Picking the Right Tools

Human resources and self-development. Modern business

Hi! I’m Jan Castro, Production Director over here at Altitude Games. I’m here to talk about how we picked tools and processes for our studio, with emphasis on “People Over Process”.

Setting up a production process from scratch can be daunting. Fortunately, there are a number of Agile methodologies out there that can help with that: Lean, XP, Kanban, and the most popular one, Scrum. While there’s no argument that they are all effective, we need to keep in mind that methodologies are systems of processes and rules. Even if the details of implementation differ, they all share the same core principles and concepts.

Given all the different best practices and tools available then, how does one choose which ones to use? In our case, we asked ourselves these 3 questions.

How useful is the tool for the people using it?

When evaluating a tool, I like to take it from the perspective of the people who need to work with it on a regular basis.

As a game company, our project teams include both logical, systems-oriented minds and creative visual thinkers. They’re also made up of both business and development resources. That meant our task-tracking system had to be easy to use and easily understandable by everyone. We eventually settled on JIRA Agile because of its visual drag-and-drop ease of use and easy integration with our existing Bitbucket/Hipchat programs.

The initial rollout had the entire project backlog, release backlog, and sprint backlog on JIRA Agile. It wasn’t long until we noticed production efficiency suffering due to tool misuse and non-compliance with standards. At that point, we decided to relocate the project backlog to Trello which made that part easier for the business teams to digest. We also opted to not implement time tracking on JIRA to improve usage rates from the development teams.

Trained project managers might be thinking: “That’s sacrilege! How are you able to allocate project costs? How do you calculate earned value? How are you able to determine project velocity?!”

Well, it admittedly became more difficult but not impossible. We did limit some of the information available, but at the end of the day, it was more important for the implementation to be helpful to the project team (and not an unnecessary chore).

Does the process make my team better?

Monthly face-to-face meetings are a very common project management technique. An Altitude monthly meeting typically includes the following:

  • Process retrospective: What worked, what didn’t, how to iterate on process
  • Changes to business needs and requirements if any
  • Updates on commercial terms and agreements
  • Interpretation of gathered data
  • What’s the measurable objective of the next release
  • What features do we implement towards that objective
  • What are the exact specifications of those features

Not as common is the Altitude requirement that everyone in the project team is be present for the duration of this meeting. When I say everyone on the project team, I mean everyone — from CEO to Product Manager to Programmers and Artists.

Someone taking the pure efficiency route might ask, “Why would an artist need to know about the revenue share?”

At this stage of the company’s life, it is critical that each person not only understand their individual tasks but how they relate to the company goals and the business. We’ve found that this helps a lot with not just individual productivity but also having a long-lasting positive impact on their future careers in the industry.

Is it relevant to the organization’s current needs?

Each organization has a unique set of priorities depending on the industry and environment. Relevance to current needs is a very important consideration when rolling out processes.

As of this writing, I would describe Altitude as a young company with around 30 employees and growing fast. It’s composed of a mix of industry veterans and young talent on an 80% work-from-home schedule. Given that scenario, the appropriate high-level strategy is to use simplified versions of process, compensated with high-touch techniques to maximize the knowledge transfer across the workforce. The objective is to build a strong culture of value-driven delivery meant to serve as the foundation for future scaling.

Will the current processes scale when Altitude grows to 300+ employees? Absolutely not — which is not only acceptable but expected. In that scenario, there would be a stronger need for offline sources of information like automated dashboards. We would probably also need a dedicated support and operations team completely separate from the project teams.

The key point here is that while these practices are very good in a vacuum, the relative value of these processes is not as important yet given the current organization and environment needs.

Summary

TL;DR How do we pick which tools and processes to use?

  1. Pick something that is actually useful to the people who use it daily.
  2. Pick something that makes your team better.
  3. Pick something appropriate for the present but be ready to evolve with the future in mind.

If you have any comments or have a topic you’d like to see on the blog, let us know at [email protected] We’d love to hear about it. Thanks for reading!

 

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