Dungeons and Dragons slays Agile

Nick Coster

dungeons and dragons slays agile

I had so much fun when I was a kid in my first years of high school discovering Dungeons and Dragons. I was playing the first release of the basic set in the early ‘80s and I’d spend hours creating heroic persona, sending them on dangerous quests and then leveling up with experience points and treasure.

The game was a contest of points, dice rolls, probability and imagination. We never knew what was going to happen next, but as a team with overlapping skills, we’d face down the dangers together.

In business I see the last dying embers of the ideals of these games. The language of stories, the estimation of points, and the uncertainty of the next challenge.

The major difference though? In business, there’s often no fun. No reward, and no one who really cares about the characters they’re representing.

In business, I see the last dying embers of the ideals of Dungeons and Dragons. The major difference though? In business, there’s often no fun. Click To Tweet

Imagine what might happen if we could make it fun again? If we could create characters with enough depth that we can believe in them as real people, telling their stories of challenge and hardship. What if we added values or rewards for dealing with these challenges even in the face of other barriers or constraints? What if we could share a sense of progress as teams of problem solvers, defeating challenge after challenge, each one greater that the last one.

We might spend more time understanding our personas and their backstories. We might care more about the challenges and difficulties that they face. We might empathise with them on a human level rather than just calling them the “user” or “customer”.

Becoming the Dungeon Master in business

If there was a prize or a reward for tackling the more valuable challenges and obstacles, then maybe teams would attack these with more gusto than just shuffling cards to completion.

What if team members or whole teams could level up and gain bonus powers within the team?
Who would coordinate these activities?

There is no “Dungeon Master” in business … but there is a Scrum Master. (Where did that term come from?) Could the term Product Owner be renamed the Story Master as the person responsible for bringing the stories in from the rest of the business?

In this world, the Story Master defines the character Personas and the situation they face much as a Dungeons and Dragons Master would. They write and share the Quests, Epics and individual stories that the characters must face, and then it’s up to the solution team to help these characters achieve their goals.

If they succeed, they earn experience points based on the value that they have created for the business and the customer. If the product generates revenue or new customers, the team can collect treasure points. The Scrum Master is in charge of allocating quests and distributing the rewards to the participating team members.

Children fighting an interstellar war

In another tribute to the memories of my childhood I think about the story “Enders Game” where children were recruited to fight in an interstellar war as if it was a video game. The story highlighted two modes of fighting and learning.

The first was the Battle Room where the different teams would face off to attempt to defeat each other in competitive play. This allowed them the scope to try new approaches to problem-solving that they could bring to the next round. To relax they would play a video game where they would fight alien attackers. This was, in fact, the real battle, and the strategies that they’d learned in the Battle Room against each other would be applied in the real war that the kids thought was just a game.
How could this thinking be applied in the real business world?

First, we never spend the time to fight for the best solution to any problem. Teams individually find ideas and then deliver them. What if there was an IT (or another department) version of the Battle Room, where teams compete to find the best solutions to the business and customer problems that we are trying to solve?

The winners gain the right to deliver their solution and win the Experience Points and Treasure as a result. Would this help surface the best solutions? Would this provide an incentive for teams to want to do their best?

The framework that Agile and Scrum offers can be improved. I suspect this model has been lurking there all along, but no one has been brave enough to make the bold move of making business more fun.

Nick Coster

Nick Coster | Author

Passionate about building products and services that delight the user and customer. Ask Nick about changing Product Manager behaviour.

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