Visual Project Management – Gamification

Gamification is the application of game thinking and dynamics within non-game contexts, such as business operations, by engaging employees (players) to participate in solving business problems and completing work tasks in a fun, fulfilling and learning-based environment.  While gamification has a “flavor-of-the-month” buzz around it today, and is subject to traditional business hype cycles, it is becoming an increasingly popular trend within business operations management and one that is being actively explored for possible use in project management practice.  The statistics don’t lie:

  • The Association for Project Management conducted a study in 2012 which found that 3 billion hours world-wide are spent each week by people who are participating in some form of gaming.[i]
  • A similar study conducted by Jane Gonigal in her book, “Reality Is Broken,” found that, in the United States alone, there are 183 million active gamers.[ii]
  • According to research conducted by M2 Research, the gamification industry will grow from approximately $500 million in the United States in 2013 to an estimated $2.8 billion by the end of 2016[iii]

The reason behind these impressive statistics, quite simply, is because people love to play games.  Games provide a sense of personal accomplishment along with the sense of community that comes from being part of a team.  Games also trigger natural instincts for competition and the positive emotions that come with the excitement that the potential for winning provides.

Gamification, while a relatively new term, traces its conceptual roots back to the first airline frequent flyer rewards programs.  Established by airline marketing teams to increase brand loyalty, these programs used an accumulated point or miles-based system of award levels, which allowed participants to gain access to awards, perks, recognition and financial benefits not available to non-participants.    In fact, one of the main findings from these early game-based systems was that the level of effectiveness of a program was greatly increased when the points or rewards had tangible economic value to participants.  These programs proved that gamification can trigger basic, subliminal human needs and desires that include status and achievement.

In general, modern-day business usage of gamification seeks to increase employee engagement in daily or project-based work tasks by granting rewards and/or recognition via the use of points, achievement levels and/or accomplishment badges.  The rewards are granted on any number of factors such as on-time (or early) task completion, accomplishment of more tasks than planned within a certain time-box, consecutive number of bug-free software code releases or reductions in defect rates.  Gamification essentially helps to keep workers motivated and inspires them to achieve the best end results possible.


The collection of points and badges, or progressions through various game levels, is tracked on scoreboards or leaderboards, showing participants how they compare with their peers.  Making the rewards for accomplishing tasks visible to other participants, or publically displaying leaderboards, encourage individuals and teams to compete, as the natural competitive nature of human beings provides a strong bias for action and increased performance.


While competitive elements already exist in traditional work environments, adding the new wrinkle that gamification introduces can have both positive and negative results.  Positive effects of the competitive nature via gamification include increased engagement, enhanced motivation, stronger collaboration and heightened performance within teams.  Achieving these positive results, however, requires a transparent and consistent process of allocating rewards, tracking progress, providing feedback on results and a tiered system that effectively motivates people at every level to sustain engagement across the entire population of participants.

Caution is advised, however, to remain aware of the potential negative effects that may result from gamification, such as driving unintended “win at all costs” or dishonest behaviors.  Badly designed or conducted gamification programs can lead to participant isolation, tension among competing teams, feelings of injustice and a lack of motivation for individuals or teams that rank in the lower half of the game’s leaderboard.  Another potential negative effect associated with gamification is if the game never ends.  Long running or never-ending games reduce participation and eventually “poison the well” for future game-based activities.

So how is the gamification phenomenon applicable to project management practice?  Projects and games share many common traits.  Projects are managed by setting goals, breaking down the work needed to achieve the goals, defining roles needed to complete the work and establishing a set of metrics that are tracked following a defined lifecycle with milestones that show progress toward the end goal.  In similar fashion, games also set goals for success, assign roles, establish rules, tasks and processes, encourage creative problem solving, reward success and progress, and follow a defined lifecycle that ultimately leads to the achievement of the goal, also known as winning the game.

Successful project managers understand that equally successful project results come about by actively engaging and motivating project team members.  And since the use of gamification concepts are designed to improve engagement and motivation, it makes sense to attempt to combine the two and look for any enhanced benefits that can potentially be leveraged.  Ultimately, the use of gamification in project management practice is to inspire team members to utilize a prescribed process, meet deadlines on a timely basis and improve upon project productivity and delivery metrics.  Additionally, the use of gamification for project activities can also provide beneficial increases in key organizational and cultural attributes such as:

  1. Fun, engaging and exciting work climate
  2. Creativity and problem solving skills
  3. Team cohesiveness
  4. Individual and team productivity
  5. Individual morale and retention
  6. Quality of work product

Before embarking on a gamification journey, project managers should ensure they understand and document the specific long and short-term goals that the “gamified” process is intended to achieve.  Applying gamification techniques without an end goal in mind is a recipe for failure.

