While agile software development strategies have taken hold across the world, the methodology is not without its issues. Some difficulties may stem from the adoption of Scrum, the need for better teamwork and communication, or a variety of technical practices. Agile Coach Davi Gabriel Da Silva of Geekie, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, believes that the answer lies in gamification.
Gamification is the use of game elements in a non-game context, and has been used across a range of industries and environments with varying levels of success. The idea, essentially, is that game play elements such as rewards can be useful motivators and can drive certain behaviors.
In terms of the realm of agile software development, gamification has particular application in encouraging teamwork and communication and ensuring that processes are followed.
Da Silva is a champion of agile gamification. In a post on Scrum Alliance, he noted: “If Josh has spent years programming without writing a single test, we cannot expect that he will start writing tests right away. It is very likely that he will quit this practice as soon as something bad happens. This is where gamification fits in.”
The nature of a gamification program depends on the required goals, the working culture of the team, and the software platform used. Da Silva wrote that agile gamification “stimulates collaboration, communication, teamwork, creativity, improvement, and self-organization. I have used this before and it helped a team that had no experience with Agile completely change the way they worked. Best of all, they loved the process.”
Gamification is used extensively in training, including in agile training, coaching and mentoring. However, implementing gamification in agile teams or teams wanting to move to agile development methodologies is not a simple process – and culture can play a significant role in the relative success of such ventures.
The principles behind the gamification methodology are universal and based on human psychology. “However, since Latin America shows a high context culture – where relationships are based on trust and build up slowly – it is important to develop (or buy) gaming platforms that take into account this specific characteristic of the Latin American culture,” Dr. Evaristo Doria, faculty member at the Institute of International Business at the J. Mack Robinson College of Business at Georgia State University. Doria co-leads the US – Latin America Program (USLAT).
In a high-context culture like that present throughout most of Latin America, non-verbal communication is highly valued, and the social context of interactions is of great importance. Gamification often uses software platforms that cut out a great deal of the social context and equally has an impact on non-verbal communication. Gamification strategies then need to be planned to address this and to work within the context of the culture.
Gamification does not, however, need to make use of bespoke or off-the-shelf software platforms. The Agile Gamification website offers a plan for using LEGO — a common “platform” in gamification — with the aim of building “a transparent system of continuous improvement based on the ‘Metrics Ecosystem‘ practice described by Jurgen Appelo. This approach also intends to improve collaboration, self-organization, and engagement inside the teams by applying game elements and LEGO.”
Mario Hyland, Senior Vice President at AEGIS.net, Inc, explained that their approach to testing leverages gamification, and scores participants based on their Rubric scale. “Points are award for continuous testing, finding bugs, fixing bugs, and ensure little to no regressions in software quality occur,” he said. “In a sense we drive higher quality through better testing.”
No One Right Way
Doria noted that the use of gamification in agile software development is already taking place in Brazil. “The conversational capital about the use of gamification methodologies in agile software development is positive and growing in Brazil and the rest of Latin America,” he said. Although he would not name the company, he mentioned that a leading Brazilian multinational uses gamification techniques in order to improve the performance of their software developers.
“They [the company] indicated the importance of defining clear very clears goals to be achieved as part of the gaming experience. They also recommended having very clear rules as well as a transparent system for all the participants to track their performance in the game and identify winners,” he said. “Finally, since agile software development is a collaborative effort it is important to develop (or buy) games that foster collaboration.”
Da Silva has released an open source gamification tool called Agile Leagues to help developers implement gamification in agile teams. The source code is available through GitHub, and is designed to “help self-organized creative teams drive behaviors, amplify feedback, and increase progress visibility.”
Marlon Luz, a serial app developer, startups mentor and Microsoft developer, presented a case study at Agile Brazil 2012, demonstrating the use of game techniques in a Scrum team to drive the adoption of the agile framework. Though concrete results on the effectiveness of agile gamification are difficult to find, anecdotal evidence seems to point to the usefulness of such systems in development teams.
The Fun Factor
At the heart of the drive towards gamification is the understanding that play at work can be useful in driving behaviors and increasing engagement and motivation. Matt Hackney, an Agile Coach who owns a UX design house, called Hard Magic, in Costa Rica, has adopted a playful approach to development that, while not adopting a traditional gamification methodology, embeds principles of play and relaxation into the work environment.
“Blending the beautiful rainforest with working in digital tech for the past few years has allowed my design team to relax in nature without a schedule & work at leisure when they become inspired,” he said. “ I have a full kitchen with on-site Raw Food chef and massage therapists as well for the staff. My Silicon Valley staff stay three to six months in the jungle and help train local staff. It’s a beautiful process and we are seeing great success. “
He added that the team keeps track of projects using OneNote, Google Hangouts, and SCRUM Skype calls. “We also all meet for dinner or dancing and keep things quite casual,” Hackney said.