What do the introduction of new technologies, business re-engineering and process improvement projects all have in common? The answer is simple, these types of projects typically touch almost every aspect of a business and are classified as organisational change projects, writes Guy Jelley, founder and CEO of Project Portfolio Office (PPO).
The nature of these projects requires some form of integration not just the technical kind; people, process and technology. People need to work with technology, technology needs to support the process and, of course, people need to work with the process.
Businesses today really only have two options, adapt or die, and yet most studies including the Harvard Business Review, Change Management Needs to Change by Ron Ashkenas still show a 60 to 70 percent failure rate for organisational change projects – a statistic that has stayed constant for almost 50 years.
So why do so many of these projects fail? A lack of top management commitment, vague requirements, poorly defined roles and responsibilities can be included, but top of the list would have to be lack of effective user adoption. I’ve learnt the hard way that user adoption is critical to make any change initiative sustainable. And, because user adoption involves changing human behaviour, it is one of the toughest things to manage. It is an ongoing battle for all project managers, even within my own team.
Having recently attended Norwin Lederer’s presentation on PMO Innovations in a Digital Era and the Gamification of the PMO at the Gauteng PMO Forum (an invitation-only forum for project management office (PMO) leaders and executives), it became clear that the concept of gamification brings a world of opportunities. Probably even more than business, the PMO environment needs to adapt or it will die (not forgetting that 50 percent of PMOs close within three years, according to the Association for Project Management) and gamification could be a way to tackle the adoption challenges, like the adoption of a new tool or process.
Let’s get the definition out of the way; gamification is about applying positive re-enforcement found in games (yes, the Nintendo kind) to ordinary work tasks through badges, leader boards and other forms of ‘instant feedback’. Using gamification, at least three ways to overcome the adoption hurdles facing the project management office (PMO) environment come to mind.

Adoption of a new tool
In my experience with project portfolio management (PPM) software implementation projects, the technology should not be the focus of the change. Rather, focus on changing the mind-set of the users, which will naturally drive adoption. Moving to a new technology is more often than not accompanied with the migration of data. A hassle free solution to solve this is usually to bulk load the data through some kind of automation. But how does this drive adoption? It doesn’t…I’ve seen first-hand how this process of tracking progress against the data migration plan can be ‘gamified’.
It is as simple as creating a leader board that has a promise of a reward for the best performing project manager, and is a win-win for both the PMO and the users of the new tool. Users will increase the time spent using and adopting the new tool allowing them to practice what they’ve learnt. Consequently, the PMO can gauge the completeness of the data for each project, compare project manager results, and ultimately improve productivity. Nobody wants to be a loser, so before you start the process, list the projects to be migrated, be clear on the success criteria and deadline.

Establishing the status reporting heartbeat
One of the values of a good PMO is in its ability to provide executives with accurate and consistent portfolio and project reporting. If you’ve ever had the task of establishing a reporting heartbeat within a PMO environment, you’ll know and understand how difficult a task this can be.
Why not use challenges and rewards to incentivise project managers to work their way through the regular reporting cycles? Set up a game that tracks adherence to process where the on time updating of progress information and the accuracy of the data provided is weighted more heavily than the actual project health. Create personal dashboards for project managers to view stats, earn awards for achievements for completing tasks, and even support colleagues for progress towards their goals. Make these visible to all ‘players’ to foster engagement and encourage competition and participation.

Introduction of time sheets
Accurate time keeping is essential for organisations wanting to monitor project costs and effort. One major question managers keep asking is “How do we ensure our employees track their time consistently and properly?” Chances are that you’ve asked a similar question for other types of change initiatives. Perhaps it is time to adjust the approach and get teams motivated with gamification that includes a weekly high-score table to award prizes to top competitors every week? Turn the ordinary task of completing time sheets into a fun, engaging competition that still gets you the business result.
In summary, none of us are strangers to the terms that have been used to describe our PMOs; bureaucratic, rigid, policeman and even ‘Pisses Me Off’! Now is the time for the PMO to start thinking differently about how to engage stakeholders. Gamification is currently being applied to sectors like customer management, health and wellness, insurance, employee performance and the list still continues to grow.
If truth be told, this is not a one-size-fits-all remedy to all project problems and should not be forced upon an environment without first understanding the level of buy-in amongst the stakeholders.
And, it may just be another business trend, but who could argue with wanting to make work fun? Game on …