Removing the motivation for motivation

This design note is about recent changes in the Stabil-IT business simulation game.

The agile sprint planning used in Stabil-IT allows each team to create a sprint from 9 available backlog item tiles. Each tile has an effort number from 1 to 4 and the sprint has an initial total effort of 4. This number increases to 5 once a team has sufficient knowledge on the board.

Debate, discussion and bargaining

When this was first introduced, many teams could not create a sprint with a total effort of 4, leading to "donating" unused effort from one team to another. This, in turn, lead to a change in the game dynamic to becoming heavily focused on the debate, discussion and bargaining around the loaning of effort and the need to secure that it would be repaid. Born out of the competitive nature of the game and its participants along with a degree of suspicion and distrust, this process, whilst developing many soft skills, missed the main purpose of the game and took a significant amount of time.

The mechanism of motivation

To return the focus of the game more towards the agile IT service management theme, a mechanism was introduced to allow secure trading of effort by defining and effective trade value.

This shows the introduction of motivation represented by the "bowl"  top left of the segment. At this time, a new release needed 4 effort.
The Stabil-IT Manufacturing segment in June 2019

This mechanism was motivation, represented by crystals in the game and valued at 2 motivation equal to 1 influence. Interestingly the value was, I suspect, quite irrelevant, with the fact that a mechanism for trade being more important. So, how did this work? Each team started off with 3 motivation crystals and if they wanted to gain an effort from another team they would trade one of their crystals for each effort transferred.

The introduction of incremental development

During September, the single step creation of new releases was replaced by an incremental approach - discussed in a previous blog.

The motivation "bowl" is still in the design but has been moved over to allow for placement of the backlog item tile as the new incremental release development element is much larger than the previous variant
The Stabil-IT Manufacturing segment in September 2019

The single step approach had an effort of 4 whilst the incremental approach had development steps of just 1 effort. Replacing a high-effort backlog item with one of low effort made it easier to use up the total sprint effort, effectively removing the need to trade effort between teams on any regular basis. So, motivation crystals were still a design element of the game but play-testing showed that they were not used.

Removing the motivation

Since the original reason for having the motivation mechanism in place was no longer applicable and that the mechanism was no longer needed for any other reason, it has been removed from the design.

The Motivation "bowl" has been removed and separate locations have now been established for the "Develop release" backlog item tile (left) and the "Gain influence" tile (right).
The Stabil-IT Manufacturing segment in December 2019

Each of these steps has lead to a lot of redesign of associated elements and the online version of the simulation. This is the price to pay for a physical game solution that stays relevant - but well worth it.

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