A Thanksgiving Look Back: Business Analysts and the Gamification of Project Burndowns

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Thanksgiving is a great opportunity to look back and be grateful for what I’ve learned from our clients and our projects. Here’s one such experience.

As a summer project wound down, I realized my team had inadvertently carried out a long-term experiment. We had been working with the client’s business analysts since the beginning of the project. For four months, we kept track of progress on project tasks in a project burndown unbeknownst to the client’s business analysts.

They provided daily updates on the estimated amount of work remaining on each task, but they didn’t know how we used the data. We held weekly status meetings with the CIO in which the burndown, and subsequently the amount of work remaining, was the first thing discussed.

For the first four months, the business analysts worked on tasks as they were assigned and simply reported the work remaining. Since they were unaware of the tracking on their data, either their estimates were rough or their progress on tasks was less than optimum (or both). In the last two months, however, we revealed the big picture (literally). We showed the business analysts why they update their tasks daily, and suddenly the project became a game.

In this game, the objective was to win – in this case, that meant completing work efficiently. The burndown graph acted like a scoreboard. Knowing they were being measured increased the business analysts’ drive to be the best. Their motivation for the project was renewed, as they worked to fulfill a measurable objective of burning down points (which represented an estimate of time on a task). Since the tasks are all project related, the business analysts are directly increasing their productivity simply by maximizing a quantifiable goal.

It all goes to back to measurement. People want to do their best, but sometimes the scale isn’t clear. If you can measure it, you clarify the scale and can develop a plan to maximize performance. And if you can make the scoreboard process more like a game, you can inspire those being measured.

This tip is one small element that can help in maturing a business analyst organization. If you want to share information about creating a Requirements Center of Excellence with your executives, you can find a high-level report on the topic here:
http://seilevel.com/requirements-resources/

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