Without a proper scheduling system, developers can quickly become overwhelmed and productivity grinds to a halt. That’s where Oliver Teckert, Senior Production Expert of Hansoft comes in. He recently sat with us at Gamesauce for an informative discussion on what a studio can do to keep their game on track and out of the briar patch.
The Skills and Strategies a Producer Needs to Guide a Project.
Teckert tells us that the ability to listen is a critical skill for a producer. A successful producer spends a lot of time listening to people talk about their most pressing issues and explaining the state of their world. Trying to balance out priorities and identify critical issues requires you to listen very carefully to what is said, what isn’t said, and how everything is stated. Oliver says, “I always try to listen first and talk second to ensure that I give someone the chance to have their say. At the very least, you let someone vent and voice their concerns. That’s meaningful in itself”.
The producer’s first strategy for guiding a studio through a project is analyzing how the studio functions. Significant aspects of the analysis include determining how large the studio is, what kind of products are they working on, and how are their teams organized (for example, are the teams functional or cross-functional). It is also essential to explore the use of scheduling vs. agile development and where the management feels the studio is in terms of executing their style of project management. Then it is necessary to discuss and solidify goals for the studio, including where would they like to be and what they would like to accomplish in terms of organization and production management.
Common Mistakes and Problems
According to Teckert, one of the most challenging issues facing developers is backlog grooming. Typically, the backlog becomes a dumping ground for features and assets that have not been verified or vetted by product owners, which really makes it difficult to manage the vision of the game. Spending time grooming and reprioritizing your backlog pays dividends when it comes to managing scope and the workload associated with your game.
Another issue is agile development. A lot of developers have implemented agile development with mixed success. It can be very difficult to break old scheduling habits, and as a result you get some Gantt scheduling within sprints, maxing out of capacity for each person within a sprint and of course, not delegating to proxy product owners. This creates tremendous difficulties in larger, long term projects.
To avoid a lot of these issues, Teckert finds it best to deal proactively with potential problems. He discusses with the production team how best to apply agile principles to the project, and works with them to establish some best practices for difficult issues. He reminds everyone that they are steering a large project which requires everyone to pay attention to the details while not losing sight of the larger project as a whole.
Teckert emphasizes that reiterating the production cycle, with the methods and associated actions required to shepherd a large project, is also very valuable, as you can call out and clarify any commonly misunderstood areas such as sprint planning and sprint reviews. Driving home the value of these events is critical to improving the way your studio works. To avoid the downward spiral of development hell, it is absolutely critical to identify and correct issues as early as possible. Sprint retrospectives are intended to do this and should result in action items that can be followed up on before the next sprint is too far along. This is an area in which production needs to be very aggressive to ensure changes are being made and improvements are being felt by the team.
The Future of Project Management
Teckert believes that agile development will continue to mature within the industry as the dominant form of project management; however, the use of Kanban will become more prevalent for asset creation. Right now, he sees a lot of early Kanban adopting which takes the form of a proto-Kanban setup for teams, but isn’t a true demand pull system. In general, the production maturity of the industry is stepping up to deal with the increased complexity of today’s games.
Hansoft took home the award for Best Tools Provider at last year’s Develop Industry Excellence Awards for Hansoft 6.7. Teckert explains that Hansoft 6.7 is a project management tool capable of running complex projects with transparency and ease. With it, members of a development team are able to collaborate in real time and structure their project to the style of their particular studio. It also has the ability to combine different project methods, something which is unique in the industry.
Teckert tells us that the value of Hansoft will continue to increase. He says, “We have no shortage of ideas for Hansoft! Version 7.0 is coming out shortly and has over 50 new features including major revisions to the user interface, Kanban wall and native Mac OSX support. These are just a few of the improvements focusing on real-time interaction and communication, which will allow continued improvement for the team members’ daily work.”
To hear more from Oliver see his video from Casual Connect Seattle 2012.