The Lean Startup Board Game: Playing Lean

Jun 2, 2015 · Unlisted
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Today I participated in a workshop called Playing Lean, hosted by Tore Rasmussen. It’s an interactive, strategic board game based on the Lean Series — and mostly Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup, and Ash Maurya‘s Running Lean. After an initial unsuccessful Kickstarter campaign, they’re kicking off a new campaign on Monday 4th May 2015, with Ash Maurya as a company mentor on their side.

After today I think you should consider investing in their new Playing Lean Kickstarter to get to play the game as soon as it’s released if you are — or consider yourself to be:

  • A business consultant
  • An entrepreneur
  • An innovator
  • Or simply someone interested in entrepreneurship and innovation and how to build success with new initiatives


Playing Lean is a strategy game, in which you have to find the ideal balance between spending your money on Experiments with your audiences to learn about how to adjust your Solution to their needs, and investing in new –or selling existing– features. You get to spend based on your assets (playing cards), Experiments are Build-Measure-Learn loops (testing Minimum Viable Products), and Solutions can be products or services.

In today’s game each team represented a social media network (Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, or Friendster) and I guess we were finding ourselves back in 2005. Which company each team represents can be adjusted to the audience though.

The end goal of the game is to invest so that you are the first team to get the buy-in from the major audience, or as Rogers’ bell curve would describe it: you’ll start with a customer base of Innovators, and hope to get to conquering the Late Majority as the first team.

A note: it’s definitely worthwhile reading The Lean Startup before playing the game — I’d say it’s actually very worthwhile reading the book anyway! — but it’s not necessary. An introduction by a good host will get you ready to play.


Of course the game is an oversimplified version of the real life. However, I do feel the lessons you can take from the game and the discussions that follow from it are invaluable. The game emphasizes that you should thoroughly think about choosing wisely how you balance your spend between learning about customer needs and experiences, and the development of your product or service. Research is necessary, but the only way to move forward is to build by expanding, cutting, or choosing a new direction — preferably based on learnings from your existing and potential customer base.

It’s tough to balance spend of the assets you have on Experiments or Building. Focusing too much on one of each won’t get you to win in the game — or in the market for that matter. Staying open minded to pivots or persevering based on successes and learnings; I guess it captures the main challenges that businesses play with on a daily basis. And they are greatly captured in a this game.

A note on the cost of selling features: we had an interesting discussion about this as a group. In the game, selling a feature costs you money. When we challenged whether it would actually cost you any money to cut features in real life, we came to the conclusion that having invested love, care, energy, time, resource etc. in ideas and innovations, we can all admit that killing our darlings (features and what not) can go at a huge emotional cost. Not killing them can go at a far greater cost — but let’s leave that for a different discussion. Anyway, I guess in this game the cost is expressed in money and for the sake of the game it makes sense to use that metaphor.


As mentioned the Playing Lean team will launch their new Kickstarter campaign Monday 4th May 2015. Should you be interested in learning more about Playing Lean, I recommend the following resources:

I firmly believe that Playing Lean has great potential to become a gamified Lean learning experience. One that can be experienced as a game with people interested in the Lean Startup principles and methodology, but definitely a fun and valuable experience that can be part of larger workshops as well. Worth a try, and possibly worth investing in.


Finally I’d like to add a big thanks to Tore Rasmussen (Playing Lean), Robbert van Geldrop (Dutch Lean Startup Circle), and Leon Pals (Startup Foundation) for organizing today’s experience. I’ve learned a lot.

PS: for those interested… I hate to admit it, but I did not win. Our team was near and we would have won, if we hadn’t made a mistake in our approach. I’m not telling you which though, as it might ruin your own learning experience. What I can tell you though, is that it’s a great learning that I’ll have top of mind going forward.

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Disclaimer: opinions, statements, predictions, and other content shared through social media by me in this message or other media are solely my own and not in any way supported by my employer.

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