Common project management-specific goals that lend themselves to gamification approaches include:

  1. Maintaining high quality work by tracking defect rates, items returned from testing, etc.
  2. Maintaining on-schedule project task delivery
  3. Keeping up with required project administrative tasks like time recording, status reporting, issue logging, etc.
  4. Improving accuracy of task estimation by comparing estimated effort to actuals
  5. Cost reduction opportunities by developing creative solutions that reduce original estimates

Beyond point-based or achievement-based games, gamification also includes simulation.  Simulations provide significant impact to all organizational teams whether they are project-based, process-based or technical.  Simulations involve putting people into realistic, simulated environments that allow them to experience complex situations or best practices, while creating deeper understanding of available choices, potential risks and/or benefits, and expected results versus intended consequences.  In fact, training-based simulations are perhaps the most mature example of the use of gamification in project management practice, having been available for a number of years.  Possibly the largest benefit that simulations bring, similar to the more reward-based gamification approaches, is that they promote close team collaboration and communication.

Simulations are typically classroom-based scenario games that portray projects in various stages which face specific issues, risks, challenges and/or barriers to successful project delivery.  The simulation allows participants to work together as a project team to practice collaboration, communication and problem solving around the various obstacles presented in the scenario.

In some simulations, players are guided through the same situational scenario numerous times, but deploying different approaches or methodologies in each round, such as: applying current organizational processes, then industry best practice processes are used and finally, innovative new approaches are tested.  These repetitive scenarios allow the teams to learn the pros and cons of each approach as they relate to common problem sets.  Simulations are essentially “live-fire” feedback sessions where the participants capture lessons learned as the impact and result of each potential decision is made.


Copyright © 1996-2016 STS Sauter Training & Simulation SA, Lausanne, Switzerland

Beyond project management methodology or process training, the concept of simulation is completely applicable to scenarios generated from actual projects as well.  When projects encounter thorny issues or risks, simulations can be leveraged to test certain risk mitigation options or issue resolution approaches.  Simulations can also be used to provide the project team with better understanding of product usage or business process outcomes.

A number of consultancy-based and online project simulations are now available in the marketplace that facilitates design, execution and data gathering from the simulation sessions.  These offerings range from project management skill building to realistic training environments for emergency scenarios.  Because the concept of gamification is becoming more readily adopted, some larger software platforms like Oracle’s customer relationship management solution known as Salesforce® is now offered with a gamification module built-in.

For additional information regarding Gamification concepts:

General Information & Resources

  • Gamification (Wikipedia):
  • SimStudios                   
  • Dashboard Simulations: 


Gray, Dave and Brown, Sunni, Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers and Changemakers, O’Reilly Media, 2010, ISBN 978-0-596-80417-6

Kumar, Janaki and Herger, Mario, Gamification At Work: Designing Engaging Business Software,, 2013, ISBN 978-8-792-96407-6

Burke, Brian, Gamify: How Gamification Motivates People to Do Extraordinary Things, Bibliomotion, 2014, ISBN 978-1-937-13485-3

Shtub, Avraham, Project Management Simulation with Project Team Builder (PTB), Springer, 2012, ISBN 978-1-441-96462-5

Popular Software Tools and Online Vendors

  • Bunchball   
  • Badgeville  
  • SimulTrain®
  • SimProject®
  • Sandbox Model

[i] Based on a presentation of findings at an October 31st, 2012 event sponsored by the Thames Valley Branch of the United Kingdom-based, Association of Project Management

[ii] McGonigal, Jane (2011), Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Change the World, Penguin Press

[iii] Based on a presentation by M2 Research at the 2011 Gamification Summit in New York City


Project Management Through The Eyes of the C-Suite

I don’t mean to be curt or callous, but the simple truth is, to the C-Suite, projects are simply financial transactions.  Period.  They are nothing more than a means to an end.  A necessary investment of resources to execute upon the strategic intent of the organization and achieve a desired benefit.  Some projects are investments in maintaining the status quo, while others are investments in new ideas or improving existing approaches, and others still are more like bets upon strategic leaps into the future.  But they are all investments.

