Let the Games Begin

By | Culture, Life at Daxko, Technology, Workplace | One Comment

Here at Daxko, we eat, sleep, and breathe member engagement. I mean, we literally wrote the book on it. So it’s no surprise that team member engagement is important to us as well. Studies show that employees who are highly engaged at work are much more productive.  In a meta-analysis of 263 research studies across 192 companies, employers with the most engaged employees were 22% more profitable than those with the least engaged employees.

One of my favorite ways that we promote team member engagement is through something called gamification. Gamification is the use of game thinking and game mechanics in non-game contexts to engage users in solving problems. Studies have shown that it stimulates creativity and directly improves engagement and learning. Here are three examples of how we use Gamification at Daxko to improve engagement, focus, and learning.

1. Teaching agile concepts and principles

As an Agile Coach for Daxko, I’m responsible for teaching new team members about our agile principles and philosophy. This is the core foundation of our engineering culture and fundamentally drives how we build and deliver software.

Some of the agile principles we teach team members include: breaking larger tasks down into smaller, more manageable ones, getting feedback early and often, and working in short iterations. I recently developed a game to help reinforce those ideas and principles using Lego bricks.

The game has two parts – the first requires participants to build a small house based on a list of requirements. Once the house is complete, they use test cards and roll a die to test different parts of the home and make changes based on the results. The second phase breaks the construction and testing down into smaller parts so that they test each section of the house as it is completed. The resulting improvements in efficiency and reduction of waste is obvious and the concepts we talked about earlier become much more tangible and concrete. Plus team members get to have a little fun using their imagination and playing with Lego!

Let the games begin1

2. Reflecting on how we are working

All of our software teams practice sprint retrospectives after each iteration. Retrospectives are a tool for us to look back at the last couple of weeks of working and review how things went. We talk about things that are working, things that could be better, and ideas that we have to make us work better as a team. Since we do this every two weeks, it can sometimes feel stale and boring. One of the ways we combat this is to change up the format and introduce different gamification techniques. One of my favorites is called the Sailboat or Speedboat exercise. Here’s how it works:

Draw a picture of a cloud with wind, a sailboat with an anchor, and an iceberg similar to the one seen below.

Let the games begin2The imagery here represents the following:

Winds = The things that propel us.

Anchor = The things that are holding us back or making us slower.

Iceberg = Things to look out for.

Have the team take time to think about each of these aspects of the project or sprint and write them down on post-it notes. Take turns placing the notes in the appropriate area of the image and discuss each one with the group.

Use dot voting to identify the things the team thinks are most important to address. We capture any action items that come out of the discussion and post them in a visible area in our team room.

3. Measuring the health of our teams

We identify closely with the engineering culture at Spotify. A few of us were fortunate enough to hear two of their agile coaches speak at Agile 2014. One of the things we have stolen borrowed from them is the squad health check concept. This workshop involves the team rating themselves on several “health indicators” using red, yellow, and green cards. The cards help facilitate a group discussion around each of the health indicators. The discussion is the most valuable part of this workshop. (That’s also why surveys don’t work well for this sort of thing.)

Much like retrospectives, this is a really useful tool for the team to help identify how they are doing. The difference is that the team is measuring themselves on specific dimensions such as: teamwork, quality, fun, value, etc. This means that they can identify trends and respond accordingly.

Let the games begin3.jpg


These are just a few examples of how we employ gamification techniques to improve team member engagement and outcomes. Here are a few resources if you’d like to learn more:

GameStorming – a toolkit for innovators, rule breakers, and changemakers.

A Guide For Retrospectives – Tips on how to organize and facilitate effective retrospectives

TastyCupcakes – Fuel for Invention and Learning

Innovation Games – Library of innovation games


Jason B. is a software testing professional that loves a good challenge! When he’s not working to make the world a more “agile” place, he’s probably out running waterfalls in his kayak.

Tell Us: How Do You Encourage Innovation?

