@defmyfunc blog

Written by @defmyfunc who lives and works in Manchester, UK. You should follow him on Twitter

Dungeons and Development: Being a better engineering manager through play

Jul 12, 2022, 3:00 PM

I love Dungeons and Dragons, I also quite like my job :D. During my time at ThoughtWorks we had the following quote on the wall in the office (ahhhh offices … ** memories **)

‘Creativity comes from applying things you learn in other fields to the field you work in.’ - Aaron Swartz

And its aways stuck with me, so after going to the leaddev conference in London and seeing Success isn’t Repeatable by Hywel Carver on learning models, I was inspired to think about my favourite hobby, Dungeons and Dragons, in this way. What value does it bring to me beyond it being a game I play with my friends and family for fun and relaxation.

What is Dungeons and Dragons?

For the uninitiated, Dungeons and Dragons is the game they play on ‘Stranger Things’. It involves a group a people getting together to tell a shared story. We do that through the medium of dice that often decide whether our intended course of action succeeds or fails. It is often set in a ‘western medieval fantasy’ world, though by no means exclusively.

Whats the DM?

The DM (or Dungeon Master) often guides the story… but does not control the story. The DM also makes decisions about what kind of challenges the group might face as they set about trying to do things. Most importantly, the DM puts on funny voices and pretends to be a variety of supporting characters as the players explore.

What are the similarities?

Just trying to make sure enough people turn up to play the damn game

Most DM’s will know the greatest pain of every DMs life is just getting a game together in the first place. Managed to get 6 or so people to turn up and play a game for 50+ weeks in a row. Well done, you just did organisation on hard mode. Work is no longer a problem, you can organise anything.

You are the context

At its very basic level, how to play D&D is described here as:


Now things aren’t quite like that at work, but it is often the job of engineering management to provide context from the wider organisation so that your team can function with as much independence as possible as they make decisions. I often find myself ‘describing the environment’ of the organisation to my team, and it being a two way conversation between my team and the impact they are having on the organisation, and vice versa.

Appreciate your differences

Dungeons and Dragons comes with some set player archetypes, eg. Clerics, Rogues, Barbarians and a host of others. Whilst the individuals in your team will not fit those archetypes, each individual is different and will bring something that noone else does. Diversity in a adventuring party is often necessary for success, so make sure whem you form, grow and expand a team you are taking in a diverse group of people, talents and experiences.

Enable your players to do their best

When I first started DMing I was under the impression that it was your job to be adversarial to your players, ie you were actively trying to kill them and it was their job to out think you with the skills and talents they had as players. I now know I was so very wrong about this. I’ve not been DMing for very long (3 years at time of writing) and early on I found a great person who speaks a lot about the craft of DMing called Sly Flourish.

Working with the folks on your team is much like this, you need to get to know your ‘players’ at work so that you understand their strengths and limitations. How at work do I help my team do their best work? How do I enable them to grow? How do I help create an enviroments that means they can consistently show their strengths and feel good about doing so?

Level up your players!

Everyone at work needs growth, in their role and career. D&D uses levels based on experience and/or milestones. Work our the role and career growth for your team. Make sure the milestones are super clear and can be worked towards. Unlike D&D your team won’t gain access to new skils AT a certain level … they will develop those new skills on their learning journey. Break things down and give them clear goals.

Onboarding new players

D&D can have quite a steep learning curve that some people can struggle with. Making sure you provide a great onboarding experience for new players is going to help ensure they keep coming back for more games :D The same is true for your team. Its why I wrote A beginners guide to using DnDBeyond and focused my initial artices on the D&D starter set. Giving your new employees a great on boarding experience will massivley improve the likelihood they want to “keep coming back to play”.

Set the goal not the solution

As a DM you have to make sure you are not precious about HOW the team go about solving the problems you put in front of them. As a DM you quickly learn that your players are far more creative than you are and any problem they face they will absolutely approach it in a very different way than you thought they would. And this should be encouraged. Let go of the details in this regard.

Watch out for murderhobos

There are some players who can somewhat suck the fun out of your D&D sessions. One of the player archetypes that do this is ‘the murderhobo’. The murderhobo often goes it alone and tries to incite viloence at every opportunity regardless of the problem being solved. This often breaks the immersion for other players and leads to a poor experience for everyone else. Whilst hhopefully ther are no murderhobos in your place of work, often people who ignore the team charters, principles and ways of working created by the team can be a drain on the rest of the team who aree trying to work collaborativly and together.


So please, go out and get a few good friends together (or if you adventurous there is always Adventurers League) and have a few games of D&D together! You never know, it may help you grow in your career as well as being super fun!

Written by @defmyfunc who lives and works in Manchester, UK. You should follow him on Twitter