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Fortnite squads have 5 lessons for agile teams
Fortnite players have plenty to teach agile and DevOps teams. So let's head over to Tilted Towers and build your skills
Unless you've been off the grid, you know that Fortnite, the epic multiplayer online game, has taken the world by storm. With almost 130 million players worldwide, Fortnite teams, or “squads,” as they are called in the game, are dropped onto a mythical island where staying alive in a Battle Royale setting against up to 100 other players is the only goal.
The island contains multiple areas with their own unique geography and resources – from weapons to building materials (also known as “loot”). The game designers added a unique twist: The island is being overrun with a constantly expanding, poisonous cloud of acid rain that will kill any player who does not safely make it to the one safe haven at the eye of the storm. This forces teams closer together, creating a smaller and smaller battle arena.
If you are not already playing Fornite, I recommend it – especially if you also touch agile software delivery in your career. Surprisingly, there are quite a few parallels between the details of the game and the journey of an agile transformation.
1. Choose the right place to start
In Fortnite, players can choose where on the game map they want to battle, and the various locations have different levels of difficulty and safety. For example, Tilted Towers, with its many high-rise buildings full of loot, has become one of the most popular starting points. Because of that popularity, Tilted Towers is frequently very crowded, which comes with a higher risk of being killed off early. Wailing Woods, on the other hand, is a fairly sleepy place without a lot of loot – and it’s a great starting place for players looking for a higher degree of safety. Both options have their up- and down-sides, so the choice comes down to strategy.
Similarly, when you are on your agile journey, it’s just as critical to decide where you want to begin. You may choose a Wailing Woods situation – electing to start on projects that are less mission-critical but offer a chance to build up and prove out the agile skills. This is the safe, slow-and-go path. However, it comes with a downside: if you are able to accomplish a great feat in this low-value project, your win might be looked over.
On the other hand, you may choose to start your transformation with the equivalent of a Tilted Towers type project – crazy hectic, with a focus on releases that are more frequent and of higher-value. The potential gains may be bigger, and more quickly realized; however, just as in Fortnite, if you don’t win, you lose. And, losing can cost you big with this approach.
There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong place to start in either Fortnite or an agile transformation, but thoughtfully thinking through your options and what makes sense for your organization before starting can make a big difference to your strategy.
[ Want more advice? Read DevOps lessons learned: What I wish I knew sooner. ]
2. Share the right tools and resources
Access to tools and resources matter. As squads are formed in Fortnite, you may find yourself on a squad of veteran players – those who know each town like the back of their hand and have lots of ideas on how to find the best guns, chests, piñata-llamas full of guns/ammo and other key resources, like those used to build forts. These veterans can show you the ropes to help you up-level your skills and increase the chance of success for your team.
The same is true in an agile transformation: Your team is everything. Being on a knowledgeable team of people who understand the premise of a scrum and how tools like Jenkins or Sonatype work will greatly help your chance of success.
And, while acquiring the right tools in Fortnite is key to surviving, it’s also critical in the game to share. Someone on your squad might have a trough of weapons, but you have all the ammo, for instance. It’s important and encouraged to share resources as you go to battle.
In software delivery, you might have the best-of-breed tools or processes, but if you don’t know how to use them properly, they are rendered useless. Make sure your agile team has members that know how to use the tools and share the knowledge necessary to enable a culture of continuous integration and delivery.
3. Solve today’s problems in small increments
In Fortnite, part of survival is building cover, which means creating wood, brick, or metal structures that can provide refuge from a hail of bullets, or afford a squad the ability to claim “higher-ground” and get a better view of the battle arena. As I mentioned, every few minutes the eye of the storm shrinks, each time forcing players out of their hideouts.
Deciding when and where to build – and how much resources to use at each phase – is critical. If you build a fort too early, you may need to abandon it in order to stay in the center of the storm. That wastes time and resources, but if you’re in a firefight and it helps you stay alive another few minutes, it is well worth it.
The strategy is to build an MVFF – a Minimum Viable Fortnite Fort – just as you would build an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) in software delivery. When you build an MVP, you are solving the problems of today in small increments - you're fighting to stay alive. With agile, you are always optimizing for survival. If you know where the market (or the eye of the storm) is heading and can predict the software delivery challenges of tomorrow, then you can adequately prepare. But, if this foresight is not available, stress less on the future and focus on the small wins or improvements of today.