By | Culture | No Comments

I had the pleasure of participating alongside progressive leaders within the YMCA Movement at Daxko’s first annual Leadership Summit earlier this month.  During a discussion on innovation, long-time Daxko partner Steve Tarver, CEO of the YMCA of Greater Louisville, mentioned a very practical way that he fosters innovative thinking at his association.  It’s human nature to be resistant to change and new ways of doing things.  If a new idea is proposed, it’s easy to begin thinking of all of the ways it couldn’t possibly work.  When anyone comes up with a new idea at the YMCA of Greater Louisville, the group is challenged to brainstorm 10 ways that they could make that idea happen before the critiques begin.  What a great way to let new ideas breathe and grow!

For more inspiration on fostering innovation, read about one way we do it at Daxko: Daxko Lab Days.  

We want your feedback!  What ways are you encouraging innovation in your world?

Lisa H. is Director of Go-to-Market Strategy, and she thinks that Chex Mix and a Coke is the breakfast of champions.

Selective Plagiarism

By | Building a Company, Culture, Free Career Advice | 2 Comments

“Selective plagiarism” — do you understand what it means?

It means taking ideas from others, then tweaking and twisting them to fit our needs. And by “others,” I mean more than just those at other software companies. You may be amazed at what we can learn and put into practice from the retail industry, design firms, architects, stodgy Fortune 500 companies, even the airline industry.

Don’t confuse this “borrowing of ideas” with a lack of innovation. Selective plagiarism is clearly part of the innovation process. Many “innovative” companies can fall victim to a “not invented here” syndrome feeling that only their original ideas and thoughts should be considered. This is a recipe for staying small and failing often.

“Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things.”  ~ Theodore Levitt, former editor of the Harvard Business Review

Another common misperception is that selective plagiarism is for the small, not-well-funded companies that have no other options. That is simply not true. Some of the world’s largest, most successful and innovative companies depend on learning from others. For example…

  • Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart, would go into competitors’ stores with a small notebook and pen in hand to document what he saw – both good and bad. He’d then take this on-the-ground intelligence to build a better retail operation of his own – in fact, not just better, but the world’s largest.

“[Sam Walton was] notorious for looking at what everybody else does, taking the best of it, and then making it better.”  ~ Sol Price, founder of Price Club (a Wal-Mart competitor)

  • Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, wrote in his latest book, Winning “…companies that win do two things: they imitate and improve.”
  • Commerce Bank, with assets in excess of $50 billion and touted as “America’s most convenient bank,” has long looked at others outside its industry such as Target, Gap, and Home Depot to create “wow” customer experiences.
  • Procter & Gamble, an $83 billion company, directly copies the way in which IDEO conducts brainstorms. Even more importantly, P&G’s CEO, A.G. Lafley, has established a mandate that half of new product and technology innovations come from outside the company – a goal they have already exceeded!

So along these lines, what could we be doing to learn from those outside the walls of our companies? What could we do to create deeper connections with customers? To develop new product innovations? To strengthen our internal culture? To implement new and effective processes?

When you meet other professionals and hear an interesting comment or idea, are you taking the time to ask the follow-up “why” and “how” questions?

Of course, these conversations won’t always lead to the golden nugget your mining for, but keep pushing. It will be well worth the effort – and not just to your company, but also to you in your own professional development.

Further, the nuggets you do uncover are rarely something you’ll want to blindly duplicate in whole. Instead, you must use your understanding of your unique situation to customize the ideas to meet our needs and those of our customers. You’ll get better at this through practice and experience.

Reading compelling business books is a good place to start, but it is no substitute for hearing from others face-to-face. Invite a peer to lunch. Attend a local user group or luncheon. Join a professional organization. Subscribe to a blog of interest. For that matter, author your own blog.

Believe it or not, you all have time to do this, and it will be well worth it. You just have to make it a priority.

So get out there and start plagiarizing…