Gameful Project Management: Embracing the Rules

Reading time: 3.5 minutes

Is there a project in your life, either work or personal, that sets ridiculous, in your opinion, requirements, or, in other words, rules*?

Most of us have (or used to have) at least one such project.

Let’s look at something else from a similar standpoint.

Isn’t a rule to hit a small ball with a club over a long distance to fall hopefully after not too many hits into a small hole, utterly ridiculous too? Wouldn’t it be more straightforward to take a ball into your hand, march straight to the hole and drop it in there?

Yes, it would!

And still, if you are a golfer, you would never choose the straightforward solution and instead will take your club faithfully and play by those, possibly strange to others, rules.

What is the difference between the rules in golf or any other game, in its classical meaning, and the rules in real-life projects? And are there more than one?

Yes. There are several. Here is what I discovered, looking at the games and projects anthropologically, in other words, non-judgmentally.
First of all, the rules in projects, have specific goals in mind that are different from just having fun (see the previous chapter on goals, “Approaching the Goals Anthropologically”). They serve a specific purpose since they are not always designed for entertainment (although they might, at least indirectly, be meant that way, as it is the case in the entertainment industry).

But the most significant difference is not in the goals, which is another game component altogether. It is in our resistance to embrace and follow the rules as if we have designed them (even if may have come up with the project and the rules ourselves), and they were our idea all along. In contrast to that, in games, we readily do so, which is often visible because we take on that game’s identity. For example, we become passionate golfers.

So, even if we sign the contracts and by that claim our will to engage in the project or job, we still resist the project’s or job’s rules inside us, judging them as bad, ridiculous, or impossible to function.

If a golfer on a course would put his or her arms crossed in front of them and start judging the inventors of the clubs and balls, he or she would completely stop playing the game and stop having fun.

What choices such a player has then?

These choices are at least of the following three types:

  • To continue complaining from their standpoint, which most probably will lead them to be left behind by their co-players.
  • Make a note (either mentally, on a piece of paper, or in an email to themselves) to check out which other models of balls and clubs are there on the market and order one or more for testing. Or check out another game altogether.
  • Make a note to create a new model of a club, a ball, or a new gold-inspired game after the match has ended, and then either send the suggestion to one of the golf-equipping/game designing companies or “play” with the materials to create these themselves.

We have the same types of choices with our real-life projects.

We can either continue suffering from the limits set by the project’s rules, or put our curious, studying, and designing hats on.

We could get more information on what else is possible for our project game.

And we could adjust the rules (and possibly also goals and feedback system) of the project in such a way that it becomes engaging, fun, and thus, provides the best possible outcome.

References and Glossary:

* “The rules place limitations on how players can achieve the goal. By removing or limiting the obvious ways of getting to the goal, the rules push players to explore previous uncharted possibility spaces. They unleash creativity and foster strategic thinking.” — Jane McGonigal, Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World

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