[Gamasutra is partnering with GameProducer.net, a game production
resource, for a series of Q&As named 'Producers of the Round Table'. The
Round Table is a place for producers who work in game industry to
present their opinions in response to questions.
In this installment, which deals with scheduling issues in game development, participants include Robbie Edwards, Senior Producer at Red
Storm Entertainment/Ubisoft, Peter O'Brien, Producer at Bizarre
Creations, Harvard Bonin, Senior Producer last at Electronic Arts, Adrian
Crook, Producer at Relic Entertainment, and Frank Rogan, Producer at Gas
What tools do you use for
scheduling, and how do you co-ordinate it with the project leads - do
you devolve any responsibility to them?
Robbie Edwards: We use Microsoft
Project for scheduling. Each workgroup is responsible for their
group’s workload and schedule. The projects serve as a customer for
the work groups; requesting work and communicating deadlines for the
Frank Rogan: We use eProject for
scheduling and project management; eProject also has the capability
to import documents from Microsoft Project. Our workgroups differ
slightly from project to project, but are generally organized around
functional teams devoted to discrete slices of the project. The leads
of those functional teams work closely with production and the
discipline leads (art, engineering, etc) to properly set and track
tasks and schedules.
Storm Entertainment and Ubisoft's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2
Adrian Crook: I used to use Excel &
Project, but since we've moved entirely to Agile/Scrum, we now use
Scrumworks for our scheduling. And because Scrum is "decentralized"
project management to some extent, we place a lot of responsibility
on the Scrum teams and ScrumMasters to administer and update
Scrumworks during each sprint. Without regularly updated data in
Scrumworks, we can't generate a burndown chart in order to plot the
trajectory of project completion. So keeping the sprint tasks updated
is a big priority for each Scrum team.
Peter O'Brien: For me, the foundation
is MS Project. Although simply dismissed as a glorified task list,
its still one of the best tools to reveal project visibility from the
task through to the cost of development in relationship to resource.
Using Project Server empowers people to own their tasks beyond the
original estimate with flexibility to alter duration.
The main issue with all of this
empowerment is a reduction in human interfacing. To address the
balance, bi-monthly reviews of schedules is a must. Each dev area has
a schedule owner. Beyond Project we pretty much adapt to the teams'
needs; if printouts are required, they get it, if excel versions are
needed, they get it, if they want email reminders, they get it. The
most important facet is to be adaptable and understand when a
schedule isn’t working and why. In practice, toward the end of a
project we reject the schedule in favour of a bug database. This
allows items, be they tasks or bugs to be validated at the final
hurdle instead of a team working to order blindly.
Harvard Bonin: MS Project is pretty
standard throughout the business...though it has its own share of
issues. It's important to remember that its only a tool - and the
tool is only as good as the hand that uses it. When I begin a project
I always create a "components list". I try to think about
all the elements that encompass the project such as the entire
feature set, people, launch plans, post launch plans, externally
licenses software, etc. The list goes on and on.
I find that most people, including
myself, get daunted at the beginning by the shear magnitude of the
undertaking. There are so many unknowns and its easy to worry
yourself into inaction. By creating a components list at the start
the producer can begin to understand the lay of the land and make
these unknowns into tangible knowns. This list doesn't solve the
issues listed, it simply attempts to list them. This is a brain
exercise that can help you get a grasp on the problem set.
Collaboration with the team leads during this exercise is vital.
Coordination with the leads is always
critical. Sometimes just getting everyone on the same page as to the
overall project goals is challenging. Regular meetings, setting
monthly goals, holding people accountable for their schedule, etc.
are all ways to keep people in sync.