Ready to start working on a new video game development project? Great! But not everything is about coding. In fact, the most difficult part comes when several people have to work together towards the same goal and without a way to visualize all the to-do’s things can often fall apart before they begin. That’s where Scrum comes into play.
Scrum is a Project Management set of good practices that can be applied in any software project. In fact it can applied in any project that has a defined output. Scrum is based in iterations, or Sprints as they’re called in the Scrum world.. Each Sprint contains all the phases of a long-term project such as:
At the end of each Sprint, the product increment that could be achieved during the Sprint’s time will be reviewed and validated and the cycle will begin again to build a final product in an iterative way that prevents team members from getting overwhelmed.
Those functional increments of the final product are specified in pieces called User Stories that are prioritized and sorted in a set of User Stories called the Product Backlog. This backlog can change between Sprints, receiving new User Stories or changing their order. That is why Scrum is best known for its adaptability to change.
A high percentage of software companies worldwide are using Scrum in their development projects. However, a high percentage of them also apply Scrum “in their own way,” which ends up with teams and directors wondering if the effort is worth it and if things would not work the same way going back to the more conservative approaches. Let’s face it: Scrum works perfectly in the minds of Scrum trainers, but in reality, things are often not so obvious—and not everything can be found in Scrum guidelines.
Let’s leave theory aside and focus on how a “real” project would be like from the conception of an idea to the delivery of the final product: a great and entertaining mobile video game. Let’s go into detail of everyday difficulties the team has to face or the achievements they get every Sprint.
Agile Manifesto is a formal proclamation of four key values for Scrum practitioners. The first key principle says individuals and interactions should be over processes and tools. Are you ready to meet the individuals of this story and how they behave? Grab some sticky notes and let’s start!
Gamelia Studio is our hypothetical and fictitious indie company based in, say, San Francisco. It was founded one year ago by three friends that were big video game fans and have worked for more than ten years in the software industry. During this first year, they have decided that they want to focus on mobile video games, mixing platforms and puzzles with 2D cartoon graphics. They have gathered a small team of qualified software engineers that will help them come to term their ideas.
One of the founders has come up with the concept of their first video game: it will belong to the platform genre to be coherent with the company’s own label, but its differentiating value will be its wide range of playable characters. Players will start as a little ant with few skills. As they earn points and finish levels, they will be able to become fish, birds, or even big mammals like dinosaurs. The final achievement of the video game will be to obtain the Human character. He would like this new video game to be named Darwin Was Right, but he’s open to other title suggestions.
Do you want to meet the brains behind this idea? Our fictitious ideaman is Paul Brandt, and he will act as the Product Owner in this whole story while the other CEOs find ideas for different video games:
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Paul Brandt, Product Owner (47)
After several interviews, Paul has hired Kayla Ellison to become the Scrum Master of this first project. Kayla is very excited to start applying her knowledge in Scrum in a company from scratch. Let’s meet her:
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Kayla Ellison, Scrum Master (36)
Kayla has recommended starting the project by what it is called the Sprint 0. This Sprint will be used to introduce the team and make them prepare the development environments, start defining user stories for Sprint One and make the team prioritize them.
The first step to achieve is splitting the big project Paul has in mind into smaller more manageable pieces. Paul knows how the final video game must look like thanks to his expertise and the different market research projects he’s done over the last year, but he needs help from Kayla to divide that idea into User Stories that the team can use. At the same time, these first refinement meetings between Paul and Kayla are very useful because it is the way that the Scrum Master is able to share the same vision as the Product Owner.
During their first meeting, Paul and Kayla get a huge and messy list of features, which starts the following conversation:
P: I am a bit worried that the project will get too long if we develop all these features. As an indie company, you know our budget is limited and I’m worried that when we launch the game, another company will have beat us to the punch with something similar.
K: Don’t worry, Paul. If you have time and budget constraints, there is something we can do. Have you heard about the Minimum Viable Product or MVP?
P: Not exactly . . .
K: We just need to focus on what features make your video game unique and different from the others. We will implement those user stories first and will launch the video game with a very basic functionality
P: Won’t that make players feel the video game is unfinished?
K: Not if we select the key user stories right. You can also gather feedback from your users sooner and release new versions of your video game with things you know your players will love.
P: Sounds great. Let’s continue working on the list of features the game will have.
K: Okay, but remember, it’s not a list and its name is Product Backlog.
After three days of hard word, Paul and Kayla obtain the Product Backlog with the following characteristics:
This is how the Product Backlog looks like in Sprint 0. Keep in mind that it has been simplified to make it understandable,only the User Stories that form an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) have been included in the Product Backlog stack:
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Author: Barbara PM
The next step during the Sprint 0 is to introduce the team. Kayla and Paul know Scrum requires cross-functional teams with more than three but less than nine people according to Scrum principles. Otherwise, the management work would be overwhelming for one single Scrum Master and one single Product Owner.
The team has evaluated the technical needs of the project and have decided these are the people who will make Darwin Was Right possible:
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Vishal Surinder, iOS Dev (24)
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Janet Lisette, Android Dev (28)
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Boyka Ivet, QA (30)
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David Layton, Backend Dev (32)
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Michael Zerah, Designer (34)
During the Kickoff meeting, guided by Kayla, everyone introduces themselves and asks the Product Owner a question about what he has in mind to start grasping the video game’s vision.
Afterward, Kayla explains how they will apply Scrum, because only Janet and David had previously worked with the Scrum practices:
During Sprint 0, no functionality is implemented. Kayla explains to the team that the time left to finish this first Sprint must be used to prepare development and QA environments, have some conversations with Paul about how technical issues may affect the result, start designing architectures, and prepare sketches for the real job.
