The Game of Process Improvement

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Content Copyright © 2011 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

There are many words now being written, especially in marketing circles, about the “gamification” of BPM and process improvement. However, there appears to be little consensus on what it might be and what it might mean.

The linkage of game theory with process technology has been occurring for some time. However the most successful company in the space historically did not make a lot of noise about it. Alan Trefeler of Pegasystems is a chess master and has been using the gaming principles of chess as the core of the company’s software for many years. While TIBCO founder Vivek Ranadive believes that in applying the principles of how great game players succeed to business will provide greater competitive advantage.

As someone who has been using scenario and role play based training for some years it is interesting to see how the tide is turning. It used to be that people laughed or, worse still, resisted the idea that you were going to encourage their people to play games in order to learn. Now it seems that teaching and learning via games is highly fashionable.

Singularity, BizzDesign and 21apps all make use of and promote the idea of game play in order to extract requirements and motivate people for change in the process arena. In the case of the first two their focus is on ensuring that their customers deliver better applications faster. As we know, any vendor needs happy referenceable customers and ensuring that the systems built with their technology are more effective is important to Singularity and BizzDesign. Both of these companies use structured role/scenario play to speed up leaning and enable people to quickly discover problems for themselves.

My impression is that, while the structure is extremely effective as a learning and discovery tool, the challenge is that people may not always follow through with buying your technology afterwards.

In the case of 21apps it is more a case of using games as tools, so continuing to use traditional techniques like SWOT analysis or brainstorming, but using game ideas to make the sessions more effective.

Two recent books are driving much of the current interest, “Gamestorming” by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown and James Macanufo and “Innovation Games” by Luke Hohmann. Both books are packed with ideas and games to help you in all sorts of different situations. Luke Hohmann also has his own web site where you can play many of the games online.

The rationale for playing games is grounded in good learning theory. We learn and retain information faster when playing. Cast your mind back to when you were 4 or 5 years old and think of the games you used to play, either on your own or with your friends. It might be that you were like me at that age and loved maths! Well actually I loved the games the teacher played and found that they helped me learn maths. At that age I found maths easy and fun – all because of the games we played. In my case, wind the clock forward 8 years to a bigger school where there were lectures and stern teachers and, surprise, surprise, I quickly learned to hate maths! And my skills failed to live up to the teacher’s ideas of what they could or should be – how I wished they understood learning and games theory then. Your specific experiences will be different, but I suspect if you think hard enough you will find similar instances in your own past.

As an organisation looking to gain or build consensus, capture requirements, generate ideas, overcome resistance or any one of a hundred other things, the use of games via a skilled facilitator will speed up your results, increase motivation and overcome challenges. If you are not already applying games as a part of your process workshops then you are definitely missing an opportunity.

It is not all upside though; much role and game play success is down to the interactions among people and the dynamics of the group and this is an area of worry when it comes to vendors and tools.

There are online games, such as IBM’s Innov8 and others, that make use of interactive worlds like Second Life. Their biggest appeal will always be to those who might normally play computer games, especially in an online community. This, for me, brings a high risk, for these situations might provide realistic business and process scenarios for us to work on, but fail to provide a great deal of real world interaction among people, thus diminishing some of the potential return.

In summary, all businesses should be looking at the latest developments in games and the application of games to learning. In order to leverage the techniques you will need to access or train good facilitators, measure success by the outcomes and not by the bulleted “you will learn lists”, and be prepared for you and your teams to discover things about themselves and their work that they may not have ever thought of.

Lastly, do not be seduced by technology. The use of games theory, as applied by people like Trefler and Ranadive, has sound roots. They are helping to create systems that work more like we, as people, do. Others who take games and simply computerise them are not leveraging the underlying theory benefits and may, in fact, also destroy some of the interaction benefits they purport to support.