Thursday, May 31, 2012

Gamification has a Place in Business

gamificationWhy would I want silly games in my business? Won’t that just give people another reason to goof off at work? Gamification isn’t about making games, it is about applying to processes and communication the same type of techniques that keep people interested and engaged in playing games.

Wikipedia has a great definition, an excerpt below:

Gamification is the use of game design techniques[1], game thinking and game mechanics to enhance non-game contexts.

Before you go and jump in the pool and enlist someone to gamify all your processes, understand that in order for it to work and provide tangible benefits to the organization, the psychological and emotional rewards offered need to be in alignment with what you are trying to accomplish. Additionally the behaviors that are being rewarded need to be carefully evaluated to prevent the inadvertent reward of undesired alternate behaviors, such as “gaming” the system or introducing a type of peer competition that can be damaging for morale.


photo credit: JD Hancock / CC BY 2.0

Friday, April 20, 2012

Growing a Business is like Migrating Services to the Cloud

Green GiantWhen a business is in a transition between sizes, for example from Small to Medium-sized, all the business systems are expected to be able to grow with it at the same pace and at the same level of quality. Many don’t realize the demands of growth don’t necessarily scale well without fundamental changes in how it operates both in their management controls, process workflows, and the responsibilities of the personnel managing the processes.

The same holds true for migrating applications and services to the cloud. When applications are hosted on internally owned and managed servers, the maintenance and reliability of the hardware and software is managed by internally controlled resources. When they are moved to the cloud, organizations lose the level of control of quality and reliability unless fundamental changes to the system are made to be more fault tolerant, flexible to demand spikes, and redundant in the event of hardware failures or response times as a result of a multitude of causes, such as human errors, cut transmission lines, and power outages. Read an interesting account of how Netflix uses their Chaos Monkey to insure the best user experience even during major system failures.

On the surface, just doing more of what was always done may look like the growth process is healthy and successful, but there are probably obstacles looming just out of sight waiting for the right time to surface. A healthy dose of planning and evaluation with a multi-disciplined team can go a long way to preventing catastrophe or at the very least identifying the potential risks.


photo credit: Mykl Roventine / CC BY 2.0

Monday, September 26, 2011

Seven Effective uses of Technology in Business

rocketmanThis is Part 2 in a series about the role of technology in business improvement. In Part 1 we explored Five Ways to Incorrectly Use Technology.

Organizations can experience significant benefits applying technology in scenarios where:

  • technology can be a catalyst for innovating around a process.
  • the majority of the perceived process waste has been removed.
  • the ability to improve the process without technology has reached its threshold.
  • technology is better suited for poka-yoke, such as eliminating math errors or guiding complicated work flows.
  • the risks of injury or danger to employees can be reduced or eliminated. Examples are un-manned military drones replacing pilots in hostile areas or using robots in automotive paint spray booths.
  • the mechanical burden of maintaining the process using manual methods becomes a hindrance to productivity.
  • information or collaboration needs to be shared across geographic boundaries.

photo credit: jurvetson / CC BY 2.0

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Why Behaviors Don’t Represent a Person’s Nature

Smoking Jack SparrowYou can’t trust the outwardly presented behaviors of people to accurately represent their real personality or nature. Often behaviors that look “bad” are driven by something outside of the individual’s control. Look at the scenario below as I reveal more information in “The reality”.

The natural assumption

I was walking out of an attractive office building and saw two people about to enter the entrance to the foyer. The guy flicked a cigarette out onto the large outdoor brick and concrete entryway surface. Wow, I can’t believe that guy just did that. A still smoldering cigarette littering the clean decorative sidewalk. What would this tell you about his character?

The reality

When the man and woman first came into my view, the woman was gazing about as if she was looking for something. The man appeared to be looking at the outdoor trashcan with a puzzled look on his face. Just before flicking the cigarette, he shrugged his shoulders out of what looked like frustration. Neither of them noticed me until they were already inside the building.

The office complex was a smoke free campus, but it was not very well marked on the property. There was no cigarette butt receptacle near the entrance. Clearly the man didn’t want to put his butt in the trash can and risk starting a fire. Both of the them were looking for a safe place to dispose of the cigarette - they were conscientious people wanting to do the right thing.

In business, how we treat people and and their ideas are often influenced by our impression of their personalities as perceived through their behaviors. We can be dismissive, judgmental, and exclusive. None of those are conducive to getting the most creative ideas for improvement and support for change.

