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Small Developers: Minimizing Risks in Large Productions - Part I
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Small Developers: Minimizing Risks in Large Productions - Part I

November 3, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

4. Team Risks

One of the biggest risks for most small teams is team structure. Teams at large companies can easily reach over a hundred people, while really small iPhone or casual teams can be fewer than five people. Some teams have most everyone working on the project on staff at the developer, while others rely on people from other internal teams, external teams, outsourcing companies and consultants to help them.

No matter how you structure a team, there can be short- and long-term risks associated with your decision. Larger teams cost more money to maintain each month, and thus typically require more projects to keep them busy and cost effective. However, large internal teams can allow you to hire much better talent and increase the quality of your products.

Outside team members might be able to be chosen, or may be forced on you, so you need to evaluate the risks of using outside help, along with the benefits of possibly reduced costs and overhead to the project and company.

So, no matter how you decide to structure your team, you need to take a look at the risks associated with your team, both short and long term.

Staffing Risks

Hiring the wrong people, not being able to hire who you need, key people leaving, or other staffing problems can also lead to major risks in your project. Even though there is a lot of available talent out there right now, this doesn't mean finding qualified help is easy.

You may find dozens or hundreds of candidates who are qualified for some positions and only a few who are truly qualified for others. By the time you find the right people, get them hired, relocated and settled in, you may have spent months of time you didn't account for. Many teams fail to account for how hard, long, and costly hiring can be.

If you are pushing some people too hard, will they break? Losing key staff at any time can be costly or devastating to the project. You need to evaluate everyone on the project, and understand what would happen if they left or couldn't work anymore.

In some cases, you may need to require some team members to document certain processes, techniques or knowledge for others to learn from, or train up either a backup or possible replacement. You should avoid having any absolutely critical knowledge in a single person. This will also allow that person to go on vacation and not get completely slammed if something goes wrong.

So, to mitigate staffing risks, make sure you start hiring early, make sure your team is happy and not crunching (either at all or too hard), and that knowledge is documented and spread around to secondary people whenever possible.

Work for Hire Risks

Besides outsourcing, there is work for hire. This can be a general blanket for using anyone on a project which is outside your core team. This might include hiring outside designers, programmers, sound designers and much more.

The term "work for hire" is usually used in reference to hiring a full team, but could also be applied to using contractors. In some cases, an entire company may be hired to do some aspect of the project for you, whether it is a full port of the game to another platform, to doing an entire game mode (like multiplayer) for your team.

As with using any outside company, there are always inherent risks. Just like in outsourcing, you never know what the company is going to do. You need to vet the companies and people you work with and make sure they have a good reputation and won't leave you hanging or do poor work. It's important to understand what each team could do to the project if they fail.

Also, it's important to stay on top of the developers or contractors and make sure they are adequately making their deadlines. Some teams like to promise you their best team or people, and then can end up giving you different people, or putting the people which are supposed to be on your project also onto other projects, reducing their quality.

It's impossible to mitigate all risks associate with using outside help. The best thing you can do is make sure they are on very regular milestones, and that you constantly communicate with them, as well as visit them whenever possible.

Moving on to Part II

In this first part of the article, the risks covered are more general and broad to the project and company. In Part II, I will talk more about specific risks which affect the different teams on the project during production. In Small Developers: Minimizing Risks in Large Productions - Part II, I will also go into more detail about how to avoid risks and how to not let them happen in the first place.

If you found this useful, and haven't read my first article on Globalizing Production for the Future, I would highly recommend giving it a read, as it also talks a lot about how to structure your team and projects to minimize the risks in large scale game productions.


Title photo by Toshiyuki Imai, used under Creative Commons license.

Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

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