This Sprint is used as a drill for the team to set these kinds of tasks on the Sprint board and get ready for the real deal . . .
Kayla: Good morning, mates. It’s time to start working on Darwin Was Right Let’s have a look at the Product Backlog Paul has defined and prioritized.
Paul: The first User Story is, “As a player, I want to start a level and finish it, so I can have fun playing.” This item is aimed to implement a skeleton of the game that includes physics, interactions with objects, and a starting and ending point.
Janet: What will this first level be like?
Paul: As suggested by Kayla, I’ve already included a User Story to cover level design. This User Story is just to create a playable level without too much detail.
Kayla: Great. So guys, take your Planning Poker Cards and estimate in hours how much you think this User Story will need to be finished. Keep in mind the definition of done, as this story involves implementing logic on iOS and Android platforms, designing the basic character, and testing everything.
Each member of the development team (that excludes Kayla and Paul) tries to give an estimate choosing one card from the deck of Planning Poker Cards:
David: I’m sorry, but I think this User Story will take more than a hundred hours, which is the highest number we have here. What should we do?
Kayla: It’s okay. Sometimes User Stories are too big to be measured. These kinds of User Stories are called Epic User Stories and need to be split up in smaller ones.
Paul, as the Product Owner, takes the Epic User Story “As a player, I want to start a level and finish it so I can have fun playing” and obtains the following smaller ones:
The team estimates the stories, then Kayla calculates the average estimation, writes it on the post-it, and sticks it in the Sprint Board, which is a visual representation of the Sprint progress. During the Sprint planning meeting, User Stories are broken down into tasks per role and assigned to the specific member of the team. People from the development team are the only ones who decide how many user stories they can complete in each Sprint.
After a long and productive meeting (with a coffee break of course!), this is how the Sprint Board looks like with two examples of User Stories that have been included in this Sprint’s scope split in tasks with estimations per User Story.
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Author: Barbara PM
Now that everybody knows what to do next, they can go back to their places and start working their magic.
A week has passed by. It’s already Friday and the development team is getting used to having one meeting every day. Now, the Product Owner is not usually invited to this meeting as the meeting is mostly about implementation details he does not need to know. This is because Kayla always forces it to last 15 minutes max, explaining that the team should focus on answering three basic questions:
Bokya (QA) is the first person to start talking:
Boyka: Since all the tasks related to the first User Story are in the “To Verify” status, yesterday and today I have been testing the User Story as a whole and I can say it is working. Today I will continue with the general test plan and nothing has blocked me for the moment.
Kayla: Have you checked the US matches all the criteria defined in the Definition of Done?
Boyka: I have. Can I move the User Story to Done status then?
Kayla: Sure. Okay Janet, what about you?
Janet: Yesterday, I solved the bug Boyka assigned to me. Today, I will start implementing the “character gets to goal” behavior.
As team members speak and update the team about their statuses, the Sprint Boards also get updated accordingly:
The end of the first Sprint has come and the whole team (including Paul, the Product Owner) gather in order to evaluate if the work done has been translated in a potentially shippable product increment. All the people from the company are welcome to see how the game evolves over time.
First, Kayla shows a demo of the video game built so far in the two platforms:
Paul: I love it. You’ve done great work these past two weeks.
Kayla: As the Product Owner, do you give the go-ahead to the User Stories implemented this Sprint?
Paul: Sure. I’d just want a little adjustment in the physics. Maybe the character could move faster and jump higher. How can I move this petition to the team?
Kayla: We will create another User Story that includes this behavior and will add it to the Product Backlog. If you think it’s important enough to be corrected during Sprint 2, you can add it to that Sprint’s scope in the next Sprint Planning Meeting.
Paul: Great. I have to get used to the idea that the Product Backlog is something alive that never stops changing.
Kayla: I see you’re grasping the concept! Anything else guys?
Michael: If you have a look at the Sprint Board, you’ll see there’s an unfinished User Story: “As a player, I want my character to kill enemies when I step over them so I can earn more points.” Janet and Vishal finished their part of the User Story, but I didn’t have the time to sketch all the enemies. How should we proceed with it?
Kayla: We will take this User Story to the next Sprint Planning Meeting and we’ll re-prioritize it, keeping in mind part of the work is already done. There’s no problem, Michael. Sometimes people tend to overestimate or underestimate how much it will take to implement something. You’ll get better estimating every Sprint.
Just after the Sprint review that focuses on the Product, only the development team and the Scrum master gather to celebrate the Sprint Retrospective that focuses on the way of working and how to improve it.
Kayla asks the team to grab three sticky notes and write in each of them something they would keep doing in future Sprints, something they have to stop doing, and something they should start doing to improve the overall process. Team members vote for the most valuable items.
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Author: Barbara PM
Kayla reminds the team that they are now committed to fulfill those items and leaves the Retrospective Board in a place visible from everybody’s workplaces.
After several Sprints of hard work and improving processes every two weeks, the team works together as gears of a perfect, coordinated machine. Of course there have been problems along the way. For example:
Paul gives the final approval to the Darwin Was Right first delivery and publishes the video game on the Apple Store and Google Play. Now that they have delivered the Minimum Deliverable Product, the hard part can be considered over. Paul will put together all the feedback from players and will filter and prioritize players’ needs into User Stories for the team to work on.
Scrum does not say anything about celebrations, but that night, Paul, Kayla, Janet, Vishal, David, Boyka, and Michael have some beers together after work and propose a toast to celebrate their new video game, something that has the potential to catch the attentions of thousands of people.