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A Guide to Gamification for FinOps

Introduction to Gamification for FinOps

Our working group set out to discover how gamification could be used to accelerate the adoption of FinOps, supporting initiatives such as digital transformation, cloud adoption and acceleration, and more.

Digital transformation programs and the new operating models that go with them require changes in employee behavior if they are to be successful. Where employees resist these changes, programs can be delayed or, in the worst case, abandoned entirely.

Gamification offers solutions and strategies that adds structure to the working environment so it motivates employees to engage with new ways of working and, in the process, enables the organization to achieve its FinOps goals.

What is Gamification?

Gamification is the process of making a business activity more like a game, or incorporating game-like elements into it, with the aim of motivating employees to engage in behavior, complete tasks, or achieve outcomes that benefit the organization. It also has the potential to make work activities more fun and engaging. Gamification may use points, badges, and leaderboards to publicize and recognize achievement, as well as incorporating more sophisticated game mechanics to ensure tasks are interesting and engaging for employees.

When gamification is added, employee motivation increases to 83%, and boredom drops to just 10%. (Source)

To see examples of gamification initiatives used in FinOps, please consult the Gamification Library. The Working Group will continue to collect and add new stories as they collect and review them!

Why do Gamification for FinOps?

At its core, FinOps is a cultural practice. It’s the way for teams to manage their cloud costs, where everyone takes ownership of their cloud usage, supported by a central best-practices group. Cross-functional teams in Engineering, Finance, Product, etc. work together to enable faster product delivery, while gaining more financial control and predictability (see What is FinOps).

Successful FinOps adoption requires cross-functional engagement and collaboration. These adoption efforts will generally require organizational changes that may be encouraged, supported and accelerated by gamification initiatives.

Gamification may be useful in promoting business value through:

  • FinOps Education, by encouraging the development of FinOps knowledge and understanding
  • Process Improvement, by using team challenges to overcome resistance to new ways of doing things
  • Establishing and Reinforcing a FinOps Culture, by publicizing achievements and recognizing good performance
  • Employee Retention, by making the work experience more engaging, more productive and more fulfilling for employees

Behaviors & Outcomes

It is helpful to think of Gamification as a way of making a given scope of work more interesting and engaging for employees (such as encouraging experimentation, prompting collaboration, or overcoming inertia) rather than as a way of only steering employees towards pre-determined corporate goals (such as through KPIs, targets or incentives). The best way to approach gamification is from a focus on the employee’s motivations.

Gamification focuses on user engagement to motivate behavior. Gamification initiatives may be either competitive or co-operative. Both can drive behavior change or reinforce already strong employee engagement, knowledge and behaviors. It’s important to align the gamification initiative with a goal or purpose that employees find inspiring to achieve the desired outcome.

Importantly, there is a need to create an environment where people feel safe to engage in the challenge, since a key element of gamification must always be the potential for ‘failure’. It is this potential for failure that makes gamification challenging (and different to routine work) and from which a sense of achievement may be derived. If you can’t fail, there’s no achievement in success and no fun in engaging with the game.

In the context of FinOps, some of the behaviors and outcomes we may target with gamification include:

  • Improving budget accuracy
  • Enhancing knowledge or awareness of cloud or FinOps concepts
  • Driving incremental optimization
  • Reducing risk
  • Improving cloud governance and compliance with policy
  • Raising coverage of discount plans to optimize rates

Motivation and Incentives 

The aim of gamification is to create motivational experiences for employees that drive behaviors which benefit the organization.  When we speak of motivating factors we are discussing what motivates the participant to engage in the program.

What is Motivation?

  • Intrinsic motivation describes the undertaking of an activity for its inherent satisfaction while extrinsic motivation describes behavior driven by external rewards or punishments, abstract or concrete.
  • Intrinsic motivation comes from within the individual, while extrinsic motivation comes from outside the individual.

