Adjusting behavior with agile gamification

Leonor Urena

Adjusting Behavior with Agile Gamification!


Games and play are used as a method of learning and developing skills. It is a tried and tested method, and one that is used in most schools today. However it doesn’t need to be limited to adolescents and it can be just as beneficial for adults to learn and hone new skills. Agile teams are bound by the agile manifesto and the twelve principles and values. This selection of common values and principles are used for a higher level of efficiency within an organization. These teams have certain characteristics that make them unique for software development teams. Their emphasis shifts towards people, interactions, and working software. This is a learned skill set that does not come easy for everyone. Many development teams struggle with implementing Agile practices. While there might be several reasons a team struggles with implanting Agile practices, it can be narrowed to three main points.

 1) Trust

 A lack of trust or fear show is many forms. Often teams are managed from the top down and team members feel they won’t be trusted to make the right commitments or decisions. In order to thrive they must first feel they are able to learn, grow and make choices together versus only taking orders from senior management.  I have come across quite a few teams like this.  Individuals that have always been told what to do and how to do it are now expected to make their own decisions. Self-organization becomes a huge undertaking.

 2) Poor Communications 

If team members are not communicating regularly, this is a problem. While most teams have excellent documentations and records, a lack of face to face communication slows down the team’s effectiveness. Using tools such as Skype or video conferencing helps bridge that gap. The compartmentalization that normally occurs must be reduced or eliminated for maximum efficiency. 

3) Poor Team Structure

Great Agile teams have two common characteristics: they are cross-functional and synergy.  A cross-functional team has the ability to seamlessly move from conception to completion. With synergy, the teams see how the parts fit together vs just understanding their individual role. What they find is they are viewing the project from a higher vantage point. With that, the process becomes effortless. Like any great team, it is necessary for them to grow together. Teams that are comfortable working together, work like a machine with the added benefit of learning across their roles. Accurate estimates in time and budget become the norm and provide better predictability to product owners and stakeholders.

Agile Gamification

Learning and adopting a new skillset is a challenge.  Add the complexity of a project to the mix, and it will all be daunting to any team. Agile Gamification perfectly fits this scenario. Gamification is the use of game mechanics to shorten the learning curve and increase success in teaching desired behaviors. Agile gamification uses games to teach the agile mindset.  This is especially true in the workplace where gamification is revolutionizing team building and being used by businesses for employee development and to increase productivity and effectiveness. A concept that could seem like a gimmick has been proven to yield visible results. Did you know that 61% of surveyed CEOsCFOs, and other senior executives say they take daily game breaks at work. More than half of these gameful executives say they play during work in order “to feel more productive”,  according to DigitalChalk. Agile gamification in the workplace utilizes game-style thinking and strategy in non-game contexts with the aim of engaging users in problem-solving in order to induce desired behaviors.  Essentially this is also exactly what Agile coaching is – supporting teams to drive specific behaviors that contribute towards more effective, productive and harmonious working relationships. With the similarities between the two, Agile gamification has proven to be a natural evolution, combining all of the benefits of gamification such as game mechanics and rewards, but in an Agile software development setting. I’ve been known to create games on the spot in attempt to re-adjust team behavior.  I found that the earlier games are introduced the faster a team gets to synergizing.  The bond is created much earlier in the form stages of the team.

The focus when I design a game for a team is not points or badges, it has a defining purpose.  When designing a game for a team, think of where they need help, you can read more of  Designing  Game Based Learning to Improve Employee Work Life  featured on Learning Solutions Magazine here. Target their needs and desires to get a response or adjust behavior. As an example, I am sure everyone by now has used the ball game where students make a circle and have to pass a sack of balls in a certain time. I take this game and change it up by making it a single ball. In addition, I want the class to understand that change is part of their every day, so I change the rules of the game as the game is played. Change happens every day of our lives, yet it is very difficult for some. If you expect something to change, it will be that much easier to accept later on. With the introduction of agile gamification and game based learning your organization not only gets to reap the benefits of cost effective training, it will reap the benefits of continuous reinforcement of positive behaviors. You see, when you introduce specific game based learning or gamification  at specific intervals as I do, the consistent application of this game play reinforces the skills and positive behaviors you want to teach.  These gamification techniques need not be hours long.

 If designed correctly, they should be under 15 minutes.  I find a five minute game to be enough to help challenge your employees, and act as a catalyst for improved creativity, performance, and motivation. There are various examples of gamified applications  in enterprises, including simulations for training purposes and scenario planning. As an example, Google has an internal gamified program to help employees lower travel costs.  Zichermann, author of The Gamification Revolution and chair of GSummit believes games can be a great way to model the future by showing relationships and interdependency between variables. Kevin Werbach, associate professor of legal studies and business ethics at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania says  agile "Gamification can activate a variety of psychological triggers that motivate employees, including the desire for mastery, autonomy, meaning, social comparison, and completion".  Employees want to know someone is paying attention to them, what better way to show them and keep them motivated. Find out more about our gamebased course, Gelling: Akeakami Quest that uses game based learning to teach teams to collaborate, coordinate and work together. The course includes templates teams can use as examples and a how to get to self organization section.  Interested in Agile Training, contact us.


About our guest writer

Sustainable Games
I am an Agile coach with a passion to help teams to collaborate, strategize, cooperate and to deliver solutions that are in direct support of strategic initiatives. An agile transition is all about people and interactions and that is my concentration. I apply gamification, and proven techniques to motivate teams. Through these techniques I support teams to drive specific behaviors that contribute towards more effective, productive and harmonious working relationships regardless of the methodology or framework used.

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