For better or worse, C-Suite executives typically see the world through three lenses:

  1. Run The Business
    1. Keep the lights on and the money coming in the door
    2. Improve operating efficiency
  2. Improve The Business
    1. Process improvements
    2. Product/Service extensions
    3. Efficiency gains
    4. Cost reduction
    5. Doing more with less
  3. Plan For The Future
    1. Strategy development
    2. Vision achievement
    3. Innovation management and new product/service development
    4. Strategic execution

In fact, many project portfolios are indeed designed, built and governed using these three focus areas.  Investments are deployed, whether they are capital expenditures (CapEx), operational expenses (OpEx) or simple human resource utilization, in order to achieve some defined benefit to the organization.  Many times, the intended benefit is financial, like additional profit generated from a new product or service the project is delivering, or cost savings derived from new processes or approaches being implemented.  Other times, the benefit may be to simply stay within regulatory compliance or increase technical capacity or a myriad of other reasons that don’t directly benefit the bottom line.

Because investment types and intended benefits can be so diverse, leveraging a portfolio management system that actively categorizes, maps and balances the various projects across the organization’s desired cost/benefit and risk/reward parameters is key.  Below is a sample project portfolio 2×2 grid that is geared toward balancing investments across the innovation spectrum while ensuring enough focus on sustaining existing profit lines.


So now that we better understand why the C-Suite thinks drastically different about projects than those who manage them, and we know why they are many times grouped into various portfolio categories, what types of project and portfolio-based information do these executive-level folks require to maintain a certain comfort level that “all is well?”

  1. Full cost of the project investment
    1. CapEx, OpEx, opportunity cost
  2. Expected return on that investment
    1. Financial benefits, non-financial benefits, risk mitigation, goodwill
  3. Payback period
    1. How long until the project pays for itself or benefits are realized
  4. Organizational change impact and timeline
    1. How much disruption will the project introduce to the organization and for other projects in the portfolio
  5. Alignment to strategy, vision, metrics, etc.
    1. Does the project fulfill a key organizational strategic goal or align to the vision
  6. Investment performance/KPIs
    1. At-a-glance view of key project health and performance metrics
  7. Visual-Based information
    1. Must be highly visual, quick to digest and comprehend, and support rapid decision making

As project management professionals, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the minutia of day-to-day project management.  We often focus our thinking on the complexity of tools, methodologies, data points and processes at our disposal.  We concentrate on tasks and issues and risks and deadlines.  Too many times we report status in PM jargon such as, earned value, variance, critical path, float, capacity, baseline and other terms meaningless to those who actually consume those reports.  Quite frankly, our attention defaults to the who, what and how, often at the expense of the why.

Understand that the reason you have a project to manage in the first place is based on a higher-level, executive decision to make an investment, on behalf of the entire organization, that is expected to deliver some benefit or solution, in alignment with organizational strategy.  Make it a point to see your project through the eyes of your C-Suite, understand what’s important to them, and communicate in their language, not yours.  If you do, you may find increased success along your project management career path!


Top Ten Executive Project Sponsorship Success Factors


Project Management and the C-Suite


2020 Vision…The Strategic Hype Cycle Has Arrived!

It’s “Silly Season” for strategic planning.  With many organizations thinking about scheduling executive retreats and off-sites this Fall to work through their strategic planning and roadmap development, far too many of them have realized that the end date of their farthest strategic horizon, typically three years, coincides with the year 2020.  I’d have to use two hands now to count the number of client sites I have recently visited where big, visual displays are showcasing their ‘2020 Vision’ strategic initiatives, complete with the predictable eye test chart, eyeglasses, binoculars, telescope or the 20/20 symbol prominently highlighted!  Okay, its corny, but we’ll let them have their “fun.”

