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Building A Great Game Team: Measuring Progress

When building a great game development team, how do you keep everyone on track? Game HR veteran Marc Mencher continues his <a href="http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/3788/building_a_great_team_.php">current Gamasutra series</a>, discussing progress, goals and rewards.

Marc Mencher, Blogger

October 15, 2008

26 Min Read

[When building a great game development team, how do you keep everyone on track? Game HR veteran Marc Mencher continues his in-progress Gamasutra series, discussing how to meet goals and reward top employees.]

Set and Maintain Team Standards

A team is made up of individuals who perform unique tasks, and when combined, produce a finished product that is greater than the sum of its parts. You want team members to do their best and be ready to help others, so you need to promote a sense of cohesion; the team will only succeed if everyone works together. Your team should be able to generate their own tasks, tackle problems, agree on solutions and implement their decisions with confidence.

Challenge perceived assumptions to improve team productivity and effectiveness:

  • "Problems and their solutions are always isolated." Being part of the solution sounds trite but it works.

  • "Quality comes expensive." Improving quality makes sense measured against the direct (and indirect) costs of failure.

  • "Tackling the symptom cures the disease." Problems will recur if not addressed at the root level.

  • "No one cares." Whether upper management cares or not, the team has to care, or the results will suffer.

Conduct Regular Team Reviews

Review your team's progress regularly to help them define and refine specific aspects. Regular team reviews can be conducted by the entire team or by key team members. Use them to check team performance against team objectives and valid comparisons like the competition. Make sure work methods are on track and be ready to make changes as needed.

  • Be sure that the entire team is aware of individual responsibility and is challenged (positively) by their work.

  • Inspire team members to contribute their best to both the team and the task at hand.

  • Oversee work practices to ensure everyone is working toward a common goal.

  • Assess and revise goals to motivate the team.

  • Watch for overlap between team and individual responsibilities that cause redundancy.

Choose Appropriate Measurements

Life is easier when all of the measurements of your productivity are laid out before you. In the game world, this can be as simple as putting a new game in your Xbox 360 and checking out what the Achievements are. In order to improve your Gamerscore, you will need to complete various tasks throughout the game, but having a look before hand will certainly open your eyes to some things you may want to do to rack up points and impress your friends.

team_achievement.jpgWithout knowing these objectives beforehand, you could pass up on various encounters that were all part of the complete game experience. Unfortunately, in the real world, you don't have the option to pass up on various milestones or skip steps, so be clear to identify everything that will need to go into the game from the get-go.

When you're analyzing team performance, use an objective, quantitative measurement system. Outline a system of metric goals that analyze quality, quantity and cost effectiveness.

For instance, if a call center team is measured only by the number of calls handled per hour, response quality will probably suffer. Setting a quota of calls per hour, a wait time target, monitoring a percentage of calls and surveying customer satisfaction by making follow-up calls is a more effective way of measuring team performance and treats the team as if they were individuals instead of automated answerbots.



Team as a whole: Overall progress vs. budgets, schedules, milestones and goals

Finance: Actual costs vs. projectionsTime: Milestones completed vs. scheduleDevelopment: Investment in team trainingQuality: Accuracy and customer satisfaction

Leader: Your ability to provide support, direction, mentoring, etc.

Control: Achievements vs. budget and moraleTeam: Rating by the team membersManagement: Rating by superiorsExternal: Rating by customers and/or suppliers

Subgroup: Effectiveness of each subgroup as a unit and as part of the overall team

Finance: Actual costs vs. projectionsTime: Milestones completed vs. scheduleDevelopment: Investment in team trainingQuality: Accuracy and customer satisfaction (including other subgroups)

Individual: Effectiveness and contributions of each individual on personal merit, as part of a subgroup and part of the overall team.

Output: Performance vs. target goalsAppraisal: Rating by superiors, peers and customersSelf-Appraisal: Accuracy and honest of self-evaluation vs. actual performanceAdded Value: Contribution(s) outside specific goals and assigned tasks

Discuss and Assess Results

Teamwork often improves when team members also measure their own performance. Be sure any measures you assess are meaningful and accurate. Solicit input from each team member about how targets were handled, whether working methods can be improved and whether the results are realistic. Use appropriate software that interprets results effectively. Use independent outside assessors if you need specific facts, but don't make the team feel like they're being watched and judged like they were under a microscope.

