Gamification in project management

It was all about social media last year. Gamification is the hot trend this year. I hear you asking, what’s that? It’s a very new word, so my spellchecker flags this up as an error.
Gamification has been around for some time. Gamification is the art of making work seem less like work. It involves using techniques from games in non-gaming settings to increase engagement. American Express had a company-wide game in 1999, when I was working there. You were given a card with a picture for every shop that refused to accept the Amex card. It was a little like Snap. You could cash in your cards for a prize if you matched the images on the cards. I can recall collecting dozens of cards, being disappointed when they didn’t match, and then exhilarated when they did. I think I won a few prizes that summer, but I don’t remember what they were. It’s the act of playing the game that I remember, and not the outcome.
APM has even established a gamification group for project managers this year. Gamification Study Tour funds a group of new project managers from the Thames Valley region to explore innovative ways to improve engagement among project stakeholders through gamification.
How does it all work?
Gamification in practice
People love recognition and to feel part in something. Gamification techniques tap into this – the idea leaderboards, badges, and levels. Many games offer things to collect, such as Monopoly houses, or privileges if a card is held (such as The Really Nasty Horse Racing Game), and a way to earn points (such Scrabble).
These social triggers are supposed to increase employee engagement. It’s a reality that we see:
Badges, awards and shields (like on projectmanagement.com)
Leaderboards (similar to the LinkedIn groups top influencers this Week’ feature)
Points (like RedCritter Tracker [link deleted — tool appears to have stopped being available as of June 2020], an agile project management tool software tool])

The APM group identified 5 benefits. These are:
Increasing productivity as people are more engaged in their work and stay longer.
Improve morale by encouraging people to like social recognition and collecting ‘likes’
Quality improvement, although I don’t know how this is related with gamification techniques
Employee retention should be increased because work life is better
We all love to work in exciting environments.

I am also certain that some people would be happy in a work environment that doesn’t encourage competition or excitement through leaderboards. I believe there are people who would be excluded from any project gamification activity. PropsToYou is a project-management tool that doesn’t use leaderboards, but instead encourages people to achieve their personal best. As people become more adept at understanding the practical aspects and application of motivational theory in a business environment, I believe we will see more of this type of game theory use in the future.
Gamification to collect data
Companies don’t build game-like features into software or processes unless they have to. It’s all about collecting data, just like the Amex game. Gamification features can be used to encourage people to use your online project management tool to create their task updates, project reports, and so forth. Any incentive to use the product must be good. Software implementations often fail not because it is bad but because people prefer to work without it.
Companies can obtain all kinds of customer data through consumer-led gaming. Starbucks is currently doing this with the 2012 Red Cup Challenge. This Facebook game, which I’m sure shares your details behind-the scenes with Starbucks and gives them valuable information about their customer base, is an example of this.
Gamification is both a business and employee engagement perspective.