Gamification: How playing with lego can potentially save millions of dollars

Published on Sunday 5 April 2015 by in News with no comments






The Qatar World cup is just around the corner, maybe not literally, but certainly in terms of construction projects in which stadiums, hotels, airport extensions, infrastructure (including Information and telecommunications technology) must all be finished on time! In terms of project constraints such as ‘Scope’ (Quality), ‘Time’, ‘Cost’ – Time is the one constraint in which there are NO tolerances.

Considering the fact that billions of people will be watching, our image and reputation is on the line if things go wrong”, explained the head of the Corporate PMO department who will be involved in realizing some of these national IT Infrastructure projects.

Projects must be delivered successfully. For a country sitting on trillions of cubic meters of Gas and Oil Qatar is in the fortunate position that the ‘Cost’ constraint isn’t really an issue. But throwing endless supplies of money into the game is still no guarantee of project success. So how do you ensure you have the right Project Management capabilities in place to meet the challenges?

People do not know how to translate the Project management into theory. This is a big Risk!

The head of PMO explained that the organization has already invested heavily in project management training and are finding that still too many projects are failing to deliver on expectations, which poses a significant risk.

We have an extensive portfolio of Project management courses which are under-utilized, and the people who have obtained certificates do not know how to apply the knowledge and use the project management instruments in practice”.

To supplement the theoretical courses they decided to organize a series of Project management business simulation games. SMCE and GamingWorks jointly delivered the simulations. The goals were to help people translate theory into practice; develop more practical skills; experiment with using project instruments; create awareness and demand for the advanced courses; assess current capabilities and capture concrete improvement actions to takeaway.

The game was the Challenge of Egypt from GamingWorks. A simulation game in which a team of delegates (which can be a newly formed project team) are taken back more than 4000 years into Ancient Egypt and are charged by the Pharaoh to build a Pyramid (made of lego). The Pyramid is to ensure the Pharaoh’s afterlife and to protect his worldly treasures. The team plays the complete project organization, with roles such as Project manager, Project management Office (PMO), Quality manager and Risk manager. In the game there is a quarry to mine the stones, a sub-contractor providing boats to ship the stones down the Nile, and a construction site where the Pyramid will be built. The team has 4 game rounds to scope the requirements, plan, execute and close the project. During the project events will occur, such as hoists breaking at the quarry, boats stranding when the Nile is low, stones collapsing at the construction site, not to mention the Pharaoh who will introduce new requirements and scope changes whenever he feels like it. The team must establish an effective project management organization and procedures to manage the project. At the end of the day a small lego pyramid must be presented to the Pharaoh. Easy! Right? Anybody can build a pyramid of 125 lego blocks.

…anybody can build a pyramid of 125 lego blocks. What can we hope to learn from this!?

These are the results of two of the teams at the end of the day. Both teams were given exactly the same project. Neither of them delivered products that fit the initial project scope!












Between game rounds the team had the chance to reflect on what went well and what went wrong and then to make improvements before the next game round. After the initial game rounds the project was in serious danger, the business case would not be met, stones were being damaged or lost, workers became ill, fluctuations in the Nile and poor quality hoists were causing massive amounts of rework, construction had started in the wrong place and had to be redone. The Project team faced stress, the Pharoah was frustrated.

If we now take away and apply what we discovered about risk management to even 10% of our projects we are talking about preventing wastage, rework and time delays which equates to millions of dollars and thousands of man hours!…

In the next game rounds the team made new agreements about roles and responsibilities, about using the project procedures and instruments effectively. As they started to apply new knowledge they created issue and risk logs and invested in appropriate countermeasures, the customer was actively engaged in quality reviews, PMO reports enabled the Project manager and the Pharaoh to steer the project, PMO ensured that procedures were being consistently applied. Although the finished solution didn’t meet the initial scope, they did fulfill the demands of the business case – ‘Protect the Pharaoh’s afterlife and protect his treasure’, after all it wasn’t about building a Pyramid, it was about realizing the business case! At the end of the day the team discussed and agreed which of the improvements they had applied in the game environment, needed to be taken away and applied in reality.

These were the findings and at the end of the day.

We must ensure that we:

  • Establish a culture of risk. All people in the project (in own area of expertise or role) are responsible for issues & risks; the Risk manager must help determine priority/impact and funding for countermeasures.
  • Clearly define quality criteria, especially from the Customer or User perspective; have independent quality assurance representing business interests; maintain stakeholder engagement throughout the projects for signing off on quality acceptance; cascade quality requirements to those executing.
  • Not only focus Risk management on technical risks but also on people & procedural risks e.g.: risk of customers insisting on scope change, customer not actively engaged throughout the project.
  • Have clearly defined and owned change procedures, and ensuring changes are integrated into all other project areas so that all know the impact of change and what it means for them, such as changes to plans, resources, work-packages, new quality acceptance, agreed changes to scope etc. The customer must be aware of the formal change procedure.
  • Clearly communicate defined roles, responsibilities, procedures at project kick-off, including the customer role and responsibilities; use kick off to build a project TEAM – fostering team working/collaboration. We already have many tools, processes, templates, procedures but if they are not understood, owned or used properly they are useless.
  • Involve the right specialist at the Definition/Requirements phase to ensure that scope/demand is realistic, involving quality and risk officers in dialogue and scoping.
  • Develop the right skills for negotiating, discussing, justifying business cases, performing risk assessment – not just theory!
  • Build project teams (from customer to complete project team) and ensure they ALL share responsibility for project success.
  • Evaluate together at project closure to identify issues and risks that may affect new projects and to improve project procedures and instruments.


“If we now take away and apply what we discovered about risk management to even 10% of our projects we are talking about preventing wastage, rework and time delays which equates to millions of dollars and thousands of man hours!…and we discovered this simply by playing with lego for one day!!” explained one of the delegates, shaking his head in disbelief.

We just discovered and experienced what we see happening daily in our projects and recognize the impact of these poor practices. We experienced this with all of the stakeholders together in the same room which is an enormous benefit, we now have a shared, agreed set of actions we can take away and apply in the complete project value chain from requirements specification through to execution. This was a powerful instrument”.

“We need to re-evaluate all of our project management training programs to include experiential and hands-on learning elements such as this type of Gamification or business simulation game”.

This helped us experience all the pitfalls and pain of getting it wrong in one day in a safe environment. If we take this away and use it can not only save us from making the mistakes in reality but improve the success rate of our projects”.

Industry challenges

The failures experienced by the Qatar teams aren’t unique to their organization. Industry trends reveal that still a large percentage of Projects are over time, over budget or fail to deliver the right results.  GamingWorks has conducted a mini survey during our simulation games across the globe, to explore why. Asking people to tell us the real life issues they face. Below are the results representing 50 different organizations into the key failure areas experienced.

These are the same issues year in year out according to various industry insights, despite the massive investment in Project management training we are not equipping people to deal with these issues.

Many of the delegates in the simulation games in Qatar had theoretical knowledge when they entered the workshop, yet in the initial game rounds they experienced the same issues described below. As can be seen in the actionable takeaways above, the simulation game helped create new practical knowledge, and a desire to apply the new knowledge back at the workplace.





How many of these issues do you recognize in your organization? Is your Project management training program giving people the skills to solve these issues?

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