Business Report

Playing with Project Management

A startup called RedCritter turns software development into a game.

Software development projects are notorious for blowing past deadlines and through budgets, however managers try to track progress and motivate workers to hit milestones. A startup called RedCritter is taking a new approach, with software that turns the task of measuring performance and sticking to a schedule into something more like a game. And managing software projects is just the beginning. The company’s founder, veteran entrepreneur Mike Beaty, wants to apply these techniques to other business problems, like increasing sales leads and improving customer service.

Rewarding work: RedCritter Tracker encourages software developers to manage their time better with badges and points that can be redeemed for prizes.

RedCritter’s software, called Tracker, is currently designed to work specifically with so-called agile software development methods, in which programmers launch themselves into short, well-defined tasks called “scrums” that allow rapid improvement of code. Agile development is the programming method of choice for many startups, especially those developing Web-based systems. Tracker uses video-game-style points, badges, and a Twitter-style conversation stream to turn the often deadly boring business of managing a software project into something programmers can enjoy.

In order to earn points and badges in Tracker, programmers allow a certain level of surveillance over their work—everything from which task they’re working on to how long it takes them to complete it. These rewards give developers a tangible way to mark their progress—and encourage a little healthy competition.

U.K.-based game development company Matmi began using Tracker a few months ago. While it’s too early to tell if it’s had a positive effect on the bottom line, the software has allowed more visibility into what programmers are actually doing. “Not only can we monitor how the project is going, and make amendments to hit deadlines should any issues arise, but [Tracker] allows the whole team to claim their involvement in the project and show them how important a part they play,” says James Tibbles, head of development at Matmi.

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Tracker allows programmers to set up a page showing all their badges, much in the way that players of popular online games like World of Warcraft or Halo display their achievements. Tracker can award 50 different badges, from “newbies” that people get for exploring the software to ones earned by completing the most scrums in a single day.

Along with these badges, project leaders can award points for completion of certain tasks. Tracker features a “rewards store,” in which employees can exchange these points for goodies: Matmi’s rewards store offers an iPad, Nerf guns, coffee coupons, and other geek-friendly paraphernalia. As well as boosting morale, Tibbles says, “rewarding [employees] for the way they work makes them think more about how they spend their own work time, and helps them order their workload.”

For RedCritter, Tracker is just the beginning. Future plans include systems to “gamify” customer relations management and lead generation for sales. After all, Beaty says, many workers have come of age in a world of consumer technology like Twitter, Foursquare, and video games, and it has shaped their expectations of what work should be like.

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