7 Lessons a BA Can Learn From Playing Diner Dash

I love playing games of all kinds, but I particularly like Diner Dash® (and the entire genre of similar games) for a lot of reasons. What I didn’t think about was that the skills I was honing while playing hours of this game actually would benefit me as a Business Analyst.

Diner Dash Screen Shot (from PlayFirst website)

Before I share the 7 lessons I learned, let me give a little bit of background on the game so you have context. For those of you who are not familiar with Diner Dash, it is technically classified as a Time Management game. All games like this have a similar premise: you must complete a series of steps for each group of customers within a specified period of time (your open hours for the day) and earn a certain amount of money.

In the classic Diner Dash game, the basic steps are:

  1. Seat the group of customers at an available table
  2. When they are done looking at the menu, take their order
  3. Deliver the order to the cook
  4. When the order is done, pick it up from the cook
  5. Deliver the order to the table
  6. When they are done eating, bring their check and collect the money
  7. Pick up the dirty dishes
  8. Deliver dirty dishes to the bin to be cleaned

Completing each step earns you money, and there are ways to get extra money. For example, chain the same activity together to get multiplier bonuses (each like activity increases the multiplier). So, deliver orders to one table and get X. If your next activity is also delivering an order to a table you get 2X. If your next activity is delivering an order to a third table, you get 3X and so on.

After accumulating money over various levels, you can purchase extras like a coffee maker (to soothe customers), the ability to move faster, or the ability to calm the waiting crowd by talking with them. In some of the games, you can also hire another person to take care of a single task for you.

Oh yeah, because did I mention if you don’t take care of your customers in a timely manner they get mad and eventually leave? They have happiness hearts, with a maximum of 5 hearts. If they get down to 0 hearts, you lose them as a customer. Some customer types are more patient but maybe don’t tip as well. Other customer types are big tippers but very impatient, which means they lose hearts more quickly.

And sometimes there are additional obstacles thrown in that you have to deal with. For example, in Wedding Dash® (which is a similar concept but where you manage a wedding reception) there is the drunk aunt to deal with, a DJ booth that loses sound, or spills to mop up.

In the links above, you can download a 1-hour free trial of any of the games to give it a try and see what I mean first hand (the first level is a step-by-step tutorial). (Oh and for the record, I have no affiliation to any of these games or game makers. I just play them a lot.)

But why would you want to waste time playing these games? What can be learned?

There are actually 7 key lessons that I think all business analysts can take away:

1) Group Like Activities Together

Grouping like activities together is more efficient and productive than bouncing between activities. In the game, rather than doing multiple activities at once and having your customers at different steps, if you can do the same activity for all of them at once you earn more money. In real life, rather than checking email as they come in, set aside blocks of time to check email and sort them by person, topic, or project. While I don’t recall the specific source, I’ve heard that as much as 20 minutes is lost every time you switch tasks.

2) Understand your Customer

Learn what works for your customer (and customer groups) to help identify who you need to pay attention to and when. In the game, you might need to prioritize your impatient, low-tipping customer ahead of your patient, high-tipping customer; but bring your patient customers coffee to keep them happy a little while longer. In real life, you need to understand your various stakeholders’ needs and prioritize tasks accordingly. If you’re working on a task for a subject matter expert when the VP of the department indicates they need some analysis for a business case by end of day, chances are you will need to communicate with your subject matter expert to buy yourself a little more time to take care of the VP.

3) Maximize Your Resources

Identify what resources will be the most helpful to you and work to acquire them. In the game, I might be able to buy coffee that can appease a few customers at a time, or I could save up my money and hire an assistant to take care of an entire task for me. In real life, identify what or who might be available to help you complete your tasks more efficiently. Is there someone available to help copy notes from the white board from your last meeting and get them in Word for you? Can you take the notes directly on your computer projected on the screen instead of using the white board to save time? Think of ways to minimize the steps to get you to your end result, or ask for some help.

4) Expect the Unexpected

No matter how well you plan, or what your strategy, additional tasks will pop up when you least expect it. In the Wedding Dash game, the DJ’s music can stop and everyone on the dance floor becomes unhappy. You have to stop whatever you’re doing and go start up the music again. This could break your rhythm and make you lose those bonus points for stringing like items together, but it saves everyone leaving the party. In real life, you may have a plan for completing a set of activities in a given amount of time but you never know when you’re going to encounter something unexpected. Maybe your systems go down, or a key resource is out sick. Whatever it is, learn to adapt and adjust, address the issue and return to your plan as quickly as possible.

5) Practice

When I first started playing these games I was stressed out and not very good. It seemed nearly impossible, like there was too much to do and not enough time (sound familiar?). But the more I practiced and looked for ways to be more efficient, the better I got. The same will hold true in real life. You might feel completely flustered and stressed the first time you use a new skill or work with a new group of people. The more projects you are able to work on, the more people you work with, the better you will get.

6) Don’t Skip the Tutorial

Each game offers a tutorial for the specific tasks that you will complete, offers tips for how to earn more points, and educates you about your customer types. Do not underestimate this valuable information! Even if you’ve played similar games in the past, there may be nuances that are unique to the game that you won’t want to miss out on. In real life, no matter how long you’ve been a BA, don’t overlook the information you can get from others. Working with a new group of stakeholders for the first time? Seek out a colleague that has worked with this group before and find out what it’s like. Using use cases for the first time? Find someone who has done it before (in person, on line, or in a book) for some tips, tricks, and helpful advice before you get started.

7) Have Fun

Playing the game as well as being a business analyst can be stressful at times. But you can have some fun while you’re learning and getting better. While I’m not suggesting you treat your job or career as a game (this is serious business after all), you can try and find the fun in the challenge. This will make it more rewarding, and the wonderful side effect is that it will make people want to work with you.

Have you played the games yet? What else can a business analyst take away from Time Management games?

Note: Diner Dash and Wedding Dash are registered trademarks of PlayFirst, Inc.

© 2010-2011 Real World BA, LLC. All rights reserved.

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