If you have dared to poke your head above the parapets in the modern corporate workplace you will no doubt had been inundated with the whole new ‘Agile‘ work methodology. It is a methodology which originated in software and product development, but has now exploded into the real work and can now be found in almost any process or work activity. So I thought that if the workplace can force this work idea onto anything, why not apply it to wargaming.
So what are the main principles of Agile?
To steal a quote from Wikipedia
Agile methodology involve discovering requirements and developing solutions through the collaborative effort of self-organizing and cross-functional teams and their customer(s)/end user(s). It advocates adaptive planning, evolutionary development, early delivery, and continual improvement, and it encourages flexible responses to change.
So that doesn’t really help, since inevitably our army preparation is going to be a solo affair, without any teams, and to be honest the end user/customer will be us. Where agile is relevant is in the second part of the statement and how we approach our tasks.
Again t steal some basic principles I’ll attempt to apply them to the tasks in hand;
The Manifesto for Agile Software Development is based on twelve principles:
- Customer satisfaction by early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
- Welcome changing requirements, even in late development.
- Deliver working software frequently (weeks rather than months)
- Close, daily cooperation between business people and developers
- Projects are built around motivated individuals, who should be trusted
- Face-to-face conversation is the best form of communication (co-location)
- Working software is the primary measure of progress
- Sustainable development, able to maintain a constant pace
- Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design
- Simplicity—the art of maximizing the amount of work not done—is essential
- Best architecture, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams
- Regularly, the team reflects on how to become more effective, and adjusts accordingly
To be treated as the Manifesto for Agile Miniature Army Preparation with it’s own twelve principles.
- Make yourself feel better by quickly getting usable units onto the table.
- It’s OK to change your mind about what you want to include in your army, even later on in the process.
- Deliver viable, table usable units frequently (days rather than weeks)
- Ensure that you have your tools, paints and supplies ready, and that additional supplies can be sourced easily.
- Believe in yourself, don’t be afraid of failing, since failure on this situation is about personal perspective and expectations. Don’t judge yourself too harshly. Embrace failure as every failure is a lesson to be learnt from for future success. (Maybe I did swallow the corporate self-improvement handbook on that one)
- Talking to yourself may be frowned upon but can improve motivation and mental focus, whilst often improving the standard of conversation.
- Usable miniature units is the primary measure of progress
- Seek to constantly improve the status of table ready troops at a maintainable constant pace. Try not to burn yourself out by pushing so hard that the exercise becomes an onerous chore.
- Continuous attention to developing effective painting and good practice
- Simplicity—the art of maximising the amount of work not done—is essential
- The ability to complete armies quickly comes from constantly re-evaluating the completed army components. “Are they good enough?’
- Regularly, reflect on how to become more effective, and adjust your techniques and style accordingly
Applying the principles
OK, so how can we really apply this to what we do?
The most sensible place to start is the beginning, which ironically means looking at where you want to be at the end. What do you want your final army to look like, how much time can you commit to it, and how much are you willing to spend? It would be all to easy saying that I want a GW Golden Demon standard of painting, I want to finish it in the next couple of weeks, and I need to do it on a shoestring. So it is at this point that you really need to be honest with yourself and determine what you would be satisfied with since what you produce will be a compromise between quality, time, and money. (However, if you do have oodles of all three then this is probably less of an issue for you),
Army finish standard
The better the finish required will either mean more time invested by yourself, or paying someone to do the work for you; with the more you pay hopefully getting you a better quality product.
The less time you have to undertake the task then the more you’ll have to be realistic about what you can hope to achieve, or the more money you’ll have to pay someone else to do the work. If there isn’t a looming wargames tournament or club event adding time pressures, then be realistic about how quickly you want to get units onto the table before you lose steam and interest?
Of money isn’t an option, and you don’t have a desire to paint then why not pay someone else to do it all. However if you do want to do some of it, then work out whether paying someone to do some of the work would help. I dislike cleaning up plastic miniatures and sticking the fiddly bits together and get the figures primed. If I could off-load that part of the process for a modest fee then I could invest my time and effort on the bits I do enjoy (or at least dislike less). Am I the only person who prefers finding a box of assembled unpainted plastic figures rather than a brand new unassembled box on the bring-and-buy?
The Beauty of a Minimum Viable Product
Agile revolves around delivering a minimum viable product to the next step. Understanding exactly what this is is a major part of the challenge. In wargames unit painting standards this will be a personal value judgement which will change through the time of the project as each unit progresses toward its final state.
My final state is whether it passes the two foot test. Does the unit look good when it is presented on the table when the closest figures are effectively at arms length. I’m not so concerned as to whether the individual figures will stand up to close up scrutiny, because, to be quite frank, I won’t be looking at by figures up close and personal. This is the end state though. I also have to determine what will be the MVP at each of the stages in my army’s evolution. I have many friends (honestly, I do have friends) who wouldn’t countenance putting unpainted figures on the table, even for a friendly club evening session. I have other friends who are so intimidated about being judged on their figure painting that they never even take their figures beyond the basic assembly, and resign themselves to forever play in the bare plastic so that they never have to worry about the fear of failure.
The pervasive fear of failure
Perhaps it’s worth derailing this conversation slightly by quickly referencing this fear of failure. When I started wargaming to be quite frank the standard of figure painting was basic in the main. Having a painted army was the objective, and everyone seemed to celebrate your success in finishing an army, no matter how poor the quality. My first armies were painted with Humbrol enamels with a fairly poor brush. Getting a nice clean paint job was the ambition, then ensuring it was well varnished so that you never had to paint them again was the main order of the day. Things changed however. As Games Workshop’s reach extended and the White Dwarf magazine became more pervasive, so did the expectations for figures to be painted ever better. The tools of the trade did improve, so acrylic paints became more accessible and detail paint brushes affordable. Technical paints were produced, along with sprays and devices to aid in your pursuit of better painted figures. I was soon a convert to acrylics, and the various washes and shades. I learnt all about highlighting and dry-brushing and my collection of brushes was soon more than ‘the good one’ and the ‘bad one’. My bases evolved from simple grass green painted cardboard, to textured and flocked, to eventually static flock, tufts and scatter. For me this had been an evolutionary process. and my expectations were still tempered by what I had experienced in my early formative years in wargaming (thank you Mike Carsons). For new comers to the hobby though, they have significantly high expectations from the onset. This is only re-inforced through the Warhammer Shops (when did they stop being Games Workshop?) with their beautiful shop armies, the fantastic figures on display in the various magazines, and with the advent of social media the plethora of stunning figures which always seem to be on display. It is the rare individual who posts up some basic painted figures to support their narrative of the great game which they had played. Now, the whole environment seems to have focussed on form over function with the game playing second fiddle to the ‘miniature hobby’. And so, to my concern from the beginning of this diversion, I find many new comers who simply don’t try due to the fear of not being excellent.
So how do we apply the MVP in practice? More of that next time