The Japanese management technique of kaizen (Six Sigma) holds that everyone on a team can improve the quality of work continually and by quantifiable amounts. Even a small decrease in the percentage of rejected products, for example, can mean big savings in production cost. Give teams enough responsibility for their task that they can keep improving by defining problems, analyzing the root cause, fixing the situation -- perhaps by bringing in external specialist help, if necessary -- and, above all, preventing the problem from recurring.

When measuring team progress, keep two questions in mind: "What is the cost of failure?" and "Is it time to cut our losses?" Always, always, always document everything!

One of the newest trends in terms of management philosophies and techniques that is taking the industry by storm is Scrum/Agile. Scrum is a method that gets members of each of the disciplinary teams around a conference table (or video conference) on either weekly or bi-weekly meetings where challenges or new ideas for product or methodology practices can be assessed and altered throughout the development process.

This allows the team to remain flexible and available to change midstream; thus, avoiding redundancy of work to meet new technical specs and to stay adaptable to market trends, demands, or any changes that need to be made to increase customer value.

Helping an Existing Team

You may be asked to take over an existing team. Obviously, you want to make a good impression without appearing too controlling, aggressive or overeager.

Find out about your new team, its purpose, its progress and of course the individuals, preferably before you meet them. Other people's input can be valuable but trust your own judgment as you form your opinion of the team's abilities.

You may want to ask individual team members to assess their colleagues but again make it clear that you will be forming your own opinions. If you ask people for their advice, be willing to listen and show that you are not making snap judgments based on incomplete information or influence from a particular person or subgroup.

Good team leaders make the most of the information at hand. Ideally, you want to understand each group member, how (if) their behavior changes within the team and how individual responses vary at different stages in the team's development but you don't always have that luxury.

As soon as you can, talk with each team member, one-to-one, about their individual tasks and the project as a whole, their views of their own performance, whether they favor any changes in working practice and if so, why. Remember that your best chance to observe the team will come only after you have taken charge.

Set Achievable Goals

Like all great competitors, many gamers like to think they are the best, each and every time they pick up their controllers. It's great to be confident, but people are not always experts without having ample time to practice, train, and prepare for some of the challenges that lie ahead. A perfect example of this is when everyone rushed out to get their copy of Halo 3. Some people went right to the multiplayer mode and other right for the story. 

Given this is people's first look at the new game, it's important to have realistic expectations of what you hope to achieve. It would probably not be in a new player's best interest to hop right into the Legendary mode, but rather to play on an easy mode, get their bearings and learn how to use their character, weapons, etc. Setting realistic expectations will get you much further on in the game, and build up the basic framework for you to increase the difficulty and achieve loftier goals down the road.

Milestones are vital to the team's process (and to getting paid!) They ensure that a product is delivered to specification (and customer satisfaction), that team members adhere to schedules and budgets, and quality standards are met. They also tend to be the basis for individual and team rewards over and above normal compensation.

Team goals might include:

  • Increasing productivity in a manufacturing environment

  • Improving production quality of production

  • Involving more (all) employees in decision-making to increase job satisfaction

  • Reviewing systems and practices to reduce wasted time and money

  • Working with customers to build closer relationships and understand market needs

  • Design and produce software

Motivate your team to reach specific goals by describing the ultimate set of targets as challenges that can be met through a combination of skills and effort. You can also increase team motivation by allowing members to design their own targets, at least to some extent. Give them a chance to debate and discuss how personal goals can be met and possibly exceeded. While it's good to discuss compensation for outstripping goals, monitor this very carefully because in some companies discussing salaries can result in immediate dismissal. Try to gage it in terms of the team and project rather than bonus checks!

The greatest challenge you can present is the "stretch" goal, a target that can be achieved only by using skills that extend the team's current capabilities. Before you set a stretch target be sure you can deliver what you promise in terms of team performance and compensation. Ideally, this will provide a set of subsidiary targets that can be broken down into individual goals and tasks.