When you see “bad” behavior at work, instead try assuming there is an underlying issue driving that behavior and let them prove you wrong. If you are a leader, try to find out the root cause and drive it to resolution. Thoughts?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Personality Strengths and the Pinky Swear

gymnastics vaultThis is a true story about two talented High School gymnasts, Pam and Lisa, and their challenges overcoming  pre-event nerves.


The event is the Vault. What differentiates this event from the others, is the gymnast is scored on two vault runs. They have the option of bailing out at the last minute and not performing on a run if it doesn’t feel right. This obviously can have a negative affect on their score, so it is not desirable, unless there is a safety concern.


Both gymnasts have complicated routines that despite repeated practice, they don’t feel 100% confident in their ability to execute them perfectly. That is where Molly “The Motivator” comes in. Molly is a fellow gymnast, but wasn’t competing because of an injury. Pam and Lisa have grown accustom to relying on Molly, above all the others, to motivate them to victory. I say motivate because each of the two gymnasts responds to completely different stimuli.

Pinky Swear

Molly recognizes the strengths of their personalities and what drives them to perform at their best and she emphasizes those strengths when she cheers them on.

Lisa always repeatedly performs better when Molly psyches her up before the event and cheers loudly and enthusiastically for her through the duration of her routine.

Pam is perfectly capable of a near perfect Suke, but her tall height creates an additional challenge for her that impacts her confidence. She routinely walks off after a run before hitting the springboard. However, unlike Lisa, Pam doesn’t respond to positive reinforcement and cheering. During competition, Molly knows she can leverage Pam’s sense of responsibility by having Pam “pinky swear” that she will complete the run and finish her routine. With their pinky swear in play, Pam consistently performs and scores high as a result.

Leadership Lesson

Molly looks at the strengths of each of the gymnasts and individualizes the treatment to what they personally want and need to succeed. It’s for that reason Molly is considered the “go to” person for getting the most out of the team.

It doesn’t matter whether the subject is sports or business, individualizing communication based on the strengths and personality of the individuals generally delivers positive rewards for all of the parties involved.

*The names have been changed to protect the identities of the people in this story.

Friday, July 8, 2011

That Perfect Team

Scooby Doo - the ultimate problem solving teamMany of us have been on that “perfect” team at some point in our lives. You know, the one where everyone’s personalities meshed just right and each person’s strengths were exactly what was needed to get that project done. If you had another chance to work on a project with that team, you know it would be successful.

Starting a team project is similar to integrating multiple different software programs together. Each program is designed for a particular purpose and it does it well. One can rely on an individual program to provide it’s designed value. The thought of integrating it with other programs instantly brings up questions. Is it possible? Will it be reliable? Will integrating them provide the intended result?

The confidence that the integration can be successful begins with a simple test where one small piece of one of the programs can successfully “talk” to another program with a common language. The confidence that the objective will be successful grows as additional parts of the systems are progressively more connected.

People are like those individual programs. Initially there may be apprehension of how well they will work together, but after experiencing sometimes even the smallest group interaction, the team’s confidence can skyrocket and lead to immediate productivity.

Whether it is teamwork or software integration, the result has the potential to be orders of magnitude more valuable when working together rather than individually.

illustration credit: Scooby1980 / CC BY 2.0

Friday, June 17, 2011

A Common Language is Half of the Utility

GPS in FrenchI was reminded about the value a common language has on the usefulness of tools through a recent experience with my GPS.

The Story

I loaned my GPS to French exchange students for their trip to New York City.

After they returned, I turned on my GPS to set a destination and all the text and menus were set to the French language setting. I’ve studied Spanish and German, but it was a little challenge to navigate through the French labels on the menus to find the setting to change it back to English.

The Power of Commonality

For the exchange students, the GPS would have still had considerable value to them on their trip even if they left it set to English because of the illustrations and graphical nature of the GPS (and like many Europeans they spoke English). However, when set to their native language, the GPS was far more useful as they didn’t have the distraction and pressure of translating and interpreting the audio prompts while driving in traffic.

A GPS is a powerful tool. But it is just that - a tool. A common language that is readily understandable to the users is a subtle, but often overlooked component of the utility of the tool.

The utility of a common language is a universal principle of business process design, supporting technology, and communication. It is far easier to ensure everyone understands the process and each other if everyone shares the same terminology, vocabulary, and usage. The same holds true with the technologies and tools that are used to support the processes.

Software and other tools are far more effective when the terminology, labels, and workflow incorporate the industry and company specific language and thinking native to the organization.