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Lessons Learned – Mistakes Repeated Vol. 4 What Gamers Can Teach us about – Next Generation Training

Every Project closure needs a time for lessons learned. Alas I am not the only one who sees the same mistakes repeated far too often. One mistake repeated is the lack of attention to training. The heavy lifting of the project is done and the assumption made that a User manual or on line help capability will suffice to allow people to realize the benefits of the just completed project. A careful analysis reveals that users need to be able to perform activities on the job, which require knowledge of both specific project implementation and the more general industry trends. For example, some understanding and ability to use modeling techniques, principles of Business Architecture and Business Analysis etc.

Alas in many projects the training part is an after thought – always a placeholder in the project plan but not much behind the curtain. Yes, ultimately the User ‘figures it out’ and is able to use the new application but only with considerable effort, confusion and initial lost productivity before ‘getting up to speed’.

Today’s training companies aren’t helping much. They are beginning to look like sausage factories – churning out courses purporting to make us experts but really only providing some knowledge components readily available in the public domain. Only the order of the power point slides changes.

Why are we constantly surprised that the much sought after productivity improvement is not evident soon after implementation? 

In human resources capability development we lag far behind. Training lacks the proper prioritization and alas training techniques are not keeping pace with requirements. In a world where on-line courses and YouTube videos abound on subjects ranging from nutrition to Yoga to Business Analysis modeling, a re-think of how we develop human resources to do things, complete tasks and realize goals is needed. No doubt people need to know ‘stuff’ but it is as the mathematicians say a ‘necessary but not sufficient’ condition.

The video gaming industry can teach us a thing or two as I recently learned.

When I was first introduced to my daughter’s boyfriend who works in the gaming industry I was somewhat skeptical. When we met I was pleasantly surprised to see no tattoos nor piercings in strange places and instead an intelligent young man who makes more than I do. As part of the parental interview I asked about the gaming industry and found some lessons to be learned and applied to the virtual training world (as a matter of fact to the face to face training environment as well).

The gaming industry is focused on producing the animated games for Xboxes and PCs. Today the trend is to games for the iPhone as that is where the kids are going. Still violent war games for the most part they all center on preparing the user for the ‘ boss-fight ‘ I was to learn. That is, when you take on the likes of Darth Vader with the sword of the Force.

George explained to me that nobody wants to read through a list of instructions; they just want to start and ‘learn’ as they go. They don’t have the patience and will quickly turn their attention to something else if they are not able to quickly use the game.

Sound familiar?

In the PM world it seems to me those User Manuals fill up the book case and are used about as much as the Corporate world’s on-line FAQ which are offered instead of a real live person in India. We all tend to want to ‘get on with it ‘ and speak to a person despite the best efforts of corporations to thwart us from doing so. I think we need to consider in our fast changing world whether our User manuals and on line help facilities really represent poorly allocated project resources. Are they worth the time, money and energy expended to produce them? Can we learn from the gaming industry new ways to achieve productivity faster?

Start with a Challenge:

Gamers start with a challenge not an introduction. They then quickly move to adding skills intuitively. ‘Here’s a bow and arrow’; a target appears; try it a few times learning the skill of aiming. The pace quickens and as proficiency is gained new tools are introduced.

Incremental Learning:

Of course gamers are skilled at leading the participants through various levels of proficiency to prepare them for the ‘boss-fight’. They match the difficulty level with the users skill level so that they do not move on to higher levels until users have acquired the lower level skills.

Doing and Using:

In the project management world we would say training is about learning and knowledge acquisition, building the capability to apply it in the real world. The gaming industry is all about doing and using. We often tend in the training industry to equate knowledge with proficiency. Having a cognitive ability is not the same as having proficiency. One needs to do and to use, as is the case in the gaming industry.

Don’t get hurt:

Another principle in the gaming industry is teaching ‘when you do the wrong things you get hurt’. Randomly firing shots while failing to take cover results in the user being killed and having to start over. The negative reinforcement is a key-learning item forcing the user to learn how to protect himself while aggressively attacking his opponent.

I would suggest we learn from the gaming industry that to provide a safe environment to make mistakes is necessary to truly acquire the proficiency, which leads to productivity. Our project plans and training departments seldom provide enough of the ‘case study’ learning so necessary to true learning.

Get the juices flowing:

The gaming industry uses a fundamental psychological principle that ‘competition’ is an inherent essential component of stimulating the emotional involvement of the user. I learned a long time ago that no real learning takes place without the emotional involvement of the learner. There needs to be an emotional investment on the part of the learned before the ‘eureka’ moments happen. In my training courses I attempt to assign a work exercise at the end of the day. Students need to have it ready for presentation in the morning. I do this to create what is called ‘learning tension’, a sort of anxiousness which heightens student involvement. I often see students spend their evening prepping so as to impress or not be embarrassed in front of fellow students.

Where the gaming industry struggles is the move to the next level of user involvement – the emotional and personal interactions. That’s hard to replicate. One sees this with Star Trek’s ‘Data’ an android which houses voluminous data but is unable to experience human emotion.

Many of the courses I teach on conflict management and communication rely on the ability to read body language and tone of voice and interpret the human interaction. Several scholarly papers have been written on the subject, which are beyond the scope of our discussion here but come to the same conclusion.

Alas as Project Managers and trainers when we attempt to use virtual training environments to replicate real life scenarios which involve human interaction, we run into difficulties. PM’s implementing CRM applications, which attempt to aid front line users, need to think about this when deciding the type of resources to allocate to the training box on their project plans.

Our project plans tend to focus on acquiring knowledge and then leave to the user to do the rest. No wonder the sought after productivity gains do not materialize quickly.

So what are the lessons learned?

First some facts of life – knowledge is a commodity with You Tube and other social media providing facts and information. True it is unorganized and not validated, but come to think of it I’ve seen a lot of training courses unorganized and with mis-information. We need to move beyond the ‘knowledge component’ and as the gamers do:

  1. Involve the user early in doing
  2. Teach in incremental steps as the learner acquires skill and knowledge
  3. Provide a safe environment to practice and fail
  4. Apply to the real world (equivalent to the boss fight)
  5. Stimulate the emotions by providing challenges, competition, and feedback

Oh and one more thing.

While my daughter was visiting me at my winter home in Mexico, George spent his free time developing a new video game – this one was a story-telling narrative where the reader (my daughter) chose from a list of alternative words on each page, which would take the story down a different path. Ultimately all paths converged to the exciting conclusion.

“Will you marry me?”

Perhaps another lesson to be learned is that the shackles of corporate training templates need to be put aside to allow our creative side appear. Or perhaps gamers are just more romantic than Project Managers.

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