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The Game Plan: Jammin'

Game jams or 'Google time' can be a powerful tool to build teams within the team. This post is summary of a discussion I had on this topic with Carl Vikman from EA DICE.
Game jam I was having a cup of coffee with Carl Vikman, SDD (Senior Development Director) at Battlefield creators EA DICE, and we were talking about cross-functional teams. In the discussion we came about an interesting strategy to organically move over an organization to a cross-functional approach. 

For those of you that can’t see the benefit of cross-functional teams, I will summarize my view of that. An ideal cross-functional team is like a toolbox of people with different skills where all the skills required to meet the current goals are present.

Such a team is capable of taking goals and work towards them without assistance from management. They can also be held accountable for failures as there is no one outside of the team to blame.

With an increase in dependencies come a decrease in self organization and the responsibility for goals are pushed upwards in the organization.

Our discussion started at with that we both agreeing 'Google time' has a lot of benefits, even if we disregard from any output. It should be a perfectly applicable in game studios. The upside is of course that you are creating a work environment that is insanely motivating. People are being paid to do what they like the most, to realize their own ideas.

However, simply “throwing” away 20% production capacity from the main production is probably hard to justify in organizations with external investors. The long-term effects from a positive work environment are hard to quantify in money.  

One side-effect that is potentially overlooked is that of building successful cross-functional teams. A lot of game organizations are still suffering from a highly departmentalized structure. The will to go towards a more cross-functional organization is there, but there many deep tracks in the way.

Typically management would go in and form cross-functional teams based of the skills of the team members. This approach can be compared to arranged marriages, sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Personal chemistry is an important factor that is often overlooked in the formation of teams. 

The idea that we formulated was that you could use game jams as a way of getting the team to organize in cross-functional teams. When starting you would define a number of prerequisites, such as:

  • The team must include at least 5 persons and not more than 12 people.
  • All skills to finish the project must exist in the group. You cannot expect help from other teams when working on your game jam project.
  • You have to commit to have a demonstrable prototype within a certain amount of time. 

These prerequisites are there to encourage teams to structure wisely. Too large teams will hamper decision making, on the other end too small groups means that they would most likely lack some important skill to complete the project. Even if the actual result is just a bonus, setting a deadline for the prototype will help the teams to focus their efforts. 

If there is an acceptance to take a short term cost to gain long term results I think this method could be a powerful tool in structuring a cross-functional organization. Is there anyone out there that has used a similar approach in their team already?

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