Agile Forest

Find your path to agility with Renee Troughton

In a previous post I shared my wonderment of how teams work hard to reach peak performance when they cannot see each other in the gaming world.

I see great synergies here with Agile – how different is it when software development is done in a distributed or offshore manner? Let’s take a look at the techniques gaming guilds use to reach peak performance.

ALWAYS use voice communications

Lucky you didn't see my avatar handle!

I know of no guilds that have any degree of moderate success without using either Teamspeak or Ventrilo. For those of you unfamiliar with these programs they are like Skype, but allow whole teams to be together in the same chat channel (or in various channels on the same server) without the video input/output but with amazing audio input/output. The reliability and quality of people’s voices is incredibly high. I would recommend that everyone in the team stays in the channel together as they work throughout the day. If you need to ask someone a question they are only a single button (microphone on) away.  Setup your channels something like the following:

  • Team (the default channel which everyone should be in)
  • Private meeting 1 (only if the meeting really has to be private – what is wrong with having the discussion whilst in the default channel?)
  • Private meeting 2 (see above, contingency channel)
  • Quiet Time (for when you really have to concentrate and not be interrupted by someone’s voice)
  • AFK (on lunch or bio break)
Basically you use these tools as an open-ended, incredibly cheap (both on bandwidth and cost of an instance), high quality conference call. What’s to lose?
Now I know with a 100% certainty that verbal imaging would make this even better, but the above solution has no end timeframe on the communication and is not heavy on a computer’s bandwidth. I have found Skype to be unreliable and questionable on quality and so for the moment prefer the audio.

Be present in time together

 This is going to be the hardest thing for offshore teams. I am going to put this out there: If you are doing offshoring to save money (which is a fallacy, but that is a different debate) then your partner must come to the table and provide optimal customer service. To do this they must work the same hours as the onshore team. This should not be a choice – this should be your requirement.

To put this into context – if someone from Australia wants to raid with an American guild they need to change their sleeping patterns and inconvenience themselves for the benefits that they perceive they will get out of it.

Fail often, reflect and adapt often

Who would have thought that gamers did this better than Agilists? In the gaming world, working together the feedback loop is incredibly tight. From failure to reflection of what went wrong is minutes, if that. Teams question what went wrong, search out the root cause and devise a plan to solve or mitigate the problem. The time from failure to another attempt is usually only another few minutes. The cycle continues with more information until the objective is met.

Use visual cues

Agilists do this somewhat better but probably more due to opportunity of the environment then anything else. In the gaming world special icons or symbols are used to indicate assignments, zones to move to, or behaviours to be aware of. This maps to some degree to story walls where tokens and avatars are used to denote particular significance – ie blocked cards, allocations, risks, expedites, etc. Unfortunately for distributed teams a number of tools out there don’t support tokens very well, but avatars are generally a standard feature.

Keep informed on best practice and alternative approaches

Gamers definitely do this considerably better. Because everyone is not together and because their objectives are difficult it is not uncommon for gamers to be given assignments to watch videos of similar people tackling the same issues, to seek out alternative approaches to reach objectives and to orient yourself to what can be expected. I liken this to regular upkeep of best practice of skills and new and innovate ways to approach the problems on your project. Ask your team – how many hours do you spend continuously improving yourself and the way in which you work in your private time – this is a great indication of how attuned the team is to their cause.

One thought on “Distributed teams – what can we learn from online multiplayer gamers?

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