There is a multiplicity of factors that can explain the ever-growing adoption of virtual project management in the current international workplace. These factors are interweaved in a way that feeds each other in a ebb and flow of the trends of virtualization. This current increase of virtual projects and their economic importance has led to a new set of challenges that project managers need to overcome. The lack of face-to-face interaction has distorted the traditional ways in which motivation was fostered within project teams.
Virtual teams, as groups that are geographically and organizationally dispersed, tend to feel alienated from the rest of the organization and team members. Projects that used to heavily depend on the synergies of team dynamics, can no longer rely on the social aspects of work life. With that in mind, a new approach needs to be applied to effectively motive teams that work in virtual environments. The current theories of motivation lead the way to a new paradigm where progress and inner work life are the major drivers of motivation. Project managers must rely on a new set of tools and technologies to reach their teams. The software industry has evolved to provide solutions to remotely manage and coordinate teams and projects, but it is still far from being a solution to the challenge of motivating a virtual project team. The rich and varied examples of applications of gamification techniques in various industries ask for further research the application of gamification techniques within the framework of virtual project management software.
Gamification is loosely defined as a process that incorporates game design elements in non-game contexts, to improve the user experience.
In other words, a gamified system is a system that has been adapted with the aid of components, mechanics and dynamics in order to engage and motivate users. There are several elements that can be used to gamify a system and the approaches are endless. Applied to virtual project management software, there is a vast opportunity to provide game elements in the systems that not only engage the team members, but also crystallizes a sense of progress, helping the members create the habit of using the software regularly without it being a tedious task. In addition, gamification provides the tools for other members to motivate their team members, or even applying automatized features where human-computer interaction (HCI) features motivate members automatically from the software.This is particularly important, as it widens the sources from which an individual receives motivational inputs. The potential of gamification is still new, but offers a promising alternative to actively engage and motivate virtual teams.
However, adopting gamification blindly in order to boost workers motivation and engage them in particular routines can produce an effect completely opposite to the desired one. The suitability for a gamified experience within the realms of labor is still under scrutiny, as themes like reluctance, misrepresentations of the organizations goals, and enhanced motivation and engagement for extended periods of time, are still widely unclear.
Departing from my master’s thesis Motivation in Virtual Project Management: On the Challenges of Engaging Virtual Teams and the Features of Project Software, this study aims to explore the role of gamification and gamified software as an outlet to re-route motivating strategies for virtual project environments, as well as the characteristics of motivation in such project configurations, and its contribution to enhance virtual project outcomes.
This article follows a three-pronged approach with the aim of answering its research questions. First, a in-depth literature review that lays out the major characteristics of gamification as a motivator, as well as the characteristics of virtual project management. Second, a qualitative study of the expectations of gamified systems in real life virtual projects, done through semi-structured interviews to a group of eight experienced project managers. Third, a quantitative study of the features of current software aimed to manage virtual projects, by benchmarking their features and analyzing the motivational aspects in them.
There is an undeniable theoretical benefit from applying gamification into virtual project software. It would automatically lift some of the responsibility of motivating a team off the manager's shoulders, and redirect it to the software and the interactions of the team, making it a much more tight and engaged team. It offers the potential to generate the stimuli to amplify small wins generating engagement, user habit, and finally feeding a progress loop that leads to enhanced motivation. However, there is risk, there is skepticism, and there is a whole lot to learn. These may be the key issues for such a low number of motivation features in projectware packages.
The response of the interviewees is one of curiosity, anticipation, and veiled skepticism. Through the interviews, respondents argued in favor of the need of motivating teams, the importance of doing so, but also the challenge that it poses. There is a more than apparent difficulty to apply gamification or motivation techniques to a software that tackles such a broad topic as “virtual projects”. The implementation of successful strategies and techniques that could directly address the problems of motivation in virtual environments is not to be underestimated, but it could also cause serious repercussions to an organization. Thus, taking this approach is sensitive issue, and it is addressed with certain reluctance, while acknowledging that the positive effects of those features might be worth the try.
This study shows the importance of motivation in project settings as well as the special challenges that it poses when translated to virtual environments. It shows that project managers can no longer rely on the traditional motivational strategies, due to the lack of physical interaction. The benchmarking of project software shows the lack of gamified features in the current software for manage virtual projects. Finally, the study explores the possibilities of gamification as an approach to bridge the gap of motivation within project software, providing an image of mixed feelings. Curiosity and reluctance towards gamification from the very same people that could benefit from it, the virtual project managers.