Claiming to have a strategy isn’t really all that difficult.  It is simply the purposeful decision to be something by a certain time in the future.  Seriously, its that simple.  If your organization decides it wants to be the recognized market leader in widget distribution in two years, you’ve just established your stated strategy.  Transforming your “strategy” beyond a simple statement and into actionable plans and tasks, however, is a bit more challenging.  To pull that off, you need to think about about setting a goal, picking a niche, considering internal and external factors and establishing a deadline.  Strategies can take many forms across the spectrum of time.  Long-term strategy is usually a “softer goal” that defines the organization’s intended place in the market, while mid-range strategies are typically more focused and include specific areas of operational improvement or adjustment, milestones and more detailed plans or objectives.


Roadmap-Telescope Graphic


Unfortunately, too many organizations simply use “strategic planning” sessions as an excuse to play golf in the morning and tackle the “tough” work of pulling together some lofty ideas, stretch goals and a slick slide deck to share at the next company meeting or quarterly report.  What’s typically produced from these off-site meetings are so high level that calling them “10,000 ft. view strategies” would be a gross understatement!

Real strategic development takes its ancient roots from military tactics and extends it to business operations. Formally defined as “a plan of action designed to achieve a desired goal,” in the context of organizational management, it is the vision, plan and direction of an organization, defined over a set period of time, and designed to achieve a specific business goal such as growth, profit, meeting the needs of customers, etc.

Business Charts

Developing an effective strategy involves analyzing the competitive environment in which the organization operates followed by making a series of decisions about how the organization will best position itself to compete in the marketplace. This initial process ends with a series of goals or objectives for the organization to pursue, along with metrics to ensure that progress is being made.  This activity also ensures a focus on market and environmental trends, developing responses to various potential future scenarios and observing consumer preferences and behaviors.

Designing an effective strategy requires that organizations see into the future, define a purpose, mission and goal, analyze trends and current events, conjure up scenarios and develop tactics and measures for reaching the desired end state.  Typically, the process uses the following approach:

  • Scenario Planning
    • Future State Analysis
    • Preparation
    • Research & Planning
    • Scenario Development
    • Scenario Execution
    • Scenario Outputs

Scenario Planning

  • Strategic Planning
    • Historical Analysis
    • Definition of Current Vision / Mission
    • Internal SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) Analysis
    • External SWOT Analysis
  • Strategy Execution Planning
    • OGSM Framework
      • Objectives
      • Goals
      • Strategies
        • Tactics
      • Measures
  • Customer/Market Analysis
    • Market Profiling § Exploitation Analysis
    • Saturation Analysis
    • Size
    • Growth Rate
    • Distribution Channels
    • Supply/Vendor Channels
    • Trending
  • Ethnography
  • Needs Analysis

By the time a strategy has been thought out, defined and planned, it begins to take on more of an implementation or execution-based look and feel.  Rather than statements of intention, execution plans define specific actions, approaches, time boxes and resources being put to task in making the strategy real.  In essence, to bring order to a set of activities that are purposely designed and planned to bring about organizational strategy.  Now you know why a firm like ours, that specializes in project and innovation management, has such a laser-like focus on strategic development.  Its the first stepping stone on the much longer roadmap to success!


25 Things You Can Do In Your First 100 Days As PMO Director

As a PMO consultant that is frequently asked to assess the effectiveness and efficiency of PMO structure, process and practices and recommend restructuring plans, I frequently find myself referring back to a “to-do” grid I put together a number of years ago to both trigger my memory, and provide a visualization for my clients regarding the effort and expected timeframe needed to conduct the assessment and initial planning/design tasks.

If you’ve recently been tasked with establishing a PMO from scratch, or need to do a “rip and replace,” or if this is your initial professional opportunity to lead a PMO, hopefully this checklist of assessments, inputs and plans are helpful in organizing your thoughts and approach.  If anything, develop a similar model to share with your leadership team so they can get a comfort level on the “what”, “how” and “when” things will be accomplished.

To see a larger, PDF version of the chart, please click on the graphic:

100 Day PMO Plan Grid

The actual MSExcel worksheet can also be downloaded HERE


Project Portfolio and Innovation Management Research Papers Updated!

After a lengthy six month review, refresh and editing process, we’re excited to announce that our most popular research white papers are being re-released to the general public.

The refreshed white papers that are now available:

In addition to updating the information contained in the research papers, we also took some time to review and refresh some of our most widely used and downloaded models, roadmaps, job aids and artifacts we’ve developed over the course of the past fifteen (15) years.  We hope they help you become a more educated, efficient and effective project and/or innovation management practitioner!




