Mike Cushing / Development / May 23rd, 2014

7 Things Game of Thrones Can Teach About Web Development

If you think a show about swords, dragons and crazy people can’t teach us anything about web development, then you and Jon Snow know nothing, pal. I’m of course talking about the hit HBO show Game of Thrones. It can relate to every part of our lives, and Web development is no exception. Even if you haven’t seen it, these 7 mostly spoiler-free tips will still help you ascend to the throne of Web domination – but tread carefully if you’re working through the series.

Don’t worry, it’s more comfortable than the Iron Throne.

Listen to Your Advisors

Apart from being a psychopath (among other things), one of King Joffrey’s chief failings was that he routinely ignored the advice of those around him. Above all else, web development is a collaborative exercise that requires input from a handful of experts and stakeholders. While we’ve never worked with a product owner as unpleasant as Joffrey, taking a “my way or the highway” approach to web development is a dangerous tactic. The wise ruler/product owner listens to his or her stakeholders and will let their development team help guide the project with their expertise.

Your stakeholders and developers are your very own small council, with the added benefit that none of them are out to get you.

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Don’t Ignore the Common People

Normal people really get a raw deal in Game of Thrones, especially from the people who are supposedly trying to rule them. Of the half-dozen or so rulers we’ve seen in the show, the only one that seems to care for people even a little is Daenerys Targaryen. Everyone else forgets that most common people exist, unless they happen to be killing one at that particular time.

Unlike ruling Westeros, web development should be all about listening to your users. From the start of your project, you should be asking for user feedback and implementing that knowledge within development. You’re not ruling for ruling’s sake with a website – your site should exist to help users solve their problems, not yours.

Dragons Are Nice; The Basics are Better

Sure, dragons are cool; they shoot fire and fly around, generally impressing everyone who sees them. But really, dragons are just going to kill some guy’s goat and cause you a lot of headaches. As many people have told Daenerys, wars are ultimately won by soldiers – and your website is the same. Big features and flashy functionality are nice, but your website needs the basics first.

It can be tempting to focus on features that will make users “Ooh” and “Aah,” but unless they have the tools to achieve a task or goal on your website, then you’ve already lost the war for their business. Focusing on building a minimal viable product that will set you up for unleashing your blockbuster features down the road.

This is just asking for trouble. Image from HBO.
This just can’t be worth the trouble. Image from HBO.

Don’t Marry Yourself to an Idea

You know what a wedding gets you in Westeros? Dead, and in a hurry. While the stakes are less dire with your web project, the danger of locking yourself into a single idea (be it for design, content strategy, etc.) is still present. Our CEO Geoff – the closest thing we have to a king in our realm – has talked before about the dangers of dictating development by marrying yourself to a specs list, and it can truly drag a web project to its knees. So don’t commit wholeheartedly to a single idea for your website: let it grow throughout development.

In development, you want to be less Ned Stark and more Tywin Lannister: rather than rigidly sticking to an idea, take advantage of things as they unfold.

Be Mindful of Your Tasks

Arya Stark’s list of people she’d like to make dead is a fine example of morbid efficiency, and your development backlog should take cues from Arya. Though the list drives many of Arya’s actions throughout the series, she only attempts tasks that she knows she can finish with the resources at hand. While we avoid feature lists, our development teams use the backlog as a guide for the work they know they can get done in a sprint. Clients work with the team to decide which tasks are most important at a particular time, ensuring that the tasks we pull down don’t compromise the project as a whole.

From an Agile perspective, Arya essentially conducts a personal standup meeting before she goes to bed each night, listing what she’s working on. And just like Arya, development teams shouldn’t be afraid to ask for a little help to achieve a goal. When Arya has hit roadblocks (being small and being held captive, typically) she has received a few assists, and development should be a similarly collaborative effort within your team. But, you know…for websites, not for revenge.

You Don’t Get Points for Trying

Just ask Ned Stark or Tyrion Lannister – doing your best really isn’t worth much unless you win. The consequences of failure in the game of web development are less severe, but it can certainly affect your livelihood. But just like most of the players in the Game of Thrones, you don’t get points for trying. Once someone beats you to the punch, it’s game over. The classic, waterfall method of developing websites pretty much guarantees a long, protracted battle to the launch of your site. Utilizing a development methodology like agile can get you to market and sitting comfortably on the throne.

Of course, once you’ve done that you’ll have to stay in command, which is no mean feat in Game of Thrones. Staying on top of your competition will just require hard work, ongoing research and a dedication to your users. We’d still have someone check your wine though, just to be sure.

Winter is Coming

Somewhere out there, danger is approaching – even if most people have no idea that it’s coming. Eventually, White Walkers are going to swoop down on your business and cause some serious trouble. They may not be creepy snow-zombies, but economic downturns and new competitors can put your website on ice if you’re not prepared. Your website should be an iterative platform that allows you to adapt to changing conditions and diversify your offerings.

Now, go steal your friend’s HBO Go password and start binge-watching.

Image credit: Game of Thrones opening credits, a52/Elastic

  • Paul Traylor

    Thanks Mike! This is exactly the payback I was looking for after watching Game of Thrones since its inception and being an interactive designer for a dozen years 🙂 Seriously though, a great humorous slant on some very worthwhile points!

    • Mike

      Ha, thanks for reading Paul!

  • http://www.darcyripper.com/ Dan Mitroi

    hahaha just fun!

  • Jennifer Fix

    I will never be upset when someone manages to rope Game of Thrones into my day job…. great points, well made as ever, Cush!

    • Mike

      Thanks! I needed a way to incorporate Game of Thrones into my workday by any means possible, and this fit the bill.