How product managers can gamify their products, process, and career
I am interviewing speakers at my favorite annual conference for product managers, the PDMA Inspire Innovation Conference. This discussion is with Mike Hyzy and Bret Wardle, whose session is titled “Level Up Your Product: Innovation with Game Mechanics.”
In our competitive landscape, businesses constantly seek innovative ways to captivate users and empower their teams. Mike and Bret are sharing with us the power of gamification and its potential to revolutionize digital products and product management careers.
Mike is a senior principal consultant at Daugherty Business Solutions. Previously he has been a product management consultant and has held senior product management roles.
Bret is a product leader with 15 years of game and software management experience who advocates for the convergence of design psychology in games and software.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[2:13] What is gamification?
Gamification is applying game concepts, mechanics, and psychology to anything outside of games, including careers, product, or life.
[2:54] What’s an example of gamification?
Board games are a perfect example. Storytelling emerges from playing board games. You go back years later and say, “Remember that time when we played Monopoly…” We can apply storytelling elsewhere and put it into products. There’s no reason why a spreadsheet can’t be shared in a story.
Intricate game mechanics like getting points and unlocking levels help create a story and memorable experiences.
[6:16] Why should product managers care about learning to use gamification?
As we grow in our product management roles, we have to expand our toolboxes. Gamification is another tool to be innovative and enhance user experience, engagement, and retention. You don’t have the goal of doing gamification. You have a different goal—teaching users a new language, building a community of product managers, helping people hit their weight loss goals, etc. Gamification is a set of game mechanics and tools to help you get your user there.
Gamification sometimes get a bad rap. Someone puts up a leaderboard and leaves it there for a year and then says, “Oh, gamification didn’t work.” There’s more to the mechanics of gamification than just putting up a leaderboard or giving points. There has to be a story behind it. There have to be fresh ideas—you never want to play the same level over.
You can also gamify your product development process and make it more fun for your team. I started gamifying our retros. We did a Mario-Kart-themed retro and asked questions like, “What’s the shell that hit you? What’s the banana you slipped on? Why did you want that powerup?” It changed the conversation and energy within your group.
[12:27] Tell us about gamifying your career.
I made a list of skills and achievements, and every time I get a certification or a raise, those are like levels that I’m completing. As product people, we can create our own story. Let’s build levels into it, figure out where we’re getting points, and reward ourselves.
[15:13] Are gamification and goal setting different?
I think of them differently. The experience of writing a book over the last year has included secret levels I didn’t even know about like working with a publisher and creating a PR plan. Those weren’t goals—they were more challenges in the game. You can set goals, but when you gamify your product career, it’s just a more competitive mindset.
Gamification also includes the idea that accomplishments earn rewards.
[17:39] What are some examples of gamifying products?
The mapping tool Waze treats traffic like a medieval dragon that users defeat together. Users generate maps that say where accidents, detours, and speed traps are. Users can see when they are passing another Waze user. There’s socialization and users can earn points and level up. Waze didn’t show people how to get from point A to point B—that already existed. They did it better, in a way that motivates people to use the app and provides loyalty. Their product encompasses storytelling and provides rewards as motivation.
The American Red Cross blood donation app incentivizes users with points and rewards for donating blood. They give reminders when blood is needed and provide rewards like t-shirts.
The photography competition app Guru Shots hosts themed competitions like best ancient buildings, flowers, or animals. You compete against others by submitting photos and voting on other photos. The more you vote, the more notoriety your photo gets. Photographers learn by doing and can join teams to socialize.
[23:10] How does gamification create community?
Some products naturally gravitate toward socialization, like social media. But anytime users are telling others about your product, that’s a social aspect. You can build that socialization into your product. A lot of SaaS providers give a month free if you refer a friend. Products can also include community by allowing people to cooperate or letting people join teams.
Products can provide competitive challenges. Many fitness apps do this. There are many different types of social constructs you can design. As soon as you know what your goal for the product is, you can figure out the right game mechanics to use to accomplish that.
Games started as a social aspect, but products usually start as tools to be used by individuals. Now, products are being engineered to be more social.
[27:31] How have you gamified product processes?
Post-launch, we use a game called Data Detective. Hopefully your software includes data tracking mechanisms. It’s not always easy to see trends. In this game, everyone is a detective and has one week to go through all the data and pitch what they found on Friday. You’re trying to solve the case of what happened to your product. Whoever comes up with the best verdict gets a reward. This doesn’t have to be monetary—it could be a police badge in this case.
You can use leaderboards. Microsoft and Google allow their employees to submit ideas to a board give people a chance to pitch their ideas.
Miro provides community-created content including templates for gamification. I found a gamified Star Wars retro and a themed design sprint.
You can do themed icebreakers, especially for virtual meetings. I will put 20 GIFs on the screen and ask everyone to pick one and tell us why they feel that way.
Action Guide: Put the information Mike and Bret shared into action now. Click here to download the Action Guide.
- Connect with Mike and Bret on LinkedIn
- Check out Gamification for Product Excellence: Level up your product success with higher user engagement, retention, and innovation
- Watch Bret’s TED Talk
“Data doesn’t say things. Humans say things.” – unknown
“The hardest thing is you have to say no 99 times and say yes once.” – Steve Jobs (paraphrased)
Thank you for taking the journey to product mastery and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.