As requirements consultants we sometimes find ourselves working with people who have learned through painful experience that requirements are not fun. We like to think the process we use is actually pretty interesting and engaging but it is not uncommon for us to start a new project and find people who are dreading the thought of being involved in requirements sessions because of bad experiences they’ve had in the past. This is a challenge for us of course because to be effective we really need people enthused and actively involved in the process.
We’ve had a lot of discussion lately about how to deal with this type of situation and this led me to thinking and reading about incentive systems based on positive random reinforcement. My thinking is that we need to find ways to encourage people to actively participate in the requirements process and we need to do this in ways that promote the kinds of behaviors we are looking for but also make the experience a very positive one. Research has shown that one of the most powerful ways to incent behavior is through positive random reinforcement. This means repetition of the desired behavior is rewarded but the rewards vary in frequency and strength.
One interesting way to accomplish positive random reinforcement is to reward behavior with opportunities to play a game of chance. This can be done simply by handing out tokens when people do the things you want them to do. (In our case, actively participating in the requirements process in some positive way.) Each token gives the recipient an opportunity to play a game of chance. Almost any game of chance would probably work but some would be better suited for our purposes than others. There should be a relatively high probability, but not too high, of winning a small reward and a relatively low probability of winning a large reward. How large is large will depend on your audience and your budget, but it should be enough to be meaningful. The game should be fun of course and should be simple and quick. There are many to choose from.
Incentives work better if they are more immediate so recognize people right away for doing the right things. Handing out lots of tokens for small things gives people lots of opportunities to do the right things and to get more chances to win the big rewards. The rewards need to be things people actually care about so think carefully about what the prizes should be. One of the easiest prizes to arrange may be a re-loadable gift card or debit card that people can spend as they wish.
I haven’t had a chance to try this yet in the real world but it sounds like an intriguing idea. I’d love to hear from anyone who has had any experience with using games of chance to provide positive random reinforcement.