Down Tools Week – Gaming around

Every 3 months at Red Gate we hold our Down Tools Week (DTW), in which everyone in development stops working on their regular projects and is allowed to work on their own min-project ideas.

In the UX team we saw this as an ideal opportunity to also try out some new ways of working together. DTW is all about trying out new ideas, and with lots of projects running at the same time it also acts as a sort of microcosm of our regular development life. Most importantly, the UX team are usually spread pretty thinly across the DTW projects, with more projects than UX people, and this can often reflect how we are spread across the regular project work (our UX team is split across our product divisions so we don’t always get as much chance to work together).

Gaming around

The first thing we wanted to do was explore what new techniques we could experiment with. We’re trying to do more gamestorming in our creative sessions so we used a game called ‘3-12-3′ from We chose this because it is a really simple and involving game that is good for quickly generating lots of thoughts related to the topic you want to explore and then shaping them into a concept. The game divides into 3 sections: 3 minutes of idea generation, 12 minutes of exploring concepts and 3 minutes for presenting.

In the first part we created as many ideas as we could around the topic of “UX working together”. We intentionally kept the topic open at this stage so we didn’t limit the ideas that were being generated in any way. Each team member took a stack of cards and wrote down as many items as they could relating to the topic, one per card. When we were done we piled them all in the middle of the table, no ceremony and no order.

Idea card Stack

We then paired up into teams of 2 and each team took 3 cards at random from the pile. We gave ourselves 12 minutes to sketch concepts, based on the just the 3 cards, and relating to a narrowed down topic of “How could Down Tools Week look if we worked better as a UX team”. Pairing up for quick concept work like this is great for bouncing ideas around and the 12 minute deadline means there’s no time to sit and dwell; just throw things down and work with them.

Each team took 3 minutes to present what they came up with in the final session.There were some really creative and fun ideas produced by each team, I was really impressed by the variation and the quality of what had come out of such a quick sketching session. There were even some crazy ideas including a ‘Creative UX pool’ (discussed in a literal sense), a travelling band and using songs or limericks to describe our designs. Hardly surprising considering we had ideas like ‘Sing songs to describe stuff” to work with.

Limiting the input ideas to just the 3 cards really helps provide focus. Of course this won’t be an extensive review of everything we could do; there was still a large pile of idea cards left on the table. The main goal of this game is to quickly generate concepts that explore some key areas. We could always go back and run it again if we wanted to cover some more.

Gaming Around

Choosing some tasks

To close the session we discussed what we thought were the best ideas and created a list of the top ones we thought we could feasibly try out in a week. Fortunately we were all pretty much in agreement on this so it didn’t need much facilitation from me :)

The tasks we decided to try out were:

  • A DTW wall where teams can share some of their ideas, show progress and get feedback
  • A UX Team ‘Skills menu’ showing the main areas of expertise of each of the UX team taking part in DTW (in case people needed some quick help)
  • A UX war room where we could huddle for creative sessions and time-boxed group critiques (and thankfully not much warring)
  • UX clinics, with time allocated for people to bring along their work to get some help with UX testing and feedback
  • DTW team ‘signposts’ for the projects teams to show where they are located and what they are working on

What I like most about these is how they cover lots of different areas of working. Ways that we can make it easier for the UX people get together, new ideas for communicating what we are working on and even some nice ideas for advertising our skills and making ourselves more accessible to project teams.

The last thing we did was to divide the tasks up between the team, giving each task an owner who would make sure something got done. This was really important, I didn’t want us to compile a neat list of great ideas only for them to fall by the wayside of the project work.

Gaming Around


In just one hour we had gone from zero to a list of 5 new ways of working together that we could experiment with in DTW. Choosing the right game for this session and planning how we would play each of the sections was really important for smooth facilitation. With that done, the game was key to getting people involved and moving us though to quick concepts. I’d highly recommend using some games to help build and maintain momentum, especially in the early project stages. It’s something that we are really getting into at Red Gate and we’re getting some great results.

Watch this space for some more blog posts to cover how our DTW initiatives worked out…

3 comments on “Down Tools Week – Gaming around
  1. Adam Walker says:

    Nice write up of a very fruitful session. For me there are two main wins that came out of this:

    1. We generated lots of ideas about how we can work together
    2. Mercifully, we rejected ‘singing songs to describe stuff’

    That was a close call ;o)

  2. Mr. Flibble says:

    Gutted about not adopting the singing songs thingy. Here’s my new design for SQL Compare to the tune of Bohemian Rhapsody…

    A beautiful moment we’ll never get to experience…


  3. Tom Randle says:

    Wish I’d been there.
    Relieved Dom wasn’t granted his wish.

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  1. […] Red Gate we have “Down Tools Week” a few times a year. This is the same idea as the ShipIt days at Atlassian or the 20% time […]

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