Polishing Gems: A Guide To Implementing Knowledge Management

By Thomas Cox and Matthew Malecha from Trailhead Games

Beware. Knowledge Management is like Pandora’s Box, and once you open it, there’s no closing it. Once you start implementing it, everything you do will get better, but you may never be truly satisfied again...

A well-managed game gets better every time you play it. That’s what KM (short for Knowledge Management) is all about. KM is about learning the lessons about what makes your game succeed or struggle and taking action to build upon the positives and reduce the negatives. Obviously KM doesn’t apply solely to games, but we’ll use them as a focus for this post.

Before we start, the phases for the KM process go roughly like this:

  1. Create game
  2. Play game
  3. Gather KM
  4. Implement KM
  5. Play game again
  6. Repeat steps 3-5 infinitely

We have covered creating and playing games in other blog posts, so this post will focus on phases 3 and 4 - Gathering and implementing KM.

What is KM?

KM is collecting data, observations and feedback about your game, recording those points, and then taking action to make changes to avoid a problem happening again.

The goal of KM is to ensure that no point is EVER repeated. That means things need to change when a KM point is addressed or else you’re doomed to repeat the same mistakes (which can be very frustrating).

KM is also known as continuous improvement or process leadership. However you want to look at it, the focus is on using every time you play of a game as a learning opportunity to improve it for next time.

What you’re looking for is individual KM points that you can act on after the game ends. 

KM points are useful when they are:

  • Observations
  • Suggestions
  • Factual

An example of a useful KM point is: “We ran out of clean cups at the drinking station.” This is a neutral observation, that is also actionable.

From this point, the Gamemaster knows that next time they need to provide more cups and they update/add this to the game setup document so it isn’t missed next time! They might change the setup list from “Put 60 cups at the water station” to “Put 100 cups at the water station”.

What you don’t want is KM points that are:

  • Opinions
  • Can’t be acted upon
  • Unrealistic

Examples of poor KM points:

  • “I don’t know about this game.” What don’t they know? What are there specific concerns?
  • “I absolutely loved the character breakdown for this game, very clear and helpful.” This a nice thing to hear, but not a KM point. It might be a KM point for future games to base their character handout formats on the ones from this game though!
  • “I stumbled while I was running.” I’m sorry to hear that but what can I do about it? This is different from “Tables weren’t moved from the dining area, resulting in an injury to a camper who tripped over them. Now THAT is a KM point!

Phase 3 - Gathering KM

There are loads of ways to gather KM points. They’re like Pokemon: the more you can get your hands on the better! Encourage your staff and players to provide as many as possible, making your camp culture about providing feedback and not settling for good enough. 

The first time you play a game you’re likely going to have LOTS of KM points, which will hopefully decrease every time you play it. However, don’t expect to ever get to a point where there are no KM points on a game. We don’t believe a game will ever be perfect, especially when there are so many variables!

Here are some of the more common ways of gathering KM points:

  • Walk around as the Gamemaster during the game with a clipboard and write down what you observe. You might see one team dominating and realise that you put a crucial resource in an easily defended area.
  • Interview staff about things that aren’t working in the game or at their station. They might say the kids weren’t really enjoying their station, or no one was able to complete their challenge.
  • Have a KM meeting/debrief after the game and allow staff to contribute points there. This is a good way of getting a big picture view of the game.
  • Listen to what the campers are saying about the game. “It was fun, but it was too hard to get a harpoon!” 
  • Conduct target group interviews with campers after the game.
  • Have some staff members play the game as players and get their notes.
  • Include rating the game on your end of session camper feedback form with a comments section.
  • Have a trial run of the game with only the staff members and see what KM points arise.
  • Have someone else read through the game documents and see what questions they ask.

If you’re gathering KM points from staff members, we encourage you to have them write their names on the points in case you need to follow up with them later for clarity. You’d be amazed how easily people forget what they wrote!

Phase 4- Acting on KM points

Gathering the KM points is a great first step, but to ensure your game improves for the next time it runs, you need to implement changes based on the points that come up. This is the most important step in taking your game to the next level!

To illuminate this idea, let’s follow the life cycle of one KM point. We’ll use the one we had before:

“We ran out of clean cups at the drinking station.”

We’ll add that to our KM file for our game like so:

WHO?                   Tom
WHAT?                  We ran out of clean cups at the drinking station.
ACTION REQ’D     Add 50 cups to the setup list
WHERE                 Into The Deep setup list

We’ve got the point: “We ran out of clean cups at the drinking station.”

We know who contributed it: Tom

We have made an action plan to ensure this point never repeats: “Add 50 cups to the the setup list”.

And we’ve noted to which document we’ve made our changes so that next time we play this game there will be another 50 cups where we need them: the Into The Deep setup list.

Where we can get into trouble is when we stop using the documents to setup or organise a game because we’ve played it before and think we know how to do it. This is when new changes can be missed and the mistakes of the past get repeated. This can happen often if the same staff are used to setup the game each time it runs. MAKE IT A HABIT TO USE THE GAME DOCUMENTS EVERY TIME THE GAME RUNS. 

If you’re going to commit to the KM process and hope to get the most benefit out of it, then it’s important that you have a standard process each time you run the game, such as printing off the most recent versions of all the documents and using them to setup, organise and breakdown the game.

The human memory is fallible, sometimes embarrassingly so, so we recommend you don’t rely on your ability to remember every KM point and subsequent change that happens, and instead use checklists and written copies to make sure you don’t miss anything. This is especially important in the summer camp world where staff are running on very little sleep, exhausting physical demands, and weeks of back to back work. Do yourself a favour and write it down.

Closing thought

The best KM points are those ones that can apply to other games too! For example, the above point is great for all runaround games that require a water station. Doesn’t matter what runaround game you play, you’re going to need that extra 50 cups, so a KM point like this might lead to changing the setup lists for all the runaround games you have on your program roster and you’ve solved some problems before they’ve had a chance to occur.

Happy KMing.