Gamification and Project Management – Rob’s Story

The Art of Gamification applied to Project Management

Back in 2009 myself and a colleague from Workforce Development ran a Project Management Course for a group of 14 DCC Staff. A day after we ran the programme we received from one of the delegates a disgruntled email saying how frustrated they felt by the programme because though it was busy it didn’t really teach a lot about managing a project and ultimately they didn’t feel the course was of real value.

Having licked our wounds and feeling a bit knocked back by the negative feedback (we trainers are sensitive souls and do like to be liked by everyone!) we got together and discussed what went wrong.

What we discovered by deconstructing the programme was though it had all the key elements of Project Management such as the Project Mandate, Project Proposals, Project Plans etc it felt like we were actually just getting delegates to fill in project forms and templates throughout the day and actually not immersing staff in how it actually feels to be part of a project team and run a project to a delivery point.

Definition of Gamification – The application of typical elements of game playing (e.g. point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to other areas of activity, typically as an online marketing technique to encourage engagement with a product or service.

 “gamification is exciting because it promises to make the hard stuff in life fun”

One of the things we did notice was that we had put a practical exercise into the programme to try and jazz it up a bit as filling in templates does get a bit dull after a while. The feedback seemed to suggest that while delegates enjoyed the practical challenge they had a hard time linking back to Project Management.

The feedback we received sparked an idea that encouraged us to take a blank piece of paper and start again on designing a new Project Management Programme with 2 things very clear on our minds. It had to be an exciting and motivating programme to run so the facilitators enjoyed it as much as the delegates and it had to be an immersive experience for the delegates in terms of running a project to get the most learning.

Our initial thoughts were to get delegates to bring along their own project challenges on the first day, but that was loaded with all sorts of difficulties and so we quickly moved away from that idea.

We finally came up with a subject which we felt was neutral enough that anyone attending the course could get involved in and more importantly engaged with. I cannot tell you what it is for spoiling it for those who haven’t attended but the subject became the central idea of what turned into an interactive project game that runs over the 2 days.

From the moment delegates turn up they choose one of 2 tables to sit on (their choice we don’t tell them where to sit). Once seated, we tell them that the people they are sitting with are now their project team members for the rest of the programme.

From the beginning of day 1 there are no big introductions or round table discussions, the 2 teams are given the same Project Mandate to work on and told to first spend time finding out about the strengths and potential weaknesses of the project team they now find themselves in.

There’s a board with a map on it that each team is given to help focus them on the task ahead and though there are templates these are streamlined into a set of printed A1 posters the teams complete as they go through the project. There are times throughout the 2 days of the programme where they need to visit the Project Board, pitch their responses to the Project Mandate, ask for funding, and provide regular updates. There’s a chance to use a simple Gantt Tool on a laptop to manage their project along the way.

When we launched the pilot programme back in 2010 the response received couldn’t have been more different to the feedback of the previous course. It included comments such as “the best and most involving course I have been on”. “I have never been so challenged or so involved at such an intense level for 2 days but loved every minute of it” “Helped to really hit home the realities of being in a project team and delivering to deadlines”

We had run several pilot programmes to help get feedback on all aspects of the project Journey. We quickly realised that it was very over engineered and we had too much content packed into 2 days.

It became quite exhausting to facilitate and run the programme as well as causing some confusion in places for delegates. A period of refining and stripping back the content ensued and we ran the programme again several times and the feedback indicated it was clearer, with a better flow.

A light bulb moment was the introduction of kitchen timers. Up until the formal release we had managed the timings in the room and kept giving time updates throughout the day.

We bought some kitchen timers and introduced them in the next programme indicating that as project teams they had to manage their time. The facilitator would say for instance ‘this stage of the project will have a timescale of 45 mins set your timers’ , to say it made a massive impact was an understatement.

We don’t have conventional tea breaks on the programme the ownership is with the teams to decide when to take a break though most don’t and grab a coffee and carry on.

As the co-creator and facilitator of the programme I am very proud of it, it’s a joy to run and the energy in the room is amazing over the 2 days. Every project team on the programmes we have delivered over the past 5 years+ has delivered a different outcome to the same Project Mandate and the amount of learning around what project management looks, feels and sounds like is significant and meaningful.

In 2015 it felt time to completely revise the game. Its been expanded to involve a lot more elements to think about and deal with though the main subject remains the same. The iterative process of running the programme for several years and listening to the feedback of delegates has helped shape a bigger and better game element and more project management learning. It remains fresh and exciting to deliver as it is to be a member of one of the projects teams (as indicated by feedback after the programme).

To me it has demonstrated how applying gamification principles to a standard and relatively dry subject can not only take it to a higher more engaging level, but actually prove that people learn more in such an environment because they are enjoying what they are doing and fully immersed in it.

Rob Coulston – Project Principle Programme Co-Creator and Facilitator



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