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You Won't be a Good Manager if Can't Let Someone Go

Those were the direct words of someone I really respect, forcing me to confront a stalled project, and what it might take to get it back on track. My question to the game world, is this true?

You are FiredPaging Donald Trump!!! Do indie devs and indie studios stay mediocre or bad because they won't part ways with someone not pulling their weight?

"You Won't be a Good Manager if Can't Let Someone Go" were the words a close friend utter to me in the midst of my latest project. But is it true?

Must you go through the pain of letting someone go before you can really be good at managing a project/studio?

Let's discuss in the comments, because I haven't decided yet, but I will give one main thought on why it happened for me. NOTE: Is related to our upcoming game, Lab Bunnies.

I am sure there are plenty of MBA courses that have tread this ground well, but I want to share my experiences over the last few months. I will keep the details to a minimum since the project did get back on its feet, but after a replacement was made. The first person wasn't bad, might contract out to them again if the timing and projects align, but they just didn't in this case and so a change needed to be made.

I came from the start-up world, where one mantra is 'Hire fast, fire faster'. But as a team leader, I was never directly in the chain of command that made personnel changes (I advised/interviewed candidates for hiring and was consulted on a few potential layoffs). But I never had to pull that trigger and have that tough talk.

The weight of first trying to fix the issues (second chances, re-rolled deadlines, ….) while knowing that if things didn't improve was a great motivator to try and get it right without having to go the distance and lay someone off. Since I had never let someone go before, I was avoiding it like the plaque. Give another chance. Find a workaround for the issues. Try to find new motivations to keep them engaged.

Nope, none of it was working. That is when a close friend who was watching me struggle uttered that opening refrain. From the outside they could see the project was going to fail because I couldn't move to replace a team member. And if the project fails, in indie studios at least, the chance of the whole studio failing goes through the roof. So I made the change, made a bunch a waves, hurt some feelings, but not as bad as I thought it would shake out, and we finished the project.

But can a studio do great things without going through this process? I sure hope so.

At Least I Learned Something - It was my fault!

Taking responsibility as the manager of a studio or project is the first step to doing it better next time. If you have to let a contractor or employee go, then the person who brought them onto the team is in responsible. On reflection, the first person (only person) to blame was myself.

Was their skill level matched to the task? Was their compensation set properly to motivate them? Was the project novel enough to keep their interest? Did they fit into the project's culture?

These, and more, are the questions you should have nailed down before adding that team member. If later you find out they aren't a fit, or aren't motivated, it is your fault for not digging deeper at the beginning.

For me, I rushed past all these questions. The other main team member recommended an individual for certain tasks. As a friend-of-a-friend, I moved forward with the person.

Later, as deadlines were missed and quality declined, I found out:
- Skills for some of the project tasks were lacking (wanted to learn new stuff)
- Availability was much more spotty than originally communicated
- Compensation mix was off (rev-share mix didn't motivate, as it does some people with a desire to 'own' a project)

Solution: We hired a hourly paid contractor whose compensation and skill set matched exactly the tasks we needed to accomplish, and whose availability was there to rush the project along. We took 2 weeks, numerous paid samples and trials until finding the right person.

Main Takeaway - A short-cut in hiring produces many more delays than taking weeks or a month on the front end to find the right people.

So back to my original question, primed for discussion:

Must you go through the pain of letting someone go before you can really be good at managing a project/studio?


PS: Check out our new iPhone 5 ready game, Lab Bunnies. Coming Thursday, Oct 25.

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