Part Martian: Product Lifecycle On Mars

Sometimes the most basic ideas are the most difficult to learn. Boeing studied its logs to identify the most costly errors made by its engineers. This turns out to be confusion about three simple words used to structure data in design and manufacture. The three words: Document, Reference and Instance mean what they seem to. They can all be explained in a minute, but on-the-job errors cost the company millions in interrupted workflow. When confused engineers ask for help, progress stops. When they don’t ask for help, progress goes backward.

Extra training has not reduced long term errors. Engineers test perfectly in the classroom, but exhibit confusion on the job. Management determined that it is not enough to teach the concepts, they needed to shape work habits that promote correct application of the concepts. To shape this behavior, they sought a game.

Boeing identified seven operations where these concepts are critical. With task analysis and instructional design, GamesThatWork developed these into a hierarchy of learning objectives and a strategy to introduce these in progressive game challenges. The game is a fantasy vision of aerospace engineering. The cartoon simplifies all aspects of engineering except the data structuring challenges that use document, reference and instance. Each puzzle is presented as a comic predicament.

As Martin, the Part Martian, players learn to identify parts when Goofyfoot wants to replace a busted skeg on his space surfboard. They learn to specify reference variables to balance the load for tiny Thistle and her giant boyfriend. Tripjax needs a single part with three minor variations. Ellen van Allen needs to replicate her doggie seat when Muffy gives birth to a litter. Etc.

Iterative formative testing with Boeing engineers and proxies ensured that the challenges and the interface were playful and clear and thoroughly exercised the core concepts.