Treasure Hunting: The Sailboat Metaphor

A couple of weeks ago we had the kickoff meeting for Project Momonga, our upcoming game. This meeting marked the beginning of months of development, and a lot is at stake for us.

To start a project like this, you want to make sure that everybody knows what they’re up against. You want an assessment of the project as a whole. A SWOT analysis is usually the standard way to make this assessment:

  • Strengths
  • Weaknesses
  • Opportunities
  • Threats

However, I always struggle with the SWOT analysis, as it is such an abstract concept. I never get the difference between a strength and an opportunity. Something with internal and external, but all those ternals make me drowsy. It lacks clarity and purpose. It usually goes something like this:

(Someone brings up a strength of the project)
“Hey, that’s not a strength, that’s an opportunity!”
“What is the difference between a strength and an opportunity?”
“Does it really matter that there is a difference?”
“Why did you want to do this project anyway?”
And then your marker is out of ink and all of a sudden you find yourself with sticky notes all over your face:

Post-it Face

So. To make these assessments more enjoyable, we use a Sailboat metaphor.

The process is very simple. Sit down and grab a whiteboard. On this board, draw the following:

The Sailboat Metaphor

The sailboat represents your project, the company, the team. To infinity and beyond!
It has sails in the wind that drive it forward: these are your strengths.
The island represents your goals and the opportunities for the project.
The anchors are slowing down the sailboat. These are your weaknesses.
The coral reef represents your threats. Hitting one of those will make the ship sink.

We do this exercise with the whole team at the start of most projects. Everyone has something on their mind that they want to achieve, or some big threat that they see on the road ahead. They know their own strengths and weaknesses. Everyone has thoughts on a project in the beginning, and by giving those thoughts a place you can work on it constructively. I usually ask people to write it down on sticky notes and put it up on the whiteboard, and to explain their note to the rest of the team.

The Sailboat assessment is an easy way to provide you with a much clearer sense of direction for the project. Everyone in your team will know the key driving factors and the major pitfalls of the project. Thou shall know better thy strengths and weaknesses.

So, how do you kick off projects? Do you have any other tips and tricks? Let us know in the comments!

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