Reaching a milestone, stretch or not, involves a plan. If the plan is failing, and the goals and/or milestones are likely to be missed, you need to quickly diagnose the problem and fix it. Work with the team to analyze the issue until you have pinpointed the problem. Decide as a group how to solve it, then implement the solution. Reestablish a new set of amended goals now that the scope of the project has changed. This may be more motivating than any previous plan because the team is solving the problem together: the revised plan improves on the original.

Purpose: What is your team supposed to be doing?  The question may sound obvious, but time spent at the beginning of a project defining team objectives is crucial to a successful outcome. Make sure you have clearly established the issues that the team needs to resolve.

Schedule: Set realistic deadlines (remember to multiply all estimates by 1.5 to allow for unforeseen obstacles and a tendency on anyone's part, including yours, to think you can get the work done faster.) Don't promise the sky unless the team (a) agrees and (b) can reasonably deliver on the promise.

Goals: Break down goals, targets and milestones into manageable bites that should be quantifiable and designed to complete the project in a timely and cost efficient manner.

Constraints: Realistically assess how much autonomy the team should have. Without creating (or augmenting) an adversarial situation, determine where the "external" (upper management and client) obstacles might be and create contingency plans to deal with them.

Priorities: Assess the order in which key project elements must be completed. Client needs almost always come first and you may need to act as liaison if you have a particularly demanding client, which might take you away from some other task vital to the team's success.

Costs: Insofar as you're responsible for any portion of the project budget, remember to include everything -- salaries, additional resources, capital expenses, depreciation, overtime and if possible some allotment for team building. Then add a cushion and multiply the whole thing by 1.5.

Drawing up common aims and agreeing on individual roles when a team is set up is only the beginning of a process that needs to remain relevant and achievable as long as the team exists.

Think Creatively

A great example of thinking creatively is the game Mirror's Edge, where you play a free-runner (in the parkour style) that can utilize virtually all aspects of the environment to help you get from one place to another. There is a time trial mode that will have you play out the same scenario over and over again.

The beauty of this game is that there are an infinite number of paths that can be taken to achieve the desired results. By thinking creatively, you may be able to discover a new route that can shave seconds off your time. By hooking up to the internet, you should be able to compete against other competitors' best times as well. The top time will appear as a phantom in your game (the bar to match or exceed, if you have the skills).

By playing in this mode, you may see a path that you never imagined would be usable. It's learning these tricks, techniques, and recognizing things to interact with that will help you overcome many obstacles and can easily be applied to real life situations as well.

Without new ideas, teams can't achieve the breakthroughs that generate real success. Creative thinking is a team responsibility in which everyone should participate. You can develop it in your team through training and practice.

Many people get trapped in thought and behavior patterns drawn from their past. To unlock your team's creativity, don't allow yourself or them to get typecast as "creative" or "non-creative." Everybody is capable of coming up with a new idea.


Brainstorming sessions are designed to produce new ideas and creative solutions to problems. A session takes some organization and requires a moderator who can keep the team from losing focus and/or individuals from hijacking the session. Ideas should be recorded on a flip chart or whiteboard or big pieces of paper so everyone can see them.

team_brainstorming.jpgThe old saying "There's no such thing as a bad idea" will not only protect those who may be intimidated by other team members but also inject some humor into your session. The desired outcome is a list of ideas that can become the agenda for a more focused meeting and an opportunity for some great team building.

People have far more potential for creating ideas when working as a team than they do by themselves. Encourage open discussion and make sure that all suggestions are treated respectfully. There will be time later on to discard ideas that aren't practical.

Watch out for the person who grabs the marker from the moderator and tries to direct the session. (One way to avoid this is to give everyone a marker.) Be alert to people who interrupt others with "Here's a better way to do that..." or "I was talking to the VP of [department] the other day and she said..." or "When I was at my last job, we always did it this way..." It may be a bit like herding cats at first but eventually you'll be able to establish a procedure that gives everyone a chance to contribute.

Points to remember:

  • Brainstorming is sometimes called "group action thinking".

  • Criticism kills creativity. There are no "bad ideas" in a brainstorming session.

  • All ideas should be recorded no matter how unconventional they are.

