Project Management

Dungeons & Dragons: An Unorthodox Path to Better Leadership

Whether you have played it yourself or merely seen it while binge-watching Stranger Things on Netflix, you probably know Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) is a decades-old dice and paper game. In it, the Dungeon Master (DM) creates a whole game world from scratch, and then the DM’s friends play as characters who explore that world. In a post at Project Bliss, Leigh Espy talks to developer Kane Hadley about how his DM experience has improbably developed his leadership skills—and how it could help yours too.

Slaying the Beast of Mismanagement

Project managers must have strong communication skills, a head for documentation and process, and robust risk management skills. And D&D can help you develop all of these capabilities simultaneously when you are the DM, because the DM is the manager of the game world. In fact, far in advance of his or her friends actually playing, the DM must prepare robust personal documentation about game regions, the characters inhabiting those regions, and the myriad quests to be uncovered through exploration. It truly requires a large upfront time investment to ensure a game session (which can last anywhere from 30 minutes to many hours) will actually be fun for friends to play. Additionally, further planning is required to ensure that game sessions build on each other, ultimately adding up to a satisfying conclusion to a campaign.

“Fun” is a sort of ROI, and game sessions are very much akin to sprints, with a campaign being the overall project. If you can incrementally build out and right-size a satisfying D&D campaign, you can incrementally right-size and deliver a satisfying IT project. But the examples of DM skill applying to project management do not stop there.

For instance, DMs need to develop a very purposeful communication style. They must be able to relate all of the most important world information to players, and even be able to gently nudge players into going the direction that the DM intended. If a DM cannot convey which quests are of the highest value, then players might waste time doing things that do not matter. Likewise, a project manager must be able to convey and prioritize team tasks, so that everyone is always engaged in the highest-value work.

On top of that, D&D even helps to improve improvisation, negotiation, and conflict resolution skills, since players will frequently be at odds with each other. The applications of D&D (and other dice and paper games) for project management and leadership in general are startlingly straightforward. People management, project planning, goal prioritization—D&D covers all of it, but wrapped in a coating of fun and heavy imagination.

If you are seeking to develop your leadership skills, but the thought of taking a class or finding a mentor sounds too high-commitment, then grab some friends and dice. This could be the biggest case of low risk, high reward you have ever seen. You can view Espy’s interview here:

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