Interested in increasing SharePoint end user adoption and productivity? Gamification might be for you. 

On a tour of SharePoint User Groups (SPUGs) across Europe in October 2012, I was able to present on the topic of SharePoint productivity at the Finland SPUG held in Helsinki. At the well-attended session, I was joined by Senior SharePoint Consultant and co-founder of Peaches Industries, Jussi Mori (@JussiMori).

While my presentation outlined the new productivity features in SharePoint 2013, Jussi focused his topic on Gamification -- which is the use of game mechanics and social tools to increase end user adoption and participation in collaborative environments.

Examples include the use of ratings and badges, or virtual currency or rankings to highlight the time, effort or quality of participation in the system. Gamification techniques are becoming more and more popular within corporate environments and public-facing sites alike, as companies look for ways to keep users engaged.

Following the event in Helsinki, Jussi and I had a discussion on the growing interest in Gamification as a key method for improving end user productivity and overall system adoption, especially within SharePoint deployments. The following are some of the highlights:

Christian Buckley (CB): How big of a problem is productivity in SharePoint?

Jussi Mori (JM): Well, I currently still see it as a big issue even after many years of having SharePoint in use with high adoption. The users are still not aware of the true power behind SharePoint, and what you can do in order to boost personal, team and organizational productivity.

I believe the root cause for this issue comes from the fact that SharePoint implementations are usually driven from the IT department, and are run as an IT implementation project. However, implementing SharePoint correctly and successfully in an organization is not solely done from the IT perspective.

SharePoint implementations should run as a change project where the business side is committed and IT is involved -- and not the other way round. Also I believe that there is big room for improvement in end user education. Many end users are just overwhelmed of all the possibilities SharePoint brings, and with every new version of the platform, many more possibilities.

Experts can come and talk many hours about how cool SharePoint is, but if we don't condense the most important things (from a business perspective) and teach them in a simplified way, there will be no true end user adoption. So my way of doing this with customers is to focus on the 5 to 7 most important things the customer can do to boost productivity, and to create real life scenarios to help illustrate the power of SharePoint in the most simple and clear way possible.

CB: What is Gamification? What is the science behind it?


JM: In short, Gamification uses game elements and mechanics to drive end user adoption (motivation) in non-game environments. What does this mean in practice?

The purpose is not to create a big 3D virtual game out of your Intranet (or at least not yet). It is about using end user-motivating elements that are used in games and adapt them to a work environment. We are talking here about reward systems, smooth onboarding and hyper-available feedback loops where users always know where they stand and what they need to do.

Additionally, games are fun and they can bring an entertainment component to your everyday work life. Imagine a scenario where you actually would love to fill in your hourly reports! I could go on about Gamification for hours, but you can find more info on the topic on your own online.

CB: How is productivity improved/enhanced by Gamification?

JM: As already mentioned above, Gamification helps to improve end user motivation and it has the power to do that also for tasks which users are typically reluctant to do or lack motivation to do. With End User Productivity, I always speak about three different categories:

  1. Cognitive productivity: Do I know what I do?
  2. Infrastructure productivity: Does everything work how it should?
  3. Emotional productivity: Do I have the right attitude and motivation to do things?

The first two parts we can tackle with training and technical consulting -- the standard stuff. However, there was no direct way to affect end user motivation until now. I believe that Gamification takes the first step in the direction of emotional productivity and helping end users to develop the right attitudes toward work, to encourage the right habits.

How can productivity be improved you ask? Let me give you some basic examples here about some elements of Gamification. First off, I always present organizations with the SAPS rewarding system:

  • S = Status: Giving the user a special status, visible to everyone, after achieving something. Score and leader boards are the most common examples.
  • A = Access. Giving the user privileged access to something (content) or someone (leadership or experts). Airline miles and rewards programs are a good example, where participation in the program might lead to an upgrade, or help you avoid a long passenger queue.
  • P = Power: Give the users power to do more than "normal" users in an environment. For example, promoting users to Power Users or forum moderators.
  • S = Stuff: Rewarding with tangible objects. Everyone likes to receive gadgets or tools for achieving something. However, getting the "Stuff" as a reward is often the least important of motivators.

Another focus of Gamification is the process of setting up hyper-available feedback loops:

  • The user always knows where she or he stands in the work at hand.
  • The user always knows how good she or he performs.
  • The user always knows what needs to be done, and in what order, to help improve their performance.
  • This helps to achieve mastery in an easier and faster way.

There are many more ways to affect productivity with Gamification. These are just the most common examples.

CB: How can SharePoint be used to provide Gamification concepts?

JM: Since SharePoint acts as an unified presentation layer for corporate data, it is a perfect playground for Gamification.

However, since this concept is so new and still in its infancy within corporate environments, companies are just starting to adapt Gamification into their intranets. There are platforms and tools already available today which offer APIs where you can implement Gamification elements to your environment. 

Badgeville is a good example. They already have implemented a connector for SharePoint where you can give rewards to users who are active in the Intranet by creating content, commenting, tagging and rating, etc. Australian-based Attini also offers intranet badges, and companies like Uboost and BigDoor also offer solutions.

However, I believe -- or better said, I know -- that Gamification in its current form is not really there yet. If you have a bad cake and add a nice topping on it, it's still a bad cake, but with a nice topping. However, if you use Gamification elements, which are interwoven into your entire information management and Intranet concept and planning, you can make an excellent cake with a nice topping.

I do not believe that Intranets without Gamification are bad, I just say that Gamification can bring your end user engagement to the next level and drive social enterprises to success.

CB: What are some ways that an organization can introduce these concepts? What are some best practices for preparing to move to a Gamification model?

JM: That's a good question, Christian. Since this is such a new concept, I guess the success formula is not there yet. Now we are at a state that you just need to believe in the power of Gamification and build an integrated experience, where Gamification elements are truly part of your larger, long term Intranet plan.

Just by adding badges and avatars you will not motivate your users. They might even get annoyed at that. So the trick is to introduce Gamification elements which are not fully "in their faces," but elements that end users will discover for themselves, in their own time.

If done right, you'll find end users extending the work they do by embracing the Gamification elements. Work can be fun. If there are companies out there who are exploring these concepts, and have implemented some aspects of Gamification, I would love to connect and see what they've done and discuss other best practices.

I truly believe that Gamification is the first step into a more socially engaged, more fun and motivating way of working, and I am really curious to see where this trend is going to bring us in the next 5 years. I'll definitely ride that wave.

Note: You can find out more on the topic of Gamification and its impact on SharePoint productivity in a presentation I did with Jussi in December 2012, with the slides from our presentation available here

Image courtesy of Brooke Becker (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: To read more of Christian's thoughts on productivity in SharePoint, check out 9 Ways to Stay Productive on SharePoint