetry, and must have even, precise cuts. Torn paper, squares/rectangles, lots of overcuts on the snowflake, paper that the audience supplied–will all be rejected. Every time a snowflake is presented to you, give simple and direct feedback, e.g., I can’t buy this because these edges are torn–the quality isn’t high enough; this one doesn’t say “round” to me, can’t buy it; this is beautiful–I’ll give you $1 for it! Don’t haggle, just move on to the next vendor.

Valuation of snowflakes: Intricate, unique, symmetrical, beautiful snowflakes will be bought for $1-$5. In the first round, I never see anything worth more than $1. I rarely pay as much as $3. Encourage innovation by telling people “this is the first time I’ve seen a signed snowflake! $2!” or some such comment. Encourage intricacy–”wow–lots of space cut out, I like that”.  Size matters–small snowflakes often can be purchased only two for a dollar unless they’re particularly ornate. As you buy snowflakes, either attach them to the wall or arrange them on the table in order of low value to high value. We’re not stating it in an obvious way, but hint at the valuation scheme every once in a while by hovering a new snowflake over the spectrum and say that this one “fits right about here, ok, $2″.

More on catalyzing innovation: When people get into flow, as Csikszentmihalyi describes it, they lose sense of time. This is good for creativity and innovation, to an extent. In the absence of feedback, they may misunderstand what I want, and spend way too long on something I don’t value (thus over valuing their idea, aka, the Ikea effect). When I play the game, I encourage the Ikea effect by giving reasons every time I, the buyer / collector, purchase a snowflake. I give this feedback quietly, though, so only the people standing right next to me can hear. This creates an interesting dynamic in the room, which highly adaptive teams exploit by sending up a sales person to listen to every word I say, with a delivery person dedicated to carrying snowflakes up to the sales person and information back to the table.  When I play the role of the buyer/collector, I imagine I’m a wealthy art collector, and I buy accordingly. I want pieces of extraordinary beauty, craftsmanship, and individuality. I pay only a dollar for anything in the first round, and almost rudely ignore anything that doesn’t seem good enough to be collectable. I organize the snowflakes I buy in order of value, left to right, so that between rounds I can show curious people what I want/like (see pictures). I also leave some items out of my collection on purpose. For example, anything with writing on it, and anything with lots of problems of symmetry. Snowflakes made out of partial sheets of paper are also likely to go on a pile. Meanwhile, I’m saying something like “oh, that’s the first time today someone gave me an autographed snowflake, so I’ll buy it just this once, but snow flakes are white!” then I secretly tuck it away into the reject pile. This teaches them to continue to be bold and creative; after two rounds I start asking the class what it will take to make a $5 (or five Euro) flake. I point to a few items in my collection, naming the price, so they get a better idea, but I never tell them exactly what to do. This makes room for lots of creativity.


Debrief Instructions:

Observe what the teams are doing, and help them think like a lean startup. Give only one hint per debrief, then let them try it out for the next sprint. Some teams ignore what you say; that’s fine. Hints are like the following:

Do you have to cut out a snowflake to get customer feedback?

Is your team making a profit?

Do you know what the customer wants?

Have you followed the customer around a bit to see what he wants to buy?

What happens when you make clone snowflakes?

Do you have to use the whole sheet of paper?


Learning Points:

  • customer discovery is a whole team activity (product owners can give developers a false sense of security)
  • you’ve got to get out of the building (or in this case, away from the table) to find out what customers are willing to pay for
  • delivery pressure with creative work makes people forget the big picture
  • business & learning communities work better when we collaborate and share with more people (tables don’t have to remain isolated islands)
  • waste comes from the assumption that we’ve got to use the whole sheet, and that volume is more important than customer discovery
  • we don’t have to make anything at all to learn the acceptance criteria: simply go up to the facilitator and ask– what are you looking for? Response: beauty, symmetry, intricacy, round shape.
  • a good customers’ time is limited and precious–use it wisely
VN:F [1.9.16_1159]
Rate This
Rating: 4.4/5 (15 votes cast)
Lean Startup Snowflakes, 4.4 out of 5 based on 15 ratings
Print Friendly
6 Responses to "Lean Startup Snowflakes"
  • [...] Oana pour ton aide lors du Lean Startup Snowflakes. Et merci aux participant(e)s pour le feedback. Pour les lyonnais, on remet le couvert mardi soir [...]

  • Nicolas Brunot April 4, 2014 at 1:55 am

    Thanks for this great workshop ! I translate it into french : http://ayeba.wikispaces.com/Atelier+-+Lean+Startup+Snowflakes.
    Best regards,

    VN:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
  • [...] Renee get us game playing with the Lean Startup game”Snowflake” from TastyCupcakes.com [...]

  • Norbert December 17, 2015 at 1:21 pm

    Great game for winter Lean Six Sigma training.
    We can practice standard work, poka yoke and gage R&R in one game.
    I will also add this game to my Lean Six Sigma blog as well after translating it to Hungarian:

    Thanks again

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
  • Gretchen August 15, 2016 at 1:17 pm

    Used this with the team to give the developers an opportunity to see what it is like from the business perspective and this exercise worked perfectly for that purpose. MANY conclusions and lessons learned by the time they were done, and they learned through hands-on application and were completely engaged instead of me explaining how things “should” be. Great exercise – will use this again!

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
  • [...] durch Tun zu befördern. Eines dieser Ansätze, die im agilen Umfeld zum Einsatz kommen, ist das Schneeflockenspiel, bei dem es spielerisch darum geht, den Mehrwert von Retrospektiven für die Team- und [...]

Leave a Reply:

Spam Protection by WP-SpamFree


Discuss Comments
Agile Games Group