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Creating an Iterative Culture

Thoughts on how to build a culture that embraces iteration, paired with some great music videos.

This is cross-posted from the Proletariat Blog

The best games come from iteration, but how can we build that into our process and culture? This is something we have worked hard to create at Proletariat and we push every day to foster this culture. Here are three important steps to creating a culture of iteration within your own team:

1. Constantly review

Goal: Everyone on the team helps each other create the best work possible in a constructive manner.

The first step in creating an iterative culture is for team members to constantly review their work with the rest of the team. While uncomfortable at first, especially when work is in-progress, it’s critical to establishing feedback loops within the team. At Proletariat, we formally do this on Fridays in our weekly review meetings (which we stream live on Twitch) and informally with smaller groups.

Action Item: Create review steps in the process where people from all different disciplines can give feedback on ideas. Start these formally and then allow them to develop organically.

2. Nothing is ever “done”

Goal: Stay flexible with features so that team members can return to past work and polish it while the game evolves.

The constant review process will get the team comfortable showing work that isn’t complete. The next step is to make it clear that nothing is ever “done”. There’s always room for improvement or polish, whether it is art, design, or code. As the game continues to evolve and features are completed, multiple passes may be required. The idea that it’s not done means that the team can move on knowing they’ll have a chance to return to features later and iterate on them. This only works if the team trusts the producers and the schedule.

At Proletariat, we build lists into our backlog that contain issues the team wants to re-address. At the end of every milestone, we try to leave a week to work on the backlog, which we call a “debt” week. Team members can work on their own, prioritizing the parts of their work they feel need the most attention.

Action Item: Build lists in the backlog with pieces that require polish. Provide frequent breaks during the development process to let the team dig into the backlog.

3. Give it away

Goal: Allow for open and honest feedback and ideas to encourage the team to not hold on to a single personal idea.

It is common to see developers struggle to let go of “their” idea, hurting the process. Instead of focusing on letting an idea go, put the focus on giving the idea away so the rest of the team can build from it.

Everyone on the team is expected to throw ideas into the pile and what comes out is the result of the process. Each member of the team must understand that the moment an idea is spoken aloud to the group it is no longer their idea. This is the same for any art, music, sound, or code. I like to think about this as not letting go of your ideas but instead giving them away to the team. Members are expected to contribute their creative talents and that is a great gift to the final product.

Action Item: Be critical of ideas but not their sources. Develop a process that can objectively analyze options in game context.

Conclusion

Creating a culture of iteration takes time and focus from the entire team. Priorities need to be shifted and changes to the process can certainly take a toll on development. However, once this culture is established, it can enable the team to push each other to create their best work in a positive, collaborative environment.

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