The Context Game

After the last post The Gibberish Game, I figured I would drop in some more posts about analysis games as they can be fun (as well as quite valuable in getting information about a domain out of people.

Many times people have a very hard time with understanding that they do have contexts in their organization. This game shows different context and can be used both as an analysis game or more for a business side workshop (more on that later).


The Context Game

Take a team of developers and a group of business people from different sections of the company (developers are familiar with “asking questions” etc). Break apart the group into sub-groups of one (sometimes more) business person and a developer. The groups should be grouped based on business function (this is very important, we will see why later).

Have the groups break apart into different places (a time boxed session). Give them a loaded word from the problem domain. In an insurance domain you might pick the word “policy” other good words might be “customer”, “student”, “goal”, “campaign” to name a list of some I have used previously.

The role of the developer is to capture information in this game not to get into discussions bringing about common understanding. Capture a definition of what the term means to the expert. If the term is something tangible, it can be fun to also draw a picture during the time that you are separated.

Get the group back together and have each of the teams present their idea of what the term means (and hang their picture on the wall if they have one).

Likely you will get drastically different points of view over what a term actually means. This is completely normal. Some questions to ask the group might be “How do we communicate when we all have such different definitions of a common word, have we ever played the telephone game? Can you remember any situations where communication issues have come up because of different definitions?”. Continuing questions might include seeing if anyone has different words to describe any of the other view points, e.g.: “Sales called it a Policy, Claims calls it an Origination for them a Policy has this further definition …”.

This game can very quickly show you context differences within the organization. This game can also be used as a business exercise with the choosing of a very loaded term like “Ideal Customer”. It can show the different points of view of members of the meeting allowing others to understand where people are coming from.

The game is best used when you feel that you have multiple contexts being discussed at once inside of a problem. It can quickly identify the different contexts and make them very apparent to the individuals involved. The drawing of the item if possible helps with memory retention of the concepts (visualization), it also helps with making the workshop a bit more fun.


  1. Posted February 29, 2012 at 11:04 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Great game, thanks for sharing. Do you think that more common-looking or “innocent” words lead to even more context ambiguity since we don’t pay much attention to them, taking them for granted?

    • Posted March 1, 2012 at 7:29 am | Permalink | Reply

      Innocent words can be bad but generally the words that are the worst are the most core concepts. As an example try walking into an organization and asking 5 departments to define their “customer”. Rarely if ever do they identify the same thing. Even worse try putting “ideal” in front of it.

      Words that represent preference (and distinguishing between different levels of a concept) are often the worst. This is because the preference is as well often subject to a context. In sales the ideal customer is really dumb and happy with lots of money. Of course support would have a very different view point.

      pis on aurai besoin une biere tu serai a qcon?

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