Source: Differences between Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivation, Simply Psychology

Intrinsic Motivation Extrinsic Motivation
Challenge Rewards
Curiosity Punishment
Control Power
Enjoyment Praise
Purpose Competition

An effective FinOps gamification and incentive plan should consider the following factors:

  • Needs and motivations of the target audience: The plan should consider the needs, interests, and motivations of the individuals or teams being incentivised, and design incentives that are meaningful and appealing to them.
  • Goals and objectives of the organization: The plan should be aligned with the overall goals and objectives of the organization and should support the achievement of specific outcomes related to cloud financial management.

What do incentives and rewards look like for FinOps?

FinOps gamification initiatives should be aligned with the overall goals and objectives of the organization. They should also support the achievement of specific outcomes related to cloud financial management and reflect the current priorities of the enterprise

The gamification plan should clearly define the types of activities and behaviors that will be incentivized and how they will be measured and tracked. The plan should outline the types of rewards and recognition that will be offered and how they will be distributed.

By carefully considering these factors, organizations can design and implement an effective FinOps gamification and incentive plan that helps to engage and motivate individuals and teams to optimize and manage their cloud financial resources.

Some examples of incentive plans that can be used to gamify FinOps practices:

  • Points and Rewards Systems: Engineers can earn points for completing certain tasks by meeting targets, these tasks contribute to unlocking new features for the product/services for the business.
  • Badge of Honor: Engineers earn badges for achieving certain milestones related to financial management of cloud resources, such as reaching a level of cost savings or efficiency, etc. These can be displayed on their profile or used as a form of recognition.
  • Leaderboards: Individuals/teams can compete with each other to complete tasks fastest or with the highest accuracy, with top performers displayed on a leaderboard for all users to see. This will help drive internal competition and performance benchmarking among the teams.
  • Progress bars and levels: Teams/application owners see the progress of optimization targets or tasks set for efficiency goals aligning to the business. This helps the teams/application owners track these activities better to reach new milestones.
  • Quests and Challenges: Teams/individuals to complete quests or challenges that involve completing a series of related tasks, which can help to break up larger projects into smaller, more manageable chunks. Such as optimizing a particular resource or reducing costs in a certain area.
  • Feedback and rewards: Provide feedback to teams/individuals for their performance and reward them with prizes or certificates, which motivates them to continue learning and improving.

Considerations (maturity, personas, budget, time, tooling) 

There are five key areas for consideration when determining how best to deploy gamification for your FinOps teams.

Maturity

Your organization’s FinOps maturity will impact what type of result you are driving through deploying gamification. For instance, if your team is in the Crawl phase, gamification to increase automation would likely not work well as this is often a more advanced, Run-stage competency. You can access the FinOps maturity model to get more details on various stages of FinOps and what these teams likely face.

Personas

Be clear about which FinOps personas your gamification will impact. Games may just focus on one group, but they can also be a good chance to increase cross-persona collaboration. The most common personas are included below:

  • Engineering & Operations
  • Procurement & Finance
  • Executive
  • Business/Product Owner
  • FinOps Practitioner

Learn more about the roles and personas involved with FinOps on the FinOps Framework.

Budget

Gain alignment on monetary constraints prior to finalizing your design.  Successful games may not require budgets to implement.  Think through how much budget (if any) you would like, how you can get those funds, what incentives you would offer. Below are some examples of Monetary and Non-Monetary incentives:

  • Monetary:
    • Gift Cards
    • Prize: Mug, T-shirt, etc.
  • Non-Monetary:
    • Leaderboard
    • Recognition to leadership
    • Upcycle an existing trophy

Time

Consider when the best time for your organization would be to launch your gamification initiative. Are there key windows that are best to avoid when the teams are already near capacity with planning, key seasons, or lots of vacations? Choosing the right time for your initiative can increase the likelihood of achieving your objective.

Tooling

Do you have internal tools that are easily accessible to run your event? If not, think through how you can leverage open source resources to support your initiative. There’s no need for anything complicated or expensive, but you will want a way to track and make results visible.

