Lean Software Development. Agile Production. Everything’s starting to feel a bit buzzwordy, isn’t it?
Something we’ll attest to is that a lean approach has changed our production operations for the better. We’re still learning, of course, as are many of the people who join our company. To help with that, we have three foundational books that we ask our new employees to read to understand where we are in our methodology and where we plan to go. They’re also the books we recommend to any colleagues in the gaming industry who are interested in implementing a lean approach to their production.
1) Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time by Jeff Sutherland
Now you might be thinking “Scrum? C’mon Playsoft, we know all about Scrum.”
We do not doubt your knowledge of Scrum, we promise. We start out with this book as more of a refresher in Scrum principles. As with any skills, like meditation or running, you must first master the basics before you can advance. Even in these two examples, you must return to the beginning to hone the basics.
Jeff Sutherland’s book introduces Scrum and its best principles in a no-nonsense way. Something to remember is that Scrum is a methodology by which to produce your game, but it is not completely separate from the Lean software development process, as it was developed in part with Lean management in mind. These were our key takeaways and bullets to remember:
- Make it work for you. The most powerful characteristic of Scrum is that it offers you a flexible process that can be adapted to whatever kind of production you are doing.
- Plan, do, check, act. This is simple enough. Plan out your tasks, how long they will take, complete the associated tasks, check that they are correct/bug-free, and act if there is a problem.
- Planning is crucial. Time is finite, and we too easily forget that it is. Planning is about mapping your course so that you do not get sidetracked by unforeseen events.
- Work smart, not hard. Simply, when you do a task, take the time to get it right the first time. Also, don’t fall into the trap of multitasking. It’s an efficiency (and time) killer. Harvard says so.
- Give teams everything they need: This includes all of the tools as well as ensuring that there’s a balance of interpersonal skills and technical skills to get the job done.
2) Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh
I can sense you scratching your head. Let me explain why we recommend this book. To make a major change, a proper foundation must be laid and tested. It’s not until everyone is aligned with a company’s mission and values that a new method of working can be implemented. This is crucial because adopting a new method will involve many growing pains and there needs to be a well-established culture to foster honest feedback on what works and what does not.
Tony Hsieh made several great points in this book, but here are the few that we took to heart:
- Build your culture conscientiously. Similarly to how our individual values define our character and our individual destinies, a company’s values define its character, or culture, and its destiny as a company. Building a company culture is like exercising – “Taking one day off will eventually lead to taking two or three days off, until you get out of shape.” A corporate culture must be fine-tuned and adjusted frequently to ensure all company members feel that the company’s values align with their own.
- To take care of your customers, take care of your employees. Employees who confidently stand behind their company’s mission and values will be your strongest advocates and provide your customers with the best service. In game development, where client/player touchpoints come in high volumes and each one is valuable, you’ll want not only every client/player-facing employee to be happy but also every developer and artist who is building and delivering for your clients/players. Taking care of your employees goes far beyond providing them with a comfortable chair and great workspace (although those definitely don’t hurt). It means investing in your employees’ training, education, and mental and physical well-being.
3) The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
Continuing on the establishing a strong culture theme, you must also establish a strong sense of trust within your teams. I once had a weight training coach who told me as I was doing front raises that I must keep my core tight during the exercise or else it would be like firing a cannon out of a canoe. It’s through this lens that I see the importance of having a strong foundation of trust. If it’s unstable, like a canoe in the water, a disruption will cause the canoe to rock violently or tip over completely.
This book is told in a story format and goes beyond the primary dysfunction of a team (lack of trust) and explains how to help your team rebuild. Here’s a brief synopsis:
- The Problem – An Absence of Trust (#1): As you might imagine, a lack of trust on a team means team members will do everything they can to hide their weaknesses and mistakes.
- The Solution: Trust does not appear overnight, but some steps to take include setting up a non-judgemental environment so that team members feel safe admitting their mistakes and pushing team & company leaders to show vulnerability. Trust beings at the top to filter down to form the foundational base of trust for all employees.
- The Problem – Fear of Conflict (#2): An avoidance of fear is usually brought on due to a lack of trust on a team, but also by team and company leaders who are uninterested in hearing another opinion. This is a dangerous and costly pattern to fall into. When team members avoid conflict to maintain their “artificial harmony”, they do not bring attention to problems that they see with a product, leading to the production, launch, and failure of said product.
- The Solution: Encourage conflict in your teams by questioning every line of reasoning, every excuse, every problem that the teams encounter. Teams will soon realize conflict doesn’t have to be combative, but rather a tool to see problems in a new way.
- The Problem – Lack of Commitment (#3): This refers to buy-in to both the project/product and the company, so employees don’t care about the results (discussed below). It can also occur due to a lack of clarity for tasks and projects, so no one commits to solutions wholeheartedly.
- The Solution: Be as explicit as possible with employees in terms of the deadline, level of quality, tasks, etc. With a well laid out roadmap, employees feel they are able to commit to the results they’re putting out. This is where Scrum helps to clearly explain each person’s role and the expectations from the role.
- The Problem – Avoidance of Accountability (#4): Accountability here refers to a person’s willingness to push teammates to do their best work. Similarly to how teammates avoid conflict, teammates also avoid calling people out for not producing quality work because it’s an uncomfortable experience.
- The Solution: Help team members overcome their internal discomfort at holding a team member accountable for his/her work and help them understand that this is the instance where peer pressure is OK. To help with this, be sure that all tasks and goals have clear standards and guidelines to help teammates feel comfortable in holding others accountable.
- The Problem – Inattention to Results (#5): This problem arises when a team’s members haven’t bought into the project or purpose/values of the company. With this mindset, the team members only focus on themselves and what benefits them. In most cases, this means getting their tasks done so they’re done without any regard for the quality or added value for the end user.
- The Solution: Translate your company’s goals and objectives into relatable goals for your employees. For example. we realized that a revenue goal was difficult to make members of the development team about because they could not see how they directly affected reaching that goal. We translated this goal by saying that every time a team member meets a sprint goal that is validated by a client or a product owner invoices a client, those activities are directly helping us reach our goal.
What do you think of our foundational pack of books? We’d love to hear your comments in the box below!