Get certified - Transform your world of work today


Scrum and Gamification

The power of association

9 November 2017

Yuri Bilinski

It is well known that our brains have the fantastic ability to find associations between things. In fact, this is undeniably a powerful learning process. We learn things and we retain information as we associate or correlate facts, concepts, and images every day to build complex thoughts and mental pictures. As project and program managers, this power comes in handy, as we deal with facts and the so-called 3Ps: people, processes, and products.

This article is about using the power of association to link Scrum with gamification. So, as we are building a more complex structure that involves these two terms in the context of concepts and processes, I will describe what these two terms mean before I identify the hooks that link them.


In his unparalleled book Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time, Jeff Sutherland (with coathor J.J. Sutherland) uses the term Scrum to describe team performance by associating the idea of Scrum to how a team works together in the game of rugby. Beyond the context of this article, the project management community has also acclaimed the ideas in the book to be game changers for project management practices.

By assembling the collection of ideas from the book and associating those to practices, the Scrum framework drives us to deal with uncertainty and creativity in a ludic way. What drives the association between Scrum and gamification are story points or business points.


At the 16th International Academic Mindtrek Conference (2012, Finland), Kai Huotari and Juho Hamari defined gamification as "The application of game design elements and game principles in non-game contexts." This is telling us the essence of association: Scrum is all about empowering teams to achieve a common goal, and therefore why not boost collaboration among team members by introducing gamification on Scrum cells?

We all know that some games are played without any expectation of intellectual or material gains. It is all for fun, after all! But we are seeking to associate fun with collaboration in the Scrum context, hence reinforcing the sense of being part of a team that is empowered to make decisions and driven to achieve. We interchange the complex thought of Scrum with fun.

Come play with us

The Scrum framework provides us with tools and procedures that we can use throughout the inspect-and-adapt cycles called sprints. At the beginning, you have a sprint called grooming, whereby everyone gets together to ramp up the project. During the sprint, you get to know the user epics and stories, which are the objectives the team must achieve throughout the sprints. The measure of each story are the story points by which the team evaluates the effort to develop that story. Given our experience in implementing Scrum cells, we have also proposed business points to be defined by the product owner. These compose a score based on the business importance of each story and are applied to calibrate the priority among story points.

By now, you may be associating the points with a score from the games you might be familiar with. Consequently, you may have also made the connection that the challenge is how we can use this association to create a funny and collaborative game. This brings us back to the uncertainty of game events as well as promoting creativity in design and implementation to provide team members with a greater value beyond the Scrum gathering.
br /> To that end, I'd like to describe an experience we had in the market that was exemplary of gamification. When we created our game, our first thought was that all earnings must be achieved by all team members, thus creating a healthy competitive environment. Our second thought was to find a common interest among the team members. We simply asked what they were fond of: heroes, battles, mythology, Star Wars, or Star Trek, among other media interests. To our surprise and delight, they unanimously agreed on Star Wars.

Given this insight, we designed a role-playing gaming context, logically assigning the ScrumMaster as the Game Master, the ultimate villain to defeat. We also created a set of badges based on Jedi status. For example, by delivering 32 story points registered at our old-school physical Kanban, team members would be entitled to a status of a Youngling, the first level of Jedi training. As sprints passed and 200 story points were delivered, altogether the team members earned the status of Padawan — a more advanced level of the Jedi training journey. Using this baseline, we set the following average speed in the game based on story points delivered:
Status Average speed points
Jedi 50
Jedi Knight 54
Jedi Knight with double lightsaber 57
Master Jedi 60
Counselor Jedi 62
Grand Master 64

Points earned were calibrated by the business points and could also be used as credits to exchange for weapons such as lightsabers, attack bonuses, defenses, and use of the Force. As we worked, the team jointly struggled to gain points in exchange for more weapons and strength. Throughout this process, the team broadened their creativity by collaboratively creating exciting and challenging galactic missions with the Game Master, thus earning more points.

Spider Man's uncle Ben said, "With great power comes great responsibility." Points could not be earned by sacrificing the quality of the delivery. Therefore, bugs reported in UAT or production were penalized by a corresponding decrease in average speed points.

In full adherence to Scrum goals, the team became more united, productive, and thoroughly committed to the gains and quality. The whole process became lighter and more fun just by setting one hour aside every week for play.

Game over

From a quantitative perspective, productivity levels for the Scrum cell increased overall because of the inherent competition tied to gamification. Since we implemented it at the beginning of the project, our velocity numbers already started a bit higher than the market average, which was 32.

In his book Agile Estimating and Planning, Mike Cohn proposed a reference table for velocity convergence based on the number of sprints. By applying the proposed multipliers to our project, we came up with the following table:
Sprints Completed Low Multiplier High Multiplier Current
Average Velocity
1 0.6 1.6 33.6 20.16 53.76
2 0.8 1.25 35.28 28.22 44.10
3 0.85 1.15 37 31.45 42.55
4 or more 0.9 1.10 38.8 34.92 42.68

We observed that the average speed increased by about 5% at each sprint; and based on the reference table, the ultimate velocity level would be reached at 42.68. After six sprints, we realized the average velocity at 47.

In conclusion, the group’s productivity levels increased, and using the gamification process together with Scrum proved to be a rewarding and fulfilling experience professionally and personally. There had been no competition to determine who was the best. Instead, we wanted to see how a team could defeat the Game Master. Team members struggled to become Jedis, but it was great to see the iconic buttons proudly pinned to their backpacks.

This article was coauthored by Luiz Sérgio Batista das Neves.


Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

Article Rating

Current rating: 4 (2 ratings)


Be the first to add a comment...

You must Login or Signup to comment.

The community welcomes feedback that is constructive and supportive, in the spirit of better understanding and implementation of Scrum.


Newsletter Sign-Up