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[For its latest feature, Gamasutra presents an extracted chapter from Clinton Keith's book Agile Game Development with Scrum, in which the veteran developer and Scrum consultant explains the nuts and bolts of Agile. In this chapter, he discusses integrating teams with Scrum processes, including best practices and potential pitfalls.]
I've worked on creating various products, from the F-22 fighters to games, for more than 20 years. The highlights of my career are clearly marked in my mind by the project teams I was working with. These teams were more consequential to enjoyment and productivity than the company or project we were working for at the time.
Working with the project team on the first Midtown Madness game was a highlight. The team was largely composed of developers who had never worked on a game before. Microsoft, our publisher, and the studio we worked at, Angel Studios, left us largely alone to develop the game. As a result, many of the smaller details of the game were left to us to discover. We were never far away from being canceled either...in some cases hours away. We had to prove ourselves.
What emerged was a team with a shared vision, a sense of ownership, and pride. We worked hard on the game. For example, we started a LAN party with the game every day at 6 p.m., and at 8 p.m. we met in a conference room to talk about improving the experience.
I'd often have an idea pop into my head during the night, and I'd rush back in during the early hours of the day to try it, often finding teammates who had arrived earlier or had even spent the night working on their own idea.
Although we spent long hours on the game, it seemed more like a hobby we were passionate about than a job, but it never felt like a "crunch."
The game we shipped was a success, but the real reward was the experience of working with that team. Much of the chemistry of that team is a mystery to me. There doesn't seem to be a formula for how such teams can be created, but I've found that it's quite easy to prevent such teams from forming. Scrum's focus is on allowing such teams to form, if possible, and nurturing them to grow.
This chapter will explore some of the basic Scrum principles and practices that support such teams and how large projects of more than 100 people can use these practices and allow individuals on teams to still have a shared vision, sense of ownership, and pride. It will also explore various team structures that have been formed on large game projects.
This chapter describes the central role of teams in Scrum, the role of leadership, and how small Scrum teams scale for large projects.
Great teams are one of the most influential factors for creating a successful game. Great teams are also the most difficult teams to foster. They cannot be created through the application of rules or practices alone. Studio and project leadership are required to facilitate them.
Great teams share the following characteristics:
Follow a shared vision and purpose: Everyone on the team understands the goal of what they are working on.
Complement other team members' skills: Team members depend on each other to achieve their goals by applying their unique skills to a shared goal.
Exhibit open and safe communication: Team members feel safe to communicate anything to one another.
Share decision making, responsibility, and accountability: The team succeeds or fails together, not as individuals. Everyone earns their spot on the team daily. There is no room for titles or egos.
Have fun together: They spend time together and enjoy each other's company. They care for one another.
Deliver value: Great teams take pride in their work and deliver high value consistently.
Demonstrate shared commitment: Great teams have a unified cause. When one member has a problem, the entire team will pitch in to help them out. As a result, great teams deliver value because they focus on the whole rather on their own parts. Great teams are committed to their goals. They'll go the "extra mile" to achieve a goal that they believe in.
Scrum creates a framework, through its practices and roles, to support these teams. They require facilitation and support of leadership and management to evolve. Great teams are uncommon. They create experiences -- like the one I mentioned in the chapter introduction -- that people strive to be a part of over their entire career.
When baking a cake, a few ingredients are needed before you start. If you are missing any of these, such as eggs, flour, and so on, you can't make a cake. However, just how these ingredients are prepared together and baked into the cake is the main difference between a memorable wedding cake and something that might taste like it that came from an Easy-Bake oven.
Leadership and talent are the required ingredients for a great game, but like the cake, how these ingredients are brought together, such as in a team, is the main determinant of the quality of the game. Scrum doesn't provide the ingredients for great teams but helps them "mix and bake" what's there to achieve that goal.
Scrum creates conditions that enable such teams to achieve greatness through its practices and principles:
Cross-discipline teams: Enables teams to deliver features and mechanics that have clear value to customers and stakeholders
Self-management: Enables teams to select the amount of work they can commit to every sprint and complete that work through whatever means they find appropriate
Self-organization: Enables teams to have a degree of authority and responsibility to select their membership
True leadership: Provides leadership focused on mentoring and facilitation to free the best performance possible from the team
The rest of this section will examine the principles and practices in greater detail.
"At the heart of scrum is the interaction of the team. A daily meeting around the task board is interactive, vibrant, collaborative, visual, and tactile. It is a visual way of showing the goal the team is striving toward and the progress they are making. They, each and every member of the team, are peers.
"They own the goal. It's a team effort. They gather around the board to align themselves with each other, to honor others' contribution to the effort, and to course-correct when they are missing the mark. They argue, discuss, share, learn, continually improve, celebrate, boost each other up, and create solutions.
"There is another thing that Scrum does for the team: It creates transparency. Since Scrum depends on collaboration and continual forward progress, problems are addressed by the team as they crop up instead of dealing with them later or covering the problem under a layer of 'spin.'
"A structured, militant environment will never create a team. A team works together toward a shared goal. A group works together toward a goal given to them. Scrum is messy and noisy. It lives, it breathes, it stretches, it morphs, and it expands. Interaction is the heart of the team. The heart of Scrum is the team."
-- Shelly Warmuth, freelance writer and game designer