Pitfalls and obstacles to consider

While we should think of effective ways to motivate and incentivize the behaviors that help build successful FinOps teams, we should also pay attention to potential pitfalls and obstacles. Give thoughts to some of the below possible obstacles when designing your gamification initiative:

  • Does the format of the gamification (medium, timing, style) match the organizational norms and the desired outcome?
  • Are you clear on the desired outcome and what’s in it for the employee?
  • Does your game have an attainable goal? Unattainable goals will decrease motivation, not increase likelihood of the desired outcome.
  • Is there a way for people to exploit the game?
  • Will your team feel manipulated based on the game you’ve proposed? If yes, look to redesign your game.
  • Are you using a new gamification idea? In general, each repetition sees lower levels of engagement.

Capabilities in Framework (FinOps Framework)

If you are looking for potential gamification focus areas to help improve your overall FinOps practice, consider the below table for ideas by Framework domain and the FinOps Challenges chart from the State of FinOps Report for ideas.

FinOps Framework Domain FinOps goal Potential gamification focus
Understanding cloud usage and cost Improving the visibility of cloud usage and cost for each persona/stakeholder
  • Improve account, subscription, project hierarchy
  • Tagging compliance
  • Build dashboards
Performance tracking and benchmarking Improving one or more ‘business meaningful’ metrics
  • More accurate forecasting
  • Lowered budget overspend
  • Improvement in a specific, meaningful unit metric
Real-time decision-making Decreasing ‘time to fix’ anomalies in cloud usage and spend
  • Responding faster to anomalies
Cloud usage optimization Reducing wasted cloud resource and the money, effort and energy they consume
  • Rightsizing
  • Scheduling compute instances
  • Data retention and storage management
  • Adopting autoscaling architectures
  • Modernizing cloud architectures
  • Optimizing workloads pre-onboarding to cloud
Cloud rate optimization Reducing the price paid for cloud resources through discounting
  • Reservation coverage
  • Average discount to list price
Organizational alignment Improving cross-functional collaboration on cloud value
  • Number of stakeholders holding a recognized FinOps qualification
  • Level of cross-functional participation in cloud optimization activity

We might also consider which of the most significant ‘pain points’ gamification might have a positive impact on. Below is a chart from the State of FinOps Report, where FinOps practitioners rank their top FinOps Challenges.

Source: State of FinOps 2022 by FinOps Foundation

Based on this data a few focus areas to consider might include:

  • The active involvement of engineers in executing cloud optimizations
  • More accurate forecasting (and budgeting) for cloud usage and cost
  • Collaborative efforts where different organizational functions work together
  • Automating key activities where this improves cloud value
  • Reducing waste

Conclusion

Gamification is a valuable tool FinOps teams can deploy to enable practitioners to build the habits and initiatives to maximize the value of the cloud. When done properly, it offers employee engagement benefits as well as increasing the likelihood of achieving desired business results. The options for deploying gamification to advance your FinOps practice are nearly endless.

Feedback is welcome

As you all know, building these community resources are endeavors that continue to grow and improve. The work is never over and we rely on our fellow practitioners and overall FinOps community to help us build in new additions and improvements to the content.

If you’d like to get involved, please check out the Gamification channel on our community Slack.

Check out the Gamification Library

We now have a collection of practitioner stories about the gamification initiatives that they’ve used in their FinOps practices. Check out the Gamification Library for stories and examples of gamification, and their real-world outcomes involving  FinOps teams.

What we’ll work on in future sprints

We’re excited to implement feedback to this guide from our community.

Thank you to all our contributors

The FinOps Foundation extends a huge thank you to the members of this Working Group that broke ground on this documentation:

Also, we’d like to thank our Technical Advisory Council (TAC) Liaison, Noel Crowley of Fidelity.

Lastly, a big thank you to the FinOps Foundation support team for helping us bring our work to life: Stacy Case (Staff Sponsor), Samantha White (Program Management), Tom Sharpe (Design), and Andrew Nhem (Content).