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8 Tips for Leading A Game Development Team Into The Unknown

As a long time producer in the industry, I list some of the best practices when venturing into uncharted lands.

There are challenges facing small teams tasked with creating new technology and experiences.  The amount of unknowns are enough to make your head spin.  But what about the human factor?  How do you deal with a team tasked to solve the unsolved?  How do you deal with the roller coaster ups and downs?  And what do you look for when it’s time to grow, especially since this isn’t your typical 9-5?  I’ve outlined a small set of tips that has helped us along the way.

1) Well rounded skill sets – We hire the best candidate for the job, but give a nudge to people who can contribute on multiple fronts when there’s a “tie”.  You never know when someone’s additional talent will come in handy, whether it be filling in for someone else, or picking up a task that would otherwise go unowned.

2) Drive to excellence – People who demand excellence won’t settle for average.  Having people on the team who live to make things better will help you go from a good product to a great product.  And it’s often that last little bit that’s the most difficult so small teams need all the help they can get.  It’s crucial to have people who are critical of their own work, not defensive about constructive criticism, and take pride in what they do.

3) Diverse Backgrounds  - We’ve found the diversity of our team to be extremely helpful during difficult times.  We have some industry veterans;  people who’ve been there and done that.  Experience is a great ally in making the tough decisions,  but youth has the advantage of exuberance and a fresh take on things.  Combining the two can be a powerful team dynamic when they play off each other, help temper each other, and drive towards the best solution.

4) Common team culture – We don’t often think about team culture in a small environment, but like it or not, a team culture always exists.  This goes professionally and personally, so take inventory of your values, how you interact, and make sure new hires are a match so that they can thrive in your environment. This in turn will help you thrive.

5) Use churn to your advantage – Be sure to have short term achievable goals.  Having smaller tasks means people can still see progress along the way, making change easier if and when it comes.  Lots of change means lots of learning so be sure to take these lessons to heart and adjust your earlier assumptions.

6) Prioritization – Tackling the unknown often means tons of open ended questions.  This can often lead to an overwhelming number of tasks.  While it’s good to track everything, it’s also good to prioritize so people can attack problems systematically, avoiding a scattershot approach.

7) Let your experts be the experts – Let the best person for the job do the job, rather than micromanaging every step.  For one, it’s too difficult to do on a small busy team, but you also want your team to be confident enough to move forward into the unknown.  This only happens when you give people enough freedom to come up with their own creative solutions.  Provide clear direction and goals, but allow people to figure out how to meet those goals within their discipline.

8) Retrospectives – Look back at your previous work and be open and honest to team feedback.  Dynamic environments mean many of the problems and processes are first passes.  So do what you can to improve things next time around.  Solidify the successes into a process that sticks, while highlighting the problems so solutions can be created to improve things.

At Grantoo we concentrate on bringing happiness to the world through games. We provide multiplayer and social solutions to mobile game developers. We focus on great user experiences and high levels of customer service.

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