Achievements System for Projects?

Achievements System for Projects?

Okay. I’m going to ask you to bear with me as I kick the can around a little.

On March 26, Ty Kiisel of @Task posted an article Informed Work Management Decisions Require Trustworthy Project Data. I commented on this post that I believed accurate status updates were a function of effectively translating IT language into stakeholder language.

Facebook Status UpdateTy commented that the problem was greater than that. Specifically, he used the example of team members sharing accomplishments with their friends on Facebook. They do so willingly because they get immediate, positive gratification. Since typically project managers and stakeholders neglect to congratulate the good, and get up in arms over the bad, team members get substantially more negative feedback than positive.

There is a management issue there, to be sure; one that’s as old as business. Taking a moment to give positive feedback is something everyone in business has heard, and most forget to do.

But what if they don’t have to?

I am an unabashed gamer. I play World of Warcraft late at night for hours on end with my arcane mage named “Khlammy“. It’s a sickness, really, but I digress. Something that’s taken hold of the gaming community is a concept called Achievements Tracking. Basically, if you perform some kind of special, measurable feat in the game, you earn an achievement for it, and all of your friends in-game get a notification of what you’ve done. It immediately gets your friends to reply to you, “wow!” “great!” “you’re amazing”.

I have a point, I promise.

Achievements for Projects?What if, in a project environment, there were a similar system? Much of what could be considered an achievement (or, let’s call them “accomplishments”) can be tracked already in whatever software solution is active in the environment. Project deliverables are known; when a deliverable gets approved, why not have the software send out a little notification through the project team’s instant messaging service? It could let everyone know not just that the deliverable was approved, but congratulate the individuals responsible by name.

Opens up a few doors, as I see it. Call it “behaviour push” for lack of a better term at the time of this writing.

  • An instant message goes out to the entire project team (or certain select workgroups)
  • Recipients have the option to send “congratulations” instant messaging notes to those responsible
  • Management gets an automatic reminder to also congratulate those people
  • Casual water-cooler / in-the-elevator conversations can begin, “hey I saw you did blah blah, good for you”

Possible Instant Message Notification from Project System

It sets individuals up to receive consistent, positive feedback for specific things (as opposed to generic appreciation which always seems less sincere). When people feel encouraged, they tend to work harder, enjoy their jobs more, and take greater pride in their work.

From a status reporting perspective, there’s a hard list of actual accomplishments that were done during a particular period. The project manager could rip that list out of the printer, go to the individuals responsible and just walk through it, asking for the details they need. That helps the PM to prepare the status reports with a little more accuracy.

From a stakeholder perspective, if they also received a “major milestone complete” instant message, they get a little, unexpected perk during their workday that something major has been done for them. It also helps prevent surprises during status reviews.

It seems like such a little thing…but if Ty is correct and team members proudly update their Facebook profiles with work accomplishments specifically for those little feedback pick-me-ups, does that not suggest integrating feedback mechanisms into software could be worthwhile? In project software specifically, you already know what work needs to be done and who’s responsible for that work–the raw materials are all there for something that could drive feedback and encourage positive reinforcement.

Achievements for Projects?Of course, this is just a high level idea. There’s probably lots of technical, frequency, right-of-communication and implementation issues to consider. But there seems these days to be such a desire to find an application for social media in the workplace, that people are forcing it. That lends a contrived aspect to the implementation. It feels phoney, therefore it is phoney and people don’t accept it.

The above suggestion could be a way to legitimize social media at work, drive desirable behaviour from workers, and help remind management in a practical, non-invasive way to go thank their people for their hard work, at a time when it would be relevant.

Of course, I can also see great potential for misuse (especially on the part of management)…but that’s another story.

Update: I shouldn’t let Ty have all the credit for the inspiration to this post. Glen Alleman of Herding Cats also provided a white paper that I read when I was down with the flu last week. I put it together with what Ty wrote in his article, which is where the above came from. Glen has since provided an update referencing this article.

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I’m a professor of project management at the college where I work. My students continually amaze me with their insights, passion and all-around awesomeness. I figure they deserve access to more answers than I can give them by myself. This site is for them.
  • Anonymous

    You are correct shim, I didn’t suggest that project team members rush to update their status on Facebook. I was suggesting that people in general are willing to update their status regarding just about anything on Facebook. They share all kinds of personal information about what they’re doing, where they are going, etc. Is it because it’s easy to use? Do they get instant validation from their Facebook friends? I don’t know, but team members who don’t or won’t update status regularly in a project management software are some of the same people who talk about their last family vacation on Facebook, in their blogs, or on Twitter.

    I think there’s something to Geoff’s additional comments about gaming. The instant gratification of a gold star for defeating the monster at the end of the level elevates the players status and ranking, making achievements in the game rewarding. Most of the time, when team members get feedback from their boss it isn’t to say, “You’re doing a great job,” it’s to say, “When are you going to get this done—you’re behind.”