  • The creative input in these sessions will always be higher than individuals can provide alone.

  • Encourage people to get excited about new ideas but watch for veering tangents that will take the team too far a field of the goal.

  • Make sure everyone participates. This is not a field trip to avoid working, but rather an exercise to create a more cohesive and productive team.

Off-Site Meetings

Occasionally it's helpful to take the team away from the workplace in a focused strategic work session. Bring in consultants or members from other departments to give constructive criticism and advice. Leave the session with an action plan, and be sure those who are accountable for each aspect of implementation know what they have to do. Because off-site meetings tend to be more expensive, design an agenda and make sure attendees know you plan to keep to the schedule. (Off-site team building social outings fall under an entirely different category!)

Points to remember:

  • Be clear about what you need to achieve in a meeting: draw up an agenda and follow it.

  • Go to the meeting with all relevant facts and figures, and encourage team members to do the same.

  • Be gentle but firm in your moderation and don't shoot down any ideas unless someone tries to hijack the meeting.

  • Leave time for a Q&A session.

  • Where appropriate, serve refreshments but be sure the people who partake actually stay for the meeting!

Reward Performance

Everyone loves to be rewarded for their hard work, and the video game world has finally begun to acknowledge its superstars. Many games now include rankings and leaderboards. Notably, Guitar Hero has online leaderboards, for many to admire and others to use as a motivator to improve their play. After completing a tough song with five stars, it's only natural to see what others have done with the same song.

team_ghleaderboard.jpgIt can be exhilarating to see your Gamertag pop up on the top 50, but at the same time very frustrating if you played a song perfectly and are still off by a considerable margin. Some people will use the later to assess their gameplay and try to be more efficient with Star Power to inch their way up.

Others may ignore the leaderboard all together because they simply enjoy playing the game, regardless of how they did. It is important to find out which way your team will perceive this sort of public praise reward system before implementing it.

A successful reward system can improve overall performance. Calculate rewards with care and choose the most appropriate type for your team. Solicit team input on reward levels. Assess how well your team can handle competition.

In sales organizations, rankings are very motivational but in other settings they can actually deter progress and create unnecessary conflict. Monetary and stock/option incentive-based plans -- or a combination of both -- are popular but may not fit in with the company's financial directives so don't promise anything before you have formal approval.

Make sure each team member understands the bonus system, has access to the targets they are expected to reach and can see their own performance figures so that they can appreciate what they are working toward and how they will benefit, both as a team and an individual.

Setting Reward Levels

It requires good judgment and experience to set a reward system at just the right level. Fix the rate too low and team will be insulted. Be too generous and you raise future expectations too high. When calculating rewards, work out what you can reasonably expect from your team by looking at their past performance. As the team gains in experience and skill, you may need to raise your sights by setting a higher reward base to encourage them to continue stretching themselves and performing at their best.

Merit increase that may or may not be related to team performance.

Requires approval of salary scale and job description; may include promotion. Can recognize stellar individuals.

Team members have tangible reward for service but it needs to be factored against other team members' performance reward.

Includes share of financial savings or stock options.

Be sure team is rewarded equally for equal performance. Not a good idea to let the team divvy up the amount -- creates jealousy and dissention

If possible, let the team know about this in advance but watch for unnecessary cost cutting that could harm the project.

Usually part of the original employment offer; may be increased by sharing part or all of the savings with employees.

Subject to laws and corporate policy. Should be distributed equally.

Popular and easily managed method for reward.

Previously reserved for senior management, this is becoming more popular for mid to lower levels.

Subject to laws and corporate policy. May not be seen as "real" dollars, especially if stock options are given.

Pride of ownership encourages team spirit as long as shares have some tangible value. Helps close the gap between "us" and "them" (management).

Anything from certificates to prizes to travel vouchers.

Flexible way to recognize both team and individual efforts. Be sure monetary rewards have been included in the budget.

Public recognition is always appreciated.

Broadcast the News

When rewards are given, the team understandably wants the information made public.

Get approval from management before doing this and work with the appropriate department to choose the proper vehicle for that information, such as a memo, the company newsletter, the internet, an all-hands meeting, etc.

