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What would you say to a secret way to test if your new idea will be a success or not? [We'd say yes]

Think of the satisfaction; you've just completed the designs for your new strategy, your new product, a new plan, a big event, a bold idea...basically any new creation.

You may have used a 5-day design sprint or a series of long consultations over several months; either way, you've sweated blood and tears to get this far. It looks amazing, it feels amazing, what could possibly go wrong (I mean a tech start-up disrupting the public toilet market is a definite winner, isn't it)??? All you have to do now is make it happen....

Hopefully, the answer is nothing will go wrong and that you will achieve exactly what you set out for, but what if there was a way to test it out before you go all-in on delivering it? A way to test not only if it would work but to identify where things might go wrong, how your competitors might react, whether your team is prepared for it and how much love customers might give to it.... I mean, you wouldn't buy an expensive car without taking it for a test drive.

What's the equivalent in the business world?

On a most basic level, it's simulating your new idea and seeing what happens. There are lots of techniques to do this but we find 2 in particular incredibly useful; War Gaming and Pre-mortems

War Gaming

No, not the 1983 film with Matthew Broderick or the art of moving miniature figurines around a board. This is a proven technique that you can use with any strategy to test how it might play out.

You can make it as complicated or as simple as you like but fundamentally it involves playing out your strategy against the backdrop of a marketplace (this could be the environment you operate in now, a stressed version of that or a highly competitive version).

You then allocate 'teams' (these could be individuals or groups) to take on the roles of different players in the market (this could be competitors, customers, departments in your business). Once in teams, you then simulate the passage of time in that market with the use of rounds (typically they could be months, quarters or years). Each round, teams must make decisions based on your strategy without necessarily knowing the decisions other teams are making. At the end of each round, the impact the decisions each team have made are determined and share (this could be in the form of the number of new customers won, the amount of profit made, the impact on brand, etc.). With this new information, you start a new round and follow the same format with teams making new decisions.

After sufficient rounds, you can wrap up and see the overall impact your strategy has had. The real value then comes with a comprehensive debrief to understand the decisions each team made and the implications that had on the success of your strategy. You can use this learning to adapt your strategy and of course you can replay the game to see how a different strategy might pan out.

We've been running war games for over 10 years covering things as varied as:

  • helping companies work out how prepared they are for Brexit

  • preparing for new legislation

  • determining how to beat a new market entrant/break into a new market

  • determining how much to bid in an upcoming auction/M&A round

  • launching a new product

It genuinely is a groundbreaking activity, that adds such a richness to a business' thinking, and I never fail to be inspired by how impactful businesses find it. It's the only time in my consulting career that I've had a board of executives ask to play one more game at 8pm on a Friday night :)


One for the more cautious members of your team. This is a technique that involves imagining a passage of time has passed (let's say a year) since you launched your new idea and that it has failed. The objective of your team is to identify all the reasons why this might have been.

If facilitated in the right manner, this is an incredibly powerful way to harness the innate 'rock-throwing' nature of individuals to create a list of areas that will enhance your new idea. It also does wonders for team dynamics and can be really fun.

I use this technique a lot with new product design and stress testing roadmaps or event plans. In my experience, it's always the people you least expect that can find a crucial way of strengthening your original design to make your chance of success even greater.

What about you?

Do you use these techniques in your business? They don't have to be complicated; we've pulled together war games in the space of an hour or quickly facilitated impromptu pre-mortems at the drop of a hat.

In our experience, it's definitely worth the investment of time in these or other approaches to take your new idea for a test drive. Why not give it a go? In fact, why would you let your new idea out of the workshop until you've done this?

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