Gamification: the New Engagement Tool

I define gamification in my book, Customer-Centric Project Management, as “the art (or science) of creating consumer engagement through game-type behavior.” This month we’re looking at trends in project management software, and gamification is certainly starting to take off as a software feature, and not only for consumer-facing products now.

Editor’s Note: A big thank you to Microsoft, this month’s Leadership Sponsor of our Featured Series on Project Management Software Trends.

Gamification is about leveraging the urge to play in a non-game environment. It’s part of human nature and is essentially about making things fun and competitive. We’ve been doing it in other areas of life without even realising: star charts to reward children for cleaning their teeth, for example. Consumer and project management software is now adapting the same techniques that forums have used for a while: awarding ‘badges’ on user profiles on forums for a certain number of interactions, for example.

You will also have seen this type of interaction on other sites, especially when it comes to allowing consumers to rate products or services. Amazon is a good example of this as it encourages customers to write product reviews, and then encourages other customers to rate the reviews for helpfulness. Some websites make special content available to those who complete quizzes, puzzles or games.

Gamification and project management

This might not seem particularly relevant to how projects are managed but as consumer technology becomes even more advanced and incorporates elements of gamification, we are likely to see this spill over into workplace software, as has happened with other consumer-adopted technology like blogs and social networking sites.

In fact, some project management software tool vendors have already incorporated this sort of behavioural science into their products with the aim of enhancing user engagement. In project management terms, this means considering the project team as stakeholders and making it easy and fun for them to use software for tracking and collaboration with their colleagues. The benefit of making software straightforward and fun means that all project discussion and planning is kept in one tool, which should make it easier for the project manager to monitor and control activity and to generate comprehensive reports.

Planning tool Projectplace has introduced the ability to ‘like’ conversation threads. This feature encourages online collaboration and is also a forum for positive feedback. In turn, positive feedback helps build trust between team members, reducing conflict and avoiding misunderstandings. Sites award badges to users for interacting on the site, and we encourage discussions and networking on this site too. Project management training firm ILX Group use game techniques in their e-learning products for teaching about PRINCE2.

The APM even carried out a gamification study tour, although this mainly looked at how project managers could incorporate game features into their projects rather than supporting project management teams in doing their jobs. Last month they launched a new short guide about gamification as well, so it is definitely something that project managers should be considering as an influence on projects and project management.

Does gamification work?

Gamification is a relatively new branch of academic research, but research by Finnish academics shows that it does work. They looked at gamification in a number of contexts and in the workplace it had a positive effect on users but only for a short time, which would be completely acceptable in a project environment where the work has a defined end date. It also shows that the social features are more important for women than men, so if you use a tool with game features, you may find that the women on the project team benefit more from the recognition that is inherent with gamification.

So will it take off in the project management arena? Research from the Pew Research Centre says that a small majority of people think it will. Of those surveyed, 53% believe that by 2020 gamification will be widespread. Looked at another way, there’s no reason to think it won’t. Engaging internal customers and project stakeholders, however you do it, is an effective method of keeping close to their goals and intentions for the project. Things that support that should be encouraged.

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Originally published by ELIZABETH HARRIN in Project

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