...and Finally, Evaluate Yourself

Team leadership is a complicated process. If you're currently leading a team, this test can measure the quality of your working methods and ability to manage people.

If you're a team member, it will test your own leadership potential. Be as honest as you can:  Add your scores together, and refer to the analysis section to see how you scored. Use your answers to identify areas that need improvement.


1. Never
2. Occasionally
3. Frequently
4. Always



 1.  I share the leadership role with other team member(s).

 1    2    3    4

 2.  I encourage team members to set themselves tasks that genuinely stretching their abilities.

 1    2    3    4

 3.  I meet with internal and external customers to monitor/insure their satisfaction.

 1    2    3    4

 4.  I socialize with the team to build team spirit and provide a chance for informal communication.

 1    2    3    4

 5.  I give credit where it's due and don't hesitate to criticize when necessary.

 1    2    3    4

 6.  I have an"inner team" of deputies with whom I consult on the team's progress.

 1    2    3    4

 7.  I give team members precise goals and communicate them clearly.

 1    2    3    4

 8.  I keep in touch with the team's sponsor(s) to maintain smooth external relations.

 1    2    3    4

 9.  I try to show the team that I trust them implicitly.

 1    2    3    4

10. If I need to reject a team member's solution for a problem, I explain why.

 1    2    3    4

11. I turn whole tasks over to the team to carry out as they see fit.

 1    2    3    4

12. I allow my team to have a say in any decision that affects it.

 1    2    3    4

13. I ask individual team members what they think about current working methods.

 1    2    3    4

14. I look for the underlying causes of any problems that arise on my team.

 1    2    3    4

15. I deliberately change my management style to suit changing situations.

 1    2    3    4

16. I encourage team members to come to me with any problems.

 1    2    3    4

17. I plan team meetings well in advance and always provide an agenda.

 1    2    3    4

18. I communicate with team members via every available means.

 1    2    3    4

19. I pass on all information I receive to my team, as long as it's not confidential.

 1    2    3    4

20. I try to eliminate unnecessary reporting levels from the team hierarchy.

 1    2    3    4

21. I consult with sponsors and other well-placed people to ease the team's work.

 1    2    3    4

22. I encourage team members to think in innovative ways.

 1    2    3    4

23. I run brainstorming sessions to generate new thinking within my team.

 1    2    3    4

24. I run frequent checks on team spirit and individual morale levels.

 1    2    3    4

25. I treat problem solving as an opportunity for lasting improvement.

 1    2    3    4

26. I eliminate conflict caused by overlap of role responsibilities on the team.

 1    2    3    4

27. I try to inspire my team by leading it firmly from the front.

 1    2    3    4

28. I deal with personal problems within the team when they arise.

 1    2    3    4

29. I use a log to record any ways we find to improve our working practices.

 1    2    3    4

30. I am tough on problems, but not on the individuals in my team.

 1    2    3    4

31. I track projects being worked on by individual team members.

 1    2    3    4

32. I see all opportunities for long-term improvements in the team's working systems.

 1    2    3    4


Now that you have completed this analysis, add up your total score and check your performance by reading the corresponding evaluation below. Whatever level of success you have achieved there is always room for improvement. Identify your weakest areas, and start to focus on improving them.

32 to 63 - You are not keeping up with the pace of change. Look for ways to update your management style.

64 to 95 - Some of your leadership qualities are good, so concentrate on improving weak areas.

96 to 128 - This is the zone of excellence, but do not let this lull you into complacency -- strive to improve.


Title photo by Jacob Bøtter, used under Creative Commons license.

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About the Author(s)

Marc Mencher


Marc Mencher is a specialist in game industry careers who has helped thousands of jobseekers land positions with the hottest gaming companies. Before founding GameRecruiter.com, he worked for such game companies as Spectrum Holobyte, Microprose, and 3DO. Marc is the author of “Get In The Game!” -- an instructional book on careers in the video games industry. He has been an Executive Producer on several games. He is a curriculum advisor to colleges offering Game Development degrees. Marc speaks at many of the Game Industry conferences around the world. His firm, GameRecruiter.com focuses on unique and un-advertised game industry jobs. He can be reached at http://www.gamerecruiter.com or 866-358-GAME (4263).

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