Gamifying Scrum – it’s not enough just to stick a tatty burndown chart on the wall

As I am currently carrying out an Agile Coach role in Germany, I have been trying to discipline myself to spending regular time improving my German. Being a language enthusiast anyway, I have plenty of books and audio to learn German, however, I found myself not really applying myself to the task as well as I might.

But just as I was starting to worry that I was getting too old to learn languages, a friend of mine enthusiastically pointed me in the direction of – a free website for learning English, French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and … German!
My friend’s enthusiasm prompted me to take a look right away and I quickly found myself getting right into it. At last I was studying German with focus and regularity!

The reason for this dramatic turnaround? I have no doubt at all that it is completely due to the fact that uses a “gamified” format – there are levels, points, rewards, success, failure, progress tracking and regular feedback on progress in short cycles.
I did not stop there, I tested myself on Italian, Spanish, French and Portuguese to get some objective sense of how my competency in these languages compared. Sure enough the levels corresponded closely to what I expected.

Suddenly my mind has been taken over by the concept of gamification. Not a new concept. As a concept, it has been around forever. And even the coined terminology has been around since around 2002, I understand. And its use in business process and software applications has also been popular since around 2010. But importantly for me, it has only hit home now with this dramatic turnaround in my German language study.

So anyway, naturally, my attention turned to the gamification of the software development life cycle. I searched for “Agile Gamification” and plenty of results came back. I was excited that there are people out there already thinking about this, but also slightly annoyed that I was coming late to the party!

That is not strictly true. Scrum in any case already has many elements of gamification, for example:

  • for progress tracking we have burndown and burnup charts and the sprint provides milestones in short cycles
  • we use story points and velocity to measure effort
  • we have unit testing and build testing which can be green or red to indicate success or failure
  • we measure the health of the codebase using tools such as Sonar
  • there are rules to Scrum which provide the boundaries within which the “game” of Scrum is played

So, in a sense, you could say that Scrum is already very gamified and perhaps this is where the success of Scrum lies.

However, if your experiences are anything like mine, you will have seen Scrum teams operating in a way which does not have the fun feeling of a game at all. Instead, many is the time where I have seen Scrum turn into a turgid, depressing and apparently meaningless hamster-wheel of disengaged activity!

I have come to the conclusion that gamifying Scrum means bringing all these potentially game-like aspects of Scrum to life. We need to inject energy into the activities by embracing them and celebrating them. These potentially game-like aspects only become really game-like if we make them so: they have to be prominent, team goals need to be talked about, the progress tracking pointed out regularly. We need to make sure that we place importance on the game elements to show that they are significant. The presentation of this data needs to be attractive, appealing and varied to avoid it becoming like drudgery.

Colourful e-mails can be sent around to highlight successes or to alert about possible failures. And, like any game, the rules need to be taken seriously by the participants!
Online reward systems may be something worth looking at – I notice that there is a software called “RedCritter Tracker” which claims to be “the first and only gamified project management software”. But I would not let the absence of such a tool prevent you from adopting a gamified mindset to Scrum. Let the game begin!

repetitive, but fun repetitive, and boring
constantly once a year
clear contradictory, vague
Path to Mastery
clear unclear
clear, transparent unclear, in-transparent
right amount at the right time too much and not enough
expected, encouraged, spectacular, brag about it forbidden, punished, better not talk about it
Status of Users
transparent, timely hidden
meritocracy kiss-up-o-cracy
yes yes
high low
high mid to low
yes only if you are lucky
on purpose accidental

Table taken from here.

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