Article brought to you by Favro
The reason why we set out to develop the workflow and planning app Favro is more relevant than ever for the game development industry in 2017. After more than 10 years of experience developing Hansoft, we saw a need for something new. We noticed that there were simple tools like Trello favored by teams, and more advanced tools that managers liked. But, there was no single tool for teams to rule their own workflows and at the same time with the capabilities to help modern managers align teams towards the organization's goals. So, we developed Favro.
To take the pulse on the challenges of today, I interviewed two of the production leaders I respect the most. They know the pains of blown budgets, crunch time and missed deadlines. And they know how to do something about it.
You know the story. Team members claiming that they are the only ones who understand how to make great games -- and therefore should be left alone to create. And managers overworking data-driven development or killing creativity by micro-management. This tension has been around for as long as game studios have been in existence but it does not have to be an issue if it is taken care of from the very beginning of every project.
Ulas Karademir, Director of Core Technology and Operations at game engine maker Unity, says that the rules of game production must be clear to everyone and that the feedback on progress is done consistently. It’s like sports. In any sport there is always a scoreboard and everybody knows the rules and what it takes to win.
“Once everyone knows the rules, the purpose and consistently get a clear overview of what is happening -- common intelligence in teams and management can be harvested. That is the foundation of how to start building studio alignment,” says Karademir.
Successful game development is often a matter of exploring new territory and adapting to new circumstances. That is why creating acceptance of constant change is really important. Khaled Abdel Rahman works as Product Manager at Google and teaches game development at the University of Southern California. He claims that people can accept change as long as it is explained in a bigger picture.
“The moment you build a minimum viable list it must be very clear that this list is never set in stone. Once the team has that mentality, it’s ok that things constantly change. Visibility and influence is core,” says Rahman.
Studios generally consist of a production leg, and a marketing and sales side. Karademir argues that no part should be in the lead, but rather that they should be in balance, as not to miss the common goal. When there is balance, production, or marketing and sales can be accelerated or slowed down while the game development project is running. This is even more important with a gaming-as-a-service (GaaS) business model.
But reality shows us that alignment between the goals of the studio and the empowerment of teams is not always the case.
“Scope, time, quality, processes, and resources is what it’s all about. And we don’t spend enough time and focus on this matter. Once the decision and reason is clear to everybody you will have their respect and trust, and then, no matter how much plans or scope change, you can get support and help from people,” says Karademir.
Empowerment of autonomous teams is very important, for Karademir as well as for Rahman. But how far can autonomy go before the studio consists of separate units not working together? This is where a successful studio needs modern managers who can align the teams towards project and studio goals without falling back on micro-management. The manager needs to plan goals across teams and make it clear how they serve the game vision. They are the interface between the bigger picture and the details. Today, with mobile, episodic content, VR/AR/MR, the opportunities of real time data, and GaaS, the challenge is that this is a more continuous process rather than a two-year one-off.
To empower autonomous teams, the modern game production manager also needs to understand that agile doesn't come in one single shape. According to Karademir, it is a common misunderstanding that the Scrum development method, for example, should be used all the time. Tasks -- or even projects -- that have been done previously and are well known by the team don’t require a method designed for discovery and managing uncertainty. That kind of work can simply be broken down into tasks and executed in the quickest way possible.
“You want the team to be in flow. It’s therefore, in certain situations, best to shift from two week sprints into simply breaking down tasks and execute. This is the true essence of being agile -- reacting to your environment and to the change,” says Karademir.
Finally, if you are not convinced that team autonomy and studio alignment is important, your new employees are. A sense of empowerment and purpose of the organization is the key to work satisfaction. Recruiting and keeping talent require true alignment and empowerment. Not the least since it is easier than ever before to change countries and jobs.
“When young people aren’t happy at work they change jobs. They are more sensitive to misalignment and bad decision-making than my generation,” says Karademir.
Patric Palm is an organizational management visionary and software entrepreneur. He cut his teeth in leadership and organization as a leadership instructor within the Swedish Airforce. Since then, he has been involved in and founded several companies and NGOs. Today his main focus is Chair and CEO of Hansoft, the company that just launched the new workflow app Favro.com. Patric is a frequent speaker at international conferences on topics such as innovation management, software and game development, organic organization, and entrepreneurship. He can be found on Twitter @PatricPalm.