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LiveBlogged! ‘What Agile Teams Can Learn from World of Warcraft’ with Alexandra Schladebeck

  • 31/01/2013
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  • Posted by Laszlo

Below is a live blog by Mauri Edo which was written during Alexandra Schladebeck’s webinar – ‘What Agile Teams Can Learn from World of Warcraft’ from Thursday, 31st January.

Alexandra Schladebeck’s webinar is part of our Best of EuroSTAR 2012 Webinar Series Part 2. Follow the link for more information about the rest of the webinars coming up this week.

The recording of the webinar is also available in the EuroSTAR Community webinar archive.


Alexandra Schladebeck’s “What agile teams can learn from World of Warcraft” webinar review

The last jewel in this treasure chest named Best of EuroSTAR Conference 2012 webinar week (part II) 1 has been a fantastic metaphordriven session hosted by Alexandra Schladebeck and interestingly entitled “What agile teams can learn from World of Warcraft”.

The testing community is a very creative one, you’ve probably heard and read several histories of software testing and related topics through the means of metaphors, similes and comparisons, but in this webinar Alexandra took these techniques one step further by comparing agile teams, concepts and tasks with World of Warcraft (WoW) videogame’s sorcery characters, quests and epic milestones. Let’s check it out!

Alexandra first started with an introduction to the game, where the basic premise to start is to create a character and wander around the world doing quests (personal missions related to find, collect, save… things). WoW characters have specific features like race, class, equipment, talents, professions… and from them, characters get special skills, talents and ability to learn new ones. There are also dungeons, quests to be performed in groups, with a “big boss” to defeat in order to “survive” the dungeon; and raids, special quests performed by a group of groups.

With these basic concepts clarified for those who are new to the game, the webinar turned directly into stating the parallels between this WoW structure and the agile software development teams and their duties, focused in tasks, teams and people roles within those teams. To start with, in the game, team roles are known (healers, tanks, damage dealers… like analysts, programmers, frontend developers in a real development team) and assigned according to various factors related to individual character’s features and experience. Roles in a team are fixed, but it is valuable to be flexible about them in order to cover specific situations where the specialists on something are missing. This has much resemblance to what happens in real tech teams, where personal features define who is the most suitable for a role (not everyone can do everything), and dual specializations are extremely valued as they can cover/save special situations like colleagues’ vacations, sick medical leaves and so on.

After this first character similarity between the two worlds, the following ones pointed out by Alexandra were completely related to teams and teamwork: in both WoW and the real development world, teams have to communicate in a quick and unambiguous way, to prioritise their goals and distribute the tasks efficiently, and to do it completely amongst the team (this is, that the information reaches all team members when it is needed). This requires collaboration as well, a team can only succeed as a team, and communicated selforganisation is crucial to achieve success, in order to define what to attack when, how and by whom. The knowledge of the team becomes critical to collaborate properly, as tasks assignment and prioritisation depend on current members’ skills, experience, status… To end with the teams’ parallel, improvement is not restricted to individuals. Teams can improve as well, they can get and increase experience and learn from past events under a “play more, win more” philosophy. A great instrument to manage and achieve this team improvement are the (quest) retrospectives, a figure that exists both in the agile universe as well as in WoW one, formalising the recent events and the lessons learned from them.

A final set of parallels referred to the tasks a team has to manage. Tasks have different size, spirit and granularity; Alexandra linked quests to userstories (with their specific nature, their background reason, their information and goals and their reward) and dungeons to sprints (bigger team quests, a set of separate tasks with a single aim). Each task to be addressed requires an estimation, considering the ease of the task, its risk, the amount of members and

energy (mana) needed… And addressing a task requires a sustainable pace, there has to be room to refresh between fights to recover energy, repair the damaged equipment… and clear the teams’ minds (and heal their souls) to learn and be ready for the next fight. To end with the parallels section, the presenter warned the audience about tools and automation, as they are often necessary but require personal intelligence and skills to be used wisely and not lose focus in the fight, the real matter of the “game”.

Following this view, there are much more parallels than differences between the mentioned worlds: obviously, in real life, characters don’t get automatically new skills or “levelup’s” on their already owned ones (one cannot become a proficient Groovy programmer overnight); real-life players can’t give up completely on their duties and there are no dungeon guides available on the internet to solve your issues. On the other hand, WoW teams are highly dependent on specific roles whereas responsibility and dependency is more distributed in real teams.

The final part of this interesting webinar has been based in three reflections around the game: first, what WoW character would represent better the testing role? Do testers “heal”, deal with damage, do magic…? Probably not. This responsibility is distributed amongst the WoW team members and a healthy technology team should learn from this, testing (and even quality) works better when everyone in a team is behind it. Second, why does the game work so well and agile teams have to work hard to get things going? Alex stated that the success of the game came from having tangible and attainable goals, from the easiness of helping and getting help, from getting instant gratification just for playing and from playing in a fictitious world. Obviously agile teams work in a real world (this one we can’t avoid ;)) and often with tangible and attainable goals, but the help and gratification topics are something we sometimes forget in our daily jobs and surely it would increase the joy of “playing” in real scenarios.

The final reflection was related to learning, in both team and personal character approaches. Regarding teams, the audience was offered some insights on how to consolidate the team improvement options taken from the game (like making helping easier, fostering mutual trust, reducing frustration…) into real life, as seen in the image below:

team learning (3)_500x373

In a personal view, our real-life characters can get benefits from continuous learning, aiming for improvement and developing extracurricular interests that might help in both refreshing us between fights as well as gaining role-flexibility in our fighting roles. To end with this reflection and the webinar, Alexandra also stressed the importance of gaining pleasure from social incentives and rewards like getting help and being asked for some, plus invited us to increase our confidence in our team, as we can’t kill the big dungeon boss on our own.

Fantastic session we’ve experienced here! Thanks a lot to the presenter and all attendees at this and the previous webinars of the series. I hope to meet you again in the following webinars hosted by EuroSTAR and, in the meantime, I’ll be digging into World of Warcraft as now I got really curious about what I can learn from playing it!


mauri_edo1Mauri Edo is a self-made testing professional currently working as a QA Manager at Netquest, a firm specialised in on-line market research services, from Barcelona to the world. Always ready to discover new things, Mauri is a huge defender of continuous learning, knowledge sharing and testing conversations. You can find him on Twitter as @Mauri_Edo and blogging (Spanish) and at the Software Testing Club (English)
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