What does a game like Minecraft have to do with project management?
A lot more than you might think. Although on the surface it might look like little more than a digital re-imagining of Lego, it’s a game with a surprising amount of depth and scope. It’s a powerful platform for expressing one’s creativity, an environment where what you can build is limited only by your imagination (and how much spare time you’ve got on your hands).
Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that Minecraft has been held up on multiple occasions as a teaching tool. It’s being used to teach everything from science and chemistry to urban planning. It even has a special educational edition made specifically for schools – one that’s received quite a lot of acclaim, particularly for its wealth of collaboration tools.
Minecraft valuable to more than just students, teachers, and bored gamers, though. As a project manager, Minecraft can actually teach you a great deal. Bear with me here.
I’m going somewhere with this – and I think you’ll find by the end of this piece that there is indeed a lot of value to be had in such a deceptively simple title.
The Right Tools Make All The Difference In The World
Minecraft has three foundational game modes – but for the purposes of this piece, we’re only going to discuss two. The first, survival, forms the core of the game. Players must manually gather resources to build structures, create tools, and craft weapons and armor – all while managing their health and hunger and fending off hostile wildlife and undead.
Different blocks have different harvesting requirements, generally tied to the type and quality of tool. Diamond, for instance, can harvest almost anything and is the most durable material. Wood, meanwhile, is the least durable and most basic.
The difficulty in this mode varies, and in one version – hardcore – death is permanent.
The second mode, creative, is much friendlier. The player has access to infinite quantities of all blocks and items. They are invulnerable, can fly, and can break any block with a single swing.
While it’s certainly possible to craft some beautiful architectural marvels in Survival mode, Creative gives players far more freedom and power to build to their heart’s content. They can create better structures with far greater speed and ease. But what does any of this have to do with project management?
Simply put, for your team to truly shine, you need to make sure they have access to the right tools. A team of talented developers can probably see a project through to fruition unassisted. But equipping them with the right framework and toolkit ensures they’ll be able to do so much faster and better than would otherwise be possible.
Fundamentals Are Everything
Minecraft is a pretty simple game, but it does have several basic, foundational rules that every new player must learn eventually.
Build a shelter at night. Avoid creepers – monsters that explode and destroy their surroundings, including anything players have built. Be careful when you dig, lest you find yourself falling down a chasm or encountering a lava flow.
These are the fundamentals. You can’t effectively play the game without learning them. Just as Minecraft has basic rules, so too does any development project.
Best practices for secure development. Lifecycle management techniques. Social skills. These are things every developer on your team needs to understand – and if they don’t, you need to teach them.
Direct Your Team Members Based On Their Talents
One of the coolest things about Minecraft is its modding community. Talented, dedicated players have come up with a wealth of plugins that fundamentally change the game experience. One of the most prominent is All The Mods, a massive collection of projects that adds everything from engineering to magic to in-game programming – to say nothing of the vast array of new equipment it unlocks.
Why am I mentioning this?
Simply put, it makes Minecraft a significantly more complex game. It becomes about far more than simply building cool structures. Watching the community on a server running this modkit, one notices something. People tend to fall into roles based both on what they enjoy most and on what they’re best at.
Some people dive into the engineering side of things, creating intricate mechanisms and machines that give their companions access to a range of cool new items. Others strike out into the wilderness and explore, tracking down treasure and finding rare materials. And still more occupy themselves as builders and architects.
The lesson here is quite simple. On any team, you’re going to have a wide range of different skill-sets and talents. Different people are going to be better at different things – as a leader, it’s your job to figure out everyone’s strengths and weaknesses, and assign them to their roles accordingly.
No developer, no matter how skilled, can tackle an entire project alone. Everyone has things they’re good at, and the best teams are those where their members complement one another. Speaking of which, that’s as good a segue as any into my next point.
The Power of Collaboration
Although Minecraft does feature some light PVP elements, it is at its heart a cooperative game. It’s you and your friends against a wide, hostile world. While you certainly could strike out on your own and work in total isolation from everyone else, you’ll get more accomplished as part of a unified whole.
More than anything, Minecraft underscores the spirit of collaboration, and how far it can go towards getting things done. Many of the most impressive builds on the web are the result of several players working together to create something incredible. As the old saying goes, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
In the same vein, a team of dedicated men and women will always be able to get more done than a lone wolf employee, no matter how good that employee is at their job.
Resource Management is Key
How much stone is necessary for that road you’re planning? How much quartz do you need for the walls of your tower? How long will it take to gather the necessary materials for the house you want to build?
Do you really need that passageway to look perfect, or is it enough that it gets you from point A to point B?
It’s possible to just mindlessly build in Minecraft. But if you’re playing it in Survival mode, you gain far better mileage if you effectively plan out your projects – and the biggest challenge in any build is finding and allocating the necessary resources. That includes time.
Sometimes, you aren’t going to have enough stone for a tunnel, so you’ll have to utilize your surroundings. Sometimes, you’ll realize part of a build you want to create isn’t feasible, so you’ll need to go for something simpler. Sometimes, you’ll encounter unexpected issues during a build, so you’ll need to improvise as you go.
Does any of that sound familiar? It should. These are the sorts of decisions you make regularly as a project lead.
As a project management lead, it’s your responsibility to ensure everyone is focusing their attention where it’s most needed. It’s your responsibility to ensure that neither you nor your team wastes any time on unnecessary bells and whistles. It’s your responsibility to ask, with each team meeting, what is and is not essential – to figure out where your resources should go and why.
Minecraft might, at its core, be a video game solely about stacking pixellated blocks on top of one another. But that central gameplay loop is far more complex than anyone gives it credit for being. The freedom and flexibility it allows its players coupled with the dedication of the Minecraft modding community makes for a game that’s surprisingly deep.
A game about teamwork, creativity, time management, and resource management. A game which, if you get a little creative, can easily be viewed as a microcosm of virtually every enterprise development team. Even if you have no interest in ever playing, you can still glean at least a few lessons from that.