It's been awhile since I have run into an article that made me want to drop everything and write. Larry Dignan, in his article "Can game design make your company more efficient?", highlights the work of Edward Castronova, an expert on virtual worlds and economies from Indiana University. In his summary of Castronova's talk at the Terra Nova State of Play symposium, Dignan writes:
Given most technology implementations rely heavily on good processes, game design could enhance returns. Wouldn't it be nice to botch a technology project in a virtual world, fix the problems and then roll it out without millions of dollars being dropped on pricey consultants?
Yeah, that would be nice. However, the skeptic in me does not see this as the utopian process improvement solution Dignan claims (never mind that the "virtual world" solution will still require a full technology implementation project).
The group developing the workflow through the virtual environment will still have to perform their old processes in their "First Life" environment. Like real life process-improvement initiatives, you still need to take real people's time away from their regular tasks (or add on to those tasks), then hope that the members of the group can accurately describe their existing processes and predict how changes in any step will impact that process.
In the gaming environment, the folks doing the workflow adaptation will not only have to grapple with the usual political and change management issues, they will also have to fiddle with the technology. How many of your organizations have multiple unused copies of MS Project or Visio taking up space on hard drives because fiddling with the technology was too time consuming?
Even if things go smoothly, despite ample testing (and a few tears), the transition from virtual process to reality may prove to be just rockier than processes developed using crayons, stickers and butcher paper because it proves to be harder to incorporate new information as the process improvement project evolves.
My personal opinion: For a virtual world process improvement game to work, there has to be enough case studies to create a robust decision tree. The target process should be narrow and the game should be able to address special case exceptions. For example: the workflow questions "What is the best process for handing Rx refill requests?" Special cases include Schedule II controlled substances, short-term refills between appointments, prior authorizations requirement, and refill rejections. There also needs to be an easy way to incorporate new information.
If gaming will be used as part of technology implementation, the technology should be old enough so that there is a library of best, worst, and OK practices for each workflow decision that needs to be made with that technology. The game needs to incorporate both the technology and surrounding computer systems PLUS the human workflows. In my ideal universe, I should then be able to use the end product for implementation training with little editing.
I will admit I am not much of a gamer. I am not a game designer nor am I a programmer, but to my liberal-arts eye, this strikes me as a very tall order.
Are my initial impressions of this idea correct? Is there a better way to use virtual worlds for process improvement?