Innovation Life Cycle

PMO Target Assessment Model



Innovation Type Spectrum Model


Roadmap-Telescope Graphic


CoE Model


Innovation Portfolio Management Model

Innovation Maturity Capability Map


Continuous Innovation Loop


Continuous Innovation Chart





Talking Strategic Execution with Cornelius Fichtner and PMPodcast

As a follow-on to our previous conversation, Cornelius Fichtner, PMP, CSM and I recently chatted about how strategic execution is really just another way of referring to project management.  Essentially, projects serve as the bridge between an organization’s strategy and it’s day-to-day operations.  Projects also represent an investment that strategy.  In our discussion we delve into both innovation and project management views on this topic.  If you didn’t read the previous post, Cornelius interviewed me a few weeks ago for his Project Management Podcast (PMPodcast), which is the recognized global leader in podcast-based project management professional development content.




Similar to last time, this discussion was also roughly based on a past Think For A Change blog post.  For this particular interview, we talked about the points raised in the post,”Mind The Strategic Execution Gap,” including how project management professionals play a critical part in organizational strategic execution.  During the remainder of our half-hour discussion, we discussed a myriad of topics: how the middle management layer in organizations can inadvertently become a road block to success, the differences between the concepts of an “idea gap” and an “execution gap,” how to connect the dots between innovation and project management disciplines and how project portfolio management approaches tend to knit all of these concepts together.

This interview appears to be part of the PMPodcast ‘Premium’ tier and, therefore, is only available to those paid subscribers who who have access to the entire library of the PMPodcast online content.  If you aren’t up for premium-level, I’d still encourage you to subscribe (its free!) to the PMPodcast, so you can access more of the podcast library.  There are links for Apple, Android and Google Music platforms.

Additionally, Cornelius’ other organization, OSP International LLC, a PMI Registered Eduction Provider, has developed a number of fantastic products and service offerings designed to help project management practitioners to not only prepare for the ‘Project Management Professional’ (PMP®) exam, but earn required professional development units once they have successfully achieved the PMP® designation.


The Intersection of Project and Innovation Management with Steve Glaveski and FutureSquared

It has been a whirlwind of podcast interviews at Think For A Change lately!  First, we talked project leadership and strategic execution with Cornelius Fichtner over at PMPodcast and OSP International.  More recently, we sat down with Steve Glaveski from Collective Campus on his Future² podcast to discuss how project management supports innovation and supportive organizational structures for innovation management success.

Screen Shot 2016-05-15 at 8.16.30 pm

You can stream the conversation directly at SoundCloud or, as I’d recommend, you can subscribe to Steve’s Future² podcast and not miss the great innovation-related conversations happening there!

On a related note, Steve recently published “The Innovation Manager’s Handbook,” which is a free downloadable e-book that is jam-packed with fantastic tips, tools and other learning opportunities with respect to managing and leading innovation inside organizations.

Thanks Steve for a great conversation!

Talking Project Leadership with Cornelius Fichtner and PMPodcast!

It was a distinct pleasure and honor to meet up with Cornelius Fichtner, PMP, CSM a few weeks ago to discuss project leadership and the overall state of the project management profession.  Cornelius is the recognized global leader in podcast-based project management content via his Project Management Podcast (PMPodcast) offering.

Additionally, his organization, OSP International LLC, a PMI Registered Eduction Provider, has developed a number of fantastic products and service offerings designed to help project management practitioners to not only prepare for the ‘Project Management Professional’ (PMP®) exam, but earn required professional development units once they have successfully achieved the PMP® designation.


cornelius_fichtner_1 PMPodcastLogo


The discussion was roughly based on one of our past blog posts, “It’s Time For Project Leadership to Have a Seat at the Executive Table,” and started off with a conversation about project leadership in general.  During the remainder of our half-hour discussion, we discussed a myriad of topics: project leadership in the C-Suite, leveraging project management discipline for strategic execution, ensuring project benefit capture and how the project management practitioner role has changed over the past decade.

You can access the web stream of our podcast discussion <HERE>.  But, I actually recommend subscribing (its free!) to the PMPodcast so you can access more of the podcast library.  There are links for Apple, Android and Google Music platforms.  Additionally, he does offer a fee-based Premium tier, which gives you access to an even larger library of great content.

Enjoy the discussion!