As readers of this blog know, I see a lot of benefits in using serious gaming to make better product and development decisions. Consulting firms like Enthiosys and Booz Allen Hamilton use different serious gaming approaches, but they ultimately have the same aim: Avoid the traps that we mere humans frequently make, even when confronted with a wealth of facts and reasonable arguments. The bigger the decision – for example, What will make us more competitive in the next five years? How do we make sense of all these enhancement requests? Should we pursue a new market? – the greater the need to guard against groupthink, the loudest voice in the room, information overload, and other common decision-making pitfalls.
While I could (and have) provided examples from business, an equally compelling example comes from politics. One of the offshoots of Enthiosys' work with businesses is Games For Democracy, a charitable foundation that, as the name implies, applies serious gaming techniques to political decision-making. A good example is healthcare, the topic of a Games For Democracy exercise using the "Buy A Feature" game. Each participant had a limited amount of faux money to invest in different healthcare options, such as the public option, a mandate for personal health insurance, and cost containment measures. No one had enough money to buy any option outright, so horse-trading among participants was mandatory.
Outside the technology industry, engineers sometimes build multiple prototypes before selecting one particular design. Rather than finding the defects of one proposed design, discarding it, and moving on to the next idea, engineering teams that apply this approach, set-basedconcurrent design, save themselves a lot of time and headaches by running through as many options as possible simultaneously. As you might have guessed, this technique isn't cheap. You need to staff multiple design teams, and prototyping in many industries, such as automotive manufacturing, is always expensive. Nonetheless, by delaying the design decision for as long as possible, until the team has found the best among multiple ideas, development can take less time, with a greater probability of building a good product, than with sequential design.
So why don't we build software this way? For Microsoft, SAP, and other technology companies, prototyping is orders of magnitude cheaper than it is for Toyota and General Motors. Executives at tech companies would love to reduce the unpredictability of development schedules, often thrown off-track by unexpected design issues. So why hasn't set-based design caught fire in the technology industry?
That question has been plaguing me since hearing an excellent presentation by Jean Tabaka and Bill Wake on this topic at Agile 2009. I'm not sure of the answer ("More research required," says the analyst), but I'd be amazed if it didn't include two factors: (1) the nature of the product being developed; and (2) the unspoken assumptions of the tech industry.