Gaming Prepared me for Project Management
Not all my epiphanies come at 5:00 am, nor is my lengthy commute their only source. It was Saturday and I slept in, so this one is brought to you by 6:00 am instead. I had woken before my alarm and had some time to kill. 6:00 is rarely a productive hour for me when I’m at home, so I did something enjoyable instead of directly goal oriented: I watched YouTube. Specifically, I queued up the latest WebDM episode on Dungeon Ecology. Jim Davis and Jonathan Pruitt inspired this epiphany with their discussion of how DMs should design their dungeons.
Like a Taylor Swift earworm, I found Jim Davis’s description of dungeon planning as a flow chart exercise an insidious thought that I could not get out of my head. As I spent 10 hours driving to pick up my stepson that day, I had plenty of time to work through my thoughts on the matter. Had being a Game Master (Dungeon Master, Storyteller, whatever flavor your preferred RPG uses) prepared me for my current profession?
I’ve been playing RPGs since 1997. My first was an online game called AmberMUSH (Mutli User Shared Hallucination). I’ve been running stories (GMing) for others since 2002 or so. I never tracked how many hours I spent assembling adventures or constructing dungeon layouts, though now I wish I had. Those hours could have been interesting to include on my PMP application. With fifteen years of crafting and running adventures for my online friends, I had honed my storytelling with logic and process. I had started laying the foundations for what would become my career.
Looking back now, I can see that what I was doing was a small project. It started with a Project Charter:
- What do we intend to do?
- Where are we starting?
- Where do we want to be?
- Who will be involved?
Requirements were gathered next.
- What must be the result?
- What roads on this adventure would my players be uncomfortable with?
- What interesting thing happens if they fail?
- What happens if they succeeded?
And then the designing began. The adventure was just a series of decisions points. If/then statements translate into hours of RP with a group of friends. Fun ensued.
In 2002, I had not heard of flow charts. I had never tried to document a process formally, nor looked at lessons learned as far as I knew. It’s only in looking back at it all now that I see how RPGs were preparing me for project management.
Define the mission; outline the timeline; note the resources required; identify gaps in gathered skillset; recruit remaining team members. Sure, that could be how I spent my day at work, but it wasn’t. Instead, that was my thought process in 2007 when I first tried my hand at raid leading. I had spent much of the year as a raider with my guild and we were making slow but steady progress. It had been a casual guild with little raiding experience until someone began to officially organize runs. Tryouts were had and the best 10 players became raiders. Our early success buoyed our ranks and we were soon two 10-man teams. That’s when we began to have a dilemma.
Those of you who played World of Warcraft during the Burning Crusade will understand this. Karazhan, the entry raid for the tier, was a 10-man raid. But to progress through the rest of the raid content, you needed a 25-man team. We had 20 raiders and about 30 more guild members who didn’t meet gear or playability requirements. Thus, began my foray into raid leading, and it all started with a simple problem statement: we need more raiders.
We, as a raid team, began to gather requirements.
- No outside recruiting. We liked the culture of our guild and didn’t want that to change.
- New raiders had two months to get up to par.
- The newly formed raid team would have minimal seeding from the existing raid teams.
- New raiders had to be available during the standard raid window.
There were nights my patience was tested. Personalities conflicted; people didn’t show when they promised they would; others just didn’t read material or understand their class. It didn’t take very long to realize that raid leading was more than just knowing the landscape and calling out phase transitions. I didn’t play a shaman, but I learned how they worked so I could teach ours. I didn’t know the gear weighting for a warrior, but I worked with others to find out. In the end, we had fun and accomplished our goal. Without taking on this challenge, I would never have had the experience of tanking a raid boss with a warlock’s voidwalker. We didn’t give up when we ran into a challenge, we came together as a team and found a way around.
These experiences have stayed with me in my professional career too. Raid leading is a lot like project management. I don’t know everything my engineers do, but I know enough to evaluate their performance and recommend course corrections. I don’t have to like everyone on the project team, but I’ve developed the skills to work with them and be able to communicate effectively. In both instances, setting out clear expectations is required. Most importantly, keep team morale high; have fun; be flexible; and pull victory out of the jaws of looming defeat.
I can still remember my first project manager mentor telling me that a lot of project management’s practices seemed to come instinctively to me, and that her role as my mentor was just teaching me terminology and formalizing what I knew. Now I know that it was the Amber DRPG, D&D, World of Darkness, and World of Warcraft that had been my first mentors. Gaming taught me logic, the dynamics of groups, and how a little upfront anxiety and pain could lead to a lot of fun and accomplishment.
Should we include our gaming experience on our resumes? Has gaming impacted our professional life in a positive way? Leave a comment below! If you find this blog useful, then be sure to visit my Patreon and leave a donation.