The Lean Start-up Snowflake Game

Snowflake Game
Imagine a beautiful winter wonderland with snowflakes silently falling all around you. Now look out the window. . . we can dream, can't we?

I know we all can't wait for winter, so here's a little game to get you out of those summer blahs.

I found the lean Snowflake Game posted on It's not a "batch vs single piece flow" kind of lean game, but more of a customer oriented lean game.

We've learned from an early age that "the customer's always right", but do we know what the customer wants to begin with? We could save ourselves a lot of frustration if we can nail down the customer requirements up front. The Snowflake Game would be ideal for a service oriented lean roll-out, where the customer's desires are not always quantifiable.

Starting with a simple piece of paper, teams fold paper and cut out snowflakes to satisfy a fickle customer. The acceptance criteria is tough, and not only will the customer reject poor quality snowflakes, but your customer assigns a value to each one, where more intricate snowflakes are rewarded with more money.

Minimum acceptance criteria: snowflake must have a general sense of being round, it must have 3 axes of symmetry, and must have even, precise cuts. Torn paper, squares/rectangles, lots of overcuts on the snowflake, paper that the audience supplied–will all be rejected. Every time a snowflake is presented to you, give simple and direct feedback, e.g., I can’t buy this because these edges are torn–the quality isn’t high enough; this one doesn’t say “round” to me, can’t buy it; this is beautiful–I’ll give you $1 for it! Don’t haggle, just move on to the next vendor.
Valuation of snowflakes: Intricate, unique, symmetrical, beautiful snowflakes will be bought for $1-$5. In the first round, I never see anything worth more than $1. I rarely pay as much as $3. Encourage innovation by telling people “this is the first time I’ve seen a signed snowflake! $2!” or some such comment. Encourage intricacy–”wow–lots of space cut out, I like that”.  Size matters–small snowflakes often can be purchased only two for a dollar unless they’re particularly ornate. As you buy snowflakes, either attach them to the wall or arrange them on the table in order of low value to high value. We’re not stating it in an obvious way, but hint at the valuation scheme every once in a while by hovering a new snowflake over the spectrum and say that this one “fits right about here, ok, $2″.

Of course, none of the teams know the customer's acceptance criteria up front. Only through successive iterations of the game, do they slowly learn the customer's needs and wants.

All this snowflake craziness is done in three minute sprints. Three minutes to make snowflakes, three minutes to debrief, three minutes to make snowflakes, three minutes to debrief, etc.

The Snowflake Game is a different sort of lean game. Designed for lean start-ups, it excels when your company produces a creative product, such as software development or an industry with a heavy focus on customer satisfaction.

The Snowflake game can be played as a demonstration of "getting what we measure." In this other example, the Snowflake game is run first with the target of making as many snowflakes as possible. After a debrief, the game is played again with the target changed to "Produce as many snowflakes that are beautiful enough to sell." Different targets produce different results.

Learn more about the Snowflake Game at the game page on 

I've added this game to my huge list of lean games and simulations.


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