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Two simple factors that can compromise team productivity

Not all the teams are the same, but teams usually fail for the same old reasons. This post discusses ambiguous goals and the feeling of urgency, two factors that determine team productivity in any video game development environment.

Marcelo Raimbault, Blogger

May 11, 2015

4 Min Read

The greatest challenge in game development is not learning new technologies, building the best tool or even finding the fun. The true challenge and nightmare of many developers is how to build and maintain a productive team. By a simple logical perspective, creating games is nothing more than following a series of steps in a correct order. However, games are made by people and not by machines (luckily!), and that’s when things can start to go really bad. 

Many situations can lead to a team failing. It can go from the individual level to the organization he belongs. Understanding why a team fails can be much more important than knowing what makes a team succeeds. Communication that Damages Teamwork: Dark Side of Teams is a good paper that summarizes different problems that may lead a team to fail. In this blog post, I’ll talk about two big problems mentioned on the paper that happened during the development of Cult, a student project developed at The Guildhall at SMU, and that are likely to happen in any game development team.  

Ambiguous Goals

I thought that was right... Ambiguous goals are probably the most critical problem for any project. During development, it is easy to get lost in ideas, processes, details, and forget about what really needs to be done. It is important that all team members clearly see and fully understand the goals for that particular sprint/milestone. When goals are unclear, people are likely to spend their time in unnecessary tasks or even waste time doing the tasks incorrectly.   

Unfortunately, this problem may goes unnoticed. First, leads usually have a clearer idea of the project and may assume that the rest of the team also has this same comprehension. Second, team leads can focus only on their tasks and forget to give the proper attention and set clear goals for other tasks.      

One important insight for team leaders is that not providing clear goals to all team members can even affect their perception of trust. Team members may think that tasks are not clear/available because the lead does not trust them enough for specific tasks. And a team without trust is a low productivity team.

Without clearly defined goals, there is no way for a team to be autonomous, and only a team with enough autonomy can develop its own path and achieve high levels of productivity.

The feeling of urgency

Deadlines! Although a word that can make any developer cry, deadlines are essential for a team tobe productive. We know that a game is never finished. Games can always be improved and that is exactly why deadlines need to exist.

It is easy to find a successfully backed Kickstarter project or an independent game that failed for not having enough money to finish the project. Usually, undefined development time is the main reason behind these failures. People mainly act based on a feeling of urgency. If there is not enough reason to do something for tomorrow, people probably won’t do it today. We may believe that we are not like everyone else, and that we do all our tasks as soon as possible. However, that is not how things happen in a team project, even more in a creative environment as game development. If there is no feeling of urgency, the project won’t move as fast as it could and may not reach the functionalities needed when the time comes.

Are you sure we need this now? Image source 

Creating short time deliverables is a good way to keep the feeling of urgency always high in the team (Agile development and Scrum really comes in handy here!). Always keep in mind that an essential feature not finished now, is a feature that needs to be finished later.

Deadlines problems also build on top of ambiguous goals. Clear and precise goals are essential for a project to be timed right. It is pointless to have many short time deliverables if their goals are not clear and the team cannot tell when they were achieved or not.

First, understand your problems!

As a last word, there will always be a new “top 10 tips for a successful team”, but the reasons of why a team may fail will never change. The best way to increase a team productivity is to address and remove the issues decreasing it. 

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