by: Brian Applegate (Producer/Level Designer)
Planning sprints out is always a difficult task for teams, especially, for inexperienced teams. Planning tasks out for each department allows the team to think long and hard about everything they want to accomplish for the sprint. Once the team figures out all of the tasks, the team can put their head down and sprint to finish as much as possible. Sprint planning requires the team to set goals for what they desire when they reach the end of the sprint. The planning needs clear, concise, and prioritized input for what the game needs and what is achievable within the length of time. Once the team determines the goals, they begin writing tasks out for all the goals set forth. Team members write tasks with an estimate and clear indication of completion. The tasks are stepping-stones for one particular feature. All tasks need to be prioritized.
Why is Planning Important?
If a team has a poorly planned sprint, they find themselves disorganized and expend more work trying to figure out the progress and expectations of the team. Having a good sense of team member expectations increases the momentum of the team. When a team is organized, there are few opportunities for the team to stop and wonder what is going to happen for the game. Avoiding team member “wondering” is important to keep the momentum.
Forgetting Features for the Sprint
To help avoid forgetting features for a given sprint, a team first looks at the overall picture of the game itself. The team recognizes that the game needs to have a particular feature in for an intended milestone. Next, the team sets goals to make that feature achievable by the pending milestone. Having the Game Designer contribute to discussions as to what the game needs for the particular milestones helps avoid forgetting features. A detailed game design document is extremely useful as well. While it is the Producer’s job to keep the project heading in the right direction and on schedule to have a completed game, the Game Designer helps to make sure the core game is created and balanced. The Producer and Game Designer must communicate regularly about the game and schedule. The Game Designer needs to focus on the importance of game features needing implementation and when they need to happen. The overall picture of the game and the plan is created at the very beginning of the project. It is the team’s job to follow that plan and break it up into smaller achievable results. In short, the team needs to look at the requirements set out, make a plan and compare the results to the original plan.
Forgetting Tasks Associated With a Feature
Having each department look at each individual planned feature helps avoid forgetting tasks associated with a feature. For example, if a feature is to have a character holding a gun and shooting, then this requires work from all departments. Art needs to make a gun model and possibly make animations, textures, or materials, depending on the definitions. Programming needs to implement the gun to be able to be held by the character and write the mechanics for shooting, however that may work. Level Designers need to provide a space for the character to move, shoot, and/or pick up the weapon. Overall, features need to be looked at from each department. The departments need to communicate to each other about plans, expectations and dependencies for tasks associated with that feature. Once the tasks are written out, each department compares the task to the features to check to see if everything was covered.
Adding Tasks/Features Mid-Sprint
If a team plans and prioritizes at the beginning of the sprint, adding things mid-sprint is quite easy. When the team decides they need to adjust or they happen to forget tasks, the team looks at what is remaining for the sprint and then decides the priority of the added tasks. If the added task has higher priority than the highest remaining task, then the added task is the next to be worked on. Otherwise, the task is inserted into the plan where needed and the lowest priority tasks are dropped from the plan to accommodate the intended time schedule.
Good sprint planning has proved to be very effective on the teams I have worked with to create a video game. Not all of the sprint planning sessions I have been a part of have gone exactly the same way. However, I did make direct efforts into making sure that all tasks for our intended goals were generated for each of the planning sessions by using these strategies. I have learned that when everyone knows team member expectations for each other, it keeps the team focused and moving forward. Having a good sprint plan that is detailed, achievable, and clear keeps team member expectations known, which leads to a successful sprint.