Motivating through Gameplay

winnerI think most people who are responsible for gathering and capturing data will tell you it is a pain to do.  And costly.  Therefore, it is generally recognized that the job is easier if you can make the work into a game or competition that motivates people to help out, sort of how Tom Sawyer motivated others to paint his fence.

I realize that some of the folks at Google are motivating me to help them. But first, some background:  It has been years now that I have let my Garmin subscription expire— quarterly updates were just too slow and painful. Google Maps and navigation software typically get me where I want to go, but even this product is at the mercy of its data.  For example, we recently spent a quiet weekend visiting a few small coastal towns and one of the Inns made a big deal about not trusting GPS. Their problem was simple: a one-way street was incorrectly mapped as a two-way street in Google Maps so drivers could not follow the GPS instructions. A few simple clicks (and 24 hours) later, the problem was fixed because I reported it. Still, I know there have been plenty of times I have “forgotten” to fix a map error because I can’t do it while driving, and there has been no real incentive for me to get around to it later.

In fact, if Google Maps has historically had a problem it is that they lag behind Yelp, TripAdvisor and perhaps even Foursquare in the completeness and quality of their objective and subjective data on potential destinations. But since late 2015, Google has been polishing a “Local Guide” arrangement to entice data input from regular people. I only became aware of the incentive this past summer when I received an email informing me I had enough points to be “Level 3”.  Whoa!  What’s level 3?  And what does it take to be level 4!!??  Suddenly I found myself providing Google with all sorts of data.

The experts call this gamificationusing points and maybe a sense of competition to make hard stuff more fun.  If our Spitfire Project Management System displayed a little note on the screen saying “18 documents routed today (3rd  place behind Jane and Tom)”, many would react by focusing a bit harder to overtake Tom!  It’s human nature.

Indeed, we have clients who use gamification with their users.  One site uses our routing and tracking functionality to help avoid missing deadlines that incur contractual penalties—the kind of deadlines that actually cost money.  But, instead of introducing a source of additional stress for project staff, they made it fun: team members that beat the deadline can claim small Starbuck rewards.   

Gamification seems to go hand in hand with project management. After all, teamwork and “beat the clock” are part of many games, as is following a set of rules (just like standard operating procedures). Adding the sense of reward (even if it is just climbing a ladder of “levels”) can motivate project teams and individuals to help get the work done better and more accurately.

Have you used gamification in your project management? What has worked for you? Let us know in the comments section.

Simple incentives work.  Even if no one but me cares that I’m now a Level 4 Local Guide!  Gotta get to Level 5.  Only 291 points to go…

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About Stan York

Stan York (VP of Development at Spitfire) has been developing software for decades. Which means he's old enough to remember when punched cards where the state of the art UI. Stan makes no secret about the fact he often prefers data to people, so it should come as no surprise that he is an expert in databases and SQL server. If asked, he might admit he is an MCP, because he knows this is important to some people, particularly at Microsoft. The postings on this site are his own and don’t necessarily represent Spitfire's positions, strategies or opinions.

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