Lean Startup Snowflakes

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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″.

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
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5 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,

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  • [...] 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

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  • 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!

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