    I was merely suggesting that there might be something we could learn from social media—and gaming. By the way, I don’t think giving this idea some consideration is trivializing the feedback process. I think it’s an effort to improve the process and make the data more trustworthy.

  • Mate, I've read the @Task article as well as Ty's comments and there is nothing there to suggest that “team members proudly update their Facebook profiles with work accomplishments”. In fact there is no credible evidence, implied or suggested, pointing at this proposition any where in the above mentioned article.

    Isn't this exactly how urban legends are born? Soon other blogs will quote your article and suggests that project ream members world wide are using Facebook to communicate their accomplishments to family and friends.

    At the more fundamental level, do we really need to trivialize the feedback process that should exist in any work place and in any project. Do we really want to turn the feed back process into a motorized, mechanized, machine driven process. I wouldn't!

    Accomplishments and feedback, positive and negative, should be provided based on the relevant merits and not based on logic built into computerized tools. Accomplishments are measured not just as a result of meeting a pre-defined deadline, but also based on effort to achieving a target, even if that was missed and delivered late. Clearly there are so many parameters and variable involved in the feedback mechanism that proposing to relegate it to a piece of software is not the most sensible thing to do.

    Cheers, Shim Marom

  • D'oh apparently this article didn't pass the Shim test. 🙁

    What inspired the article is in the comments section. Ty wrote, “Part of the reason that folks are so willing to share their status with the world in Facebook is that they get almost instantaneous positive feedback from their friends.” Perhaps I read too much into that statement.

    But I do believe it. I'm not a huge Facebook user, but I do have an account, and periodically I do update my status with work info…and I am specifically seeking peer approval…if I wasn't I wouldn't bother with the update. When I stop to think about it, on some level I'm motivated to accomplish something so I can brag about it. Is it the only reason I want to accomplish something? No. But neither is it a non-factor.

    As for the notion that people update accomplishments on Facebook, just do a search for “failbook” and you'll see that people update Facebook with just about anything for feedback.

    In gaming, achievements are a driving force. They're specifically built around the feedback they generate. Some of the achievements are so difficult to get, if you can't show off that you got them (and get the requisite kudos), most wouldn't bother.

    The feedback system I'm suggesting is meant as fun, and also a nod to the fact that people are partially motivated by the desire to brag a little bit. And if the raw materials are already there, it's not like it would be horrifically difficult to cobble together.

    But it's not meant to replace good management.

    I'm not suggesting the feedback process be trivialized. It's all good to say that managers should be on the ball with giving positive feedback, but the fact is, most don't. I don't need a statistic to know that one. What occurred to me when I was thinking about this was, if others were talking about something someone on the team did, that should be a little nudge for a more “forgetful” manager to go and say something nice.

    And notice I said “say something nice”. That's different from formal feedback too, which is a different thing, that is also necessary.

    The little “nudges” that a feedback system like this inspires is intended to drive specific behaviour from other project members. The notification of an accomplishment is irrelevant. What matters is what people do or say as a result of having seen it.

    When I said in my closing I can see huge potential for misuse, I meant it, but didn't want to wade into the details in the interests of brevity (too late LOL). One place I used to work had a 4 point “Conditions of Satisfaction” scale that was intended as a tool to both measure and manage customer satisfaction. One of the managers there chose to take the COS as a performance measurement. He set 80% as a pass. On a 4 point scale.

    I can fully see an evil manager taking advantage of something like this and warping it into something it wasn't intended to be. And yes, there are all kinds of other factors to consider, like who should see what information, and how often should updates be allowed before it becomes noise, and a whole slew of other considerations.

    I'm not for a minute suggesting this should be a tool to replace anything. But I think it could be a nifty feature that could help keep morale high.

  • PatrickRichard

    Interesting idea; I like it a lot! I have been wondering for a while how to convey the value of a project for the company to team member and how to convey the value of various tasks or work pakages to the project and the company. Some thoughts:
    • Let team members know that their project is worth X% of the sales target on the company, that it contributes to goal Y in the company’s Balanced Score Card
    • Let a particular team member that finishing task Z contributed W% (running out of letters here) to the projects earned value. Of course finishing early has an even greater impact.

    Patrick Richard ing., PMP

  • galleman

    The team should be using the master schedule as the status source. Chatting about what happened and what was accomplished is an after event.

    The grammar of “done” is contained in the IM above, but was this “done” the was planned to be “done,” with the planned accomplishments complete that met the exit criteria for the work needed to reach this particular level of maturity.

    Here's some background on getting to “done” so the IM can take place

  • Very good points, Glen! 🙂 Thanks for the chime in!

  • Very good points! Personally I'd be more aiming for a more casual approach to the messages…keeping it simple and relevant to all possible team members. One of the things I take away from social media is that it is kind of ad hoc and friendly. Going too “measurey” on the messages might make people sort of blink at their instant message window instead of going “omg good for you!”

    BUT, the points you make are good, so maybe there's a way of composing the message that captures the measurements in a friendly, easy way!

  • galleman

    For me, the issues of social media are simple.
    We can chat, IM, exchange all kinds of narrow bandwidth message – and we do all day long.
    But how do we know what to talk about?
    Where is the IMP and IMS for the work we are chatting about?

    In the absence of this information (the plan and the schedule for making the plan come true) – it's just noise.

    This is what I think those proffering Social Media as PM 2.0 fail to release.

  • PatrickRichard

    I read you; and I do agree with the need for an “ataboy”. In my example I was shooting for a different type of communication; what is what you are working on worth to the project and organization. “Leaking” this type of info might not be popular with management but project management and leadership are not popularity contests…

    Patrick Richard ing., PMP

  • PatrickRichard

    I read you; and I do agree with the need for an “ataboy”. In my example I was shooting for a different type of communication; what is what you are working on worth to the project and organization. “Leaking” this type of info might not be popular with management but project management and leadership are not popularity contests…

    Patrick Richard ing., PMP

  • Well, in the above case, the thing to talk about is the notification. It would help frame a context.

    In my view, social media (I'm not referring to PM2.0 anymore cuz that's just a hornet's nest) isn't about the tools themselves. It's about the conversation that takes place on it.

    As for project managing, I think you're absolutely correct. The plans, the schedules, the sound management, the formal reviews, the feedback, all those things are still necessary. Those don't go away because of the introduction of new ways of communicating.

  • galleman


    The application of EV in the IMP/IMS world starts with the 0%/100% completion of the work activiies in the Work Package. The interviews or status reporting of those doing work goes like this.

    “Tell me (or do it your self) what planned work was accomplished to the 100% level during the period of performance?”

    This can in almost any form. Moving story cards from the left column to the right on the wall. All the way up to status the 10,000 line schedule for the flight avionics system. The key is 0/100 assessment. In the agile world, you can't tear a story card in 1/2 because you're half done. Same for the activities in the schedule. Either you're done or not.

    The weighted physical percent is then calculated for the Work Package for these activities (inside the WP). We use a slightly lame spread sheet to do this. But a better way is to use a tool. We don't because we have too many work packages and the detailed work is not in the master schedule. We're 30,000 line now, with the work activities, it'd be a bigger mess than it is.

    Then the EV calculation is simple BCWP = BCWS x Physical Percent Complete of the Work Packages.

    It's that simple. Well sorta. Minus all the probabilistic forecasting of ETC, EAC, IEAC, under or over absorption on labor, cost variances, and those pesky little details.

    But the principle is …

    – define done in units meaningful to the customer – deliverables for example
    – measure done as physical percent complete
    – forecast the future with performance of the past
    – use probabilistic modeling (Monte Carlo) for every value in the future, using the actual performance from the past

  • galleman

    The communication that is mandatory on any project is “enabled” by tools we now call social media.
    The communication channels used to exchange information about the project were in place in the late 70's at Hughes Helicopter and TRW Space Park Redondo Beach.

    We “chatted” on ARPANet and Proffs all day long.

    Social Media is just a higher bandwidth version of those crude tools.

    The process is no different, just better gadgets to enable the process. Those suggesting this is a “new” thing have failed to learn from history – just like Santayana stated long ago.

  • Hey Ty, thanks for your added comments. i wouldn’t like to spoil the party but seriously I think that drawing any conclusions from peoples’ enthusiasm in communicating with their family and friends and projecting this into the business environment is a bit premature. Having said that, if it did work it could be an interesting thing. My hunch, this could become trendy with the twit-generation. Can’t see anyone 30 and over adopting this in the workplace. But will be happy to be proven wrong.

    Cheers, Shim Marom

  • My take on this whole social media thing – too much chatting about it without having any real empirical evidence to support any of the claims. the only real thing we DO KNOW about social media is that it is the talk of the day across all social media blogs. The confusion regarding where productive collaboration starts and where nonsensical chatting begins is still very much there.

    No doubt we live in fascinating times.

    Cheers, Shim.

  • Sociology provides an excellent paradigm for “translating IT language into stakeholder language.”

    I've found it useful for describing the need for have project information presented:

    a) within a context that makes it meaningful (like Glen says) and
    b) within a context that makes it relevant for the recipient.

    The concept is a boundary object. A boundary object helps build bridges between different groups by facilitating communication. A schedule may contain all the relevant information but it needs to be sliced into views that are relevant to project manager, team and client/stakeholders.

    The concept is well described in Peter Morvilles brilliant book Ambient Findability.

    I go into greater detail on its application to project management in an article published by Fusion Authority.

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