In my last blog posting I talked about some of the issues with the explosive growth in the game industry. Now I want to talk about how to manage this growth. There is no hard and fast rule with how companies deal with organization of studios and creating management teams. The same title at different companies can have very different responsibilities and requirements. However, I have found a reoccurring problem happening from two different directions but from the same driver. There seems to be a need to have a central authority figure for all decisions in controlling a department, and in almost all cases this is usually the manager. In most cases the needs of a development team are in direct conflict with this prevalent attitude, and is usually defended by attesting that the managers are the only people who understand the whole scope of the problem.
I think that in most cases problems should be resolved at the technical level. The current model forces technically competent people into manager roles so that they can help direct the project. However, the overlap in skill set between technical capability and management capability is not an easy intersection and is not at heart really needed. If it was accepted that critical decisions should be made by leads, and that they should be part of the driving process then many of these problems could be resolved. The core of the matter is whether the leads works for the managers or the managers work for the leads and in almost all cases that I’ve seen, whether these two roles are independent positions or to be held by the same person. I have found that its best for the department managers to be separate people who work for the leads. This way schedules can continue to be maintained, dependencies tracked and scheduled for tasks, collaboration with other teams fostered and general hr is all done and kept off the plate of the technical lead allowing them to do their own set of tasks. I personally feel that leads should spend a large amount of there time working with and mentoring those people that are part of the team. It is my strongest opinion that department leads need to have two traits: lead by example (monkey see, monkey do syndrome); they should never ask people to do something they are not willing to do them self. Second, I think that they need to see the role as one that the centre link of collaboration for the department. Their primary drive should be to work with those in the department helping and/or mentoring when necessary. The other aspect of their job is to setup the process and framework to empower the individuals in the department to exceed and to achieve beyond their own potential. I would suggest a work ratio of 20% framework, 20% collaboration, 40% mentoring and 20% project driving and development. You notice this is a complete slate of work that keeps a person very busy, and productive but leaves little time to do the extra management tasks that I attributed to the manