gamesauce • spring 2010
It has been said that good project managers spend 90% o their time communicating. For developer producers, thatnumber may even seem a little low some weeks! Produc-ers need to practice and oster good communication withtheir teams and with all levels o their organizations ortheir projects to succeed. Communication skills, like any other skill, can be practiced and honed, yet many produc-ers ignore these aspects o their jobs entirely.Producers need to solicit input rom the experts ontheir teams, and harvest eedback about the ecacy o development practices rom a representative swath o their teammates. They must close loops, disseminatecritical inormation, and catch those ad-hoc hallway discussions that turn into critically important designmeetings. Producers who sit in their oces playing withspreadsheets behind closed doors don’t do their projectsor their teams much good.
listen more than they talk. They donot issue ultimatums to their teams. Good producersconstantly look or new tools to improve the culture o communication and collaboration on their teams, butrecognize that there is no substitute or walking the hallsand talking to their team members. They touch base with their leads and individual team members regularly to disseminate important inormation, to gauge theirconcerns and, perhaps most importantly, to make suretheir team members are talking to each other.On the subject o communication, Relic Entertain-ment’s Raphael van Lierop says: “Listen or ambiguity,and stamp it out. Be clear when communicating withothers and when setting goals or your team. Don’t leavegoals and deliverables open or interpretation—by doingso you’re putting people in a position where they willprobably waste eort because they don’t understand what you’re looking or.”
hoard inormation and dispense it on aneed-to-know basis in an attempt to consolidate power.Ironically, many inormation hoarders relish claimingto have an open door policy—because their ineectualcommunication skills necessitate it! However, it doesn’ttake long or a team to recognize these kinds o produc-ers, and typically one or more grassroots “back channels”develop behind closed doors and via email and IM. Savvy developers recognize these toxic symptoms as signs o anunhealthy project culture which can trigger urther divi-sion or even attrition.
Unless you’ve discovered some magic combination o being extremely good, lucky and/or oblivious, odds are you’ve experienced “team drama” during the course o adevelopment project. For the majority o us, the reality is that game development is a stressul endeavor that cantake its toll on individuals, riendships, and even mar-riages. This shouldn’t be a surprise when you considerthe #1 reason that most o us pursue game development:a creative passion to make great games.So what happens when many passionate people enter aconstruct designed to put limitations and constraints onthat passion? Tough decisions and politics invariably leadto hurt eelings and misunderstandings. This emotionalmaelstrom is where many projects live and die.For better or worse, producers oten nd themselvesacting as counselors or their teams. Why? Because asproject managers and champions, producers are usually in a position to make decisions and eect change. Forthat reason, when team members have a problem, it’s notsurprising that they come looking or their producer tosolve it.
take the time to get to know their teammembers. They learn what motivates and rustrates them, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and generally what kinds o individuals they are. Good producers are willing to listen to team members to let them vent andcomplain. They can oer eedback and solutions whenasked, but most important, they simply oer to listen.Good producers help prevent burnout by making sureteam members have the time and fexibility to balancetheir personal lives and their health against the demandso their jobs.
simply take their cues rom classic busi-ness stereotypes. They don’t care about getting to knowthe team because in their eyes, the team is simply a groupo interchangeable resources. Some bad producers mean well, but they go overboard when wearing the counselorhat. By attempting to “x” interpersonal issues, they toooten end up making more o a mess than the one they were trying to clean up. The rule o thumb here is youcan x processes, not people.