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[NY-based developer Large Animal (Rocketbowl, Snapshot Adventures) switched to the Scrum method of agile development last year, 'sprinting' to complete individual game elements - here's just how it went.]
Large Animal Games has been in business in New York City since January 2001. For the first several years, Large Animal developed games using informal, homegrown software development methods. "We did a lot of experimentation," says Wade Tinney, co-founder of Large Animal.
To track project schedules, for example, teams at Large Animal tried using MS Excel, MS Project, FogBugz, and even tried different visualizations of the project schedule using Adobe Illustrator and Visio.
Despite success with some of their practices, teams at Large Animal were still looking for improvements. Some of the things they tried had worked in theory, but felt forced. It was hard to motivate all team members to stick to some of these processes.
More critically, Large Animal was finding it difficult to grow, since a set of key team members were needed in certain roles on every project. While these key team members added a lot of value, they were a bottleneck limiting the number of projects that Large Animal could have running simultaneously.
In early 2006, Large Animal discovered agile development (and Scrum more specifically) and began incorporating some of the techniques into its project teams. Encouraged by the discussions about agile development at GDC 2006, Large Animal started holding company-wide meetings every morning.
As Wade describes it, "At first we had each person in the company talk about what they were working on. Over time we changed the format of the morning meeting so that the order that people spoke was grouped by project. As we added more people, we started having one person from each team report to the group."
Aside from this daily company stand-up, teams were still operating as they had been. The transition to a more complete implementation of Scrum started with a low risk pilot project that had a flexible time line. This project team would have their stand-up meeting, with a Scrum board, during the company-wide morning meeting.
This gave everyone an opportunity to observe, ask questions and comment on the process, which helped spread knowledge of Scrum throughout the company and helped share learning between teams when additional agile projects were started.
Today, all active projects at Large Animal use Scrum. The rest of this article describes some of the key successes achieved at Large Animal and some of the challenges that remain.
The article assumes that readers have a basic understanding of agile development and of Scrum in particular. For those readers who need a refresher on the fundamentals, Rory McGuire's Gamasutra article, Paper Burns: Game Design with Agile Methodologies, is a good resource.
The Impact of Scrum on the Organization
Even before adopting Scrum, project teams at Large Animal had always possessed some traits of agile development:
This core culture at Large Animal helped smooth the transition to more formal agile techniques. Embracing agile development has impacted many aspects of Large Animal, enabling them to grow and develop as a company and to strengthen their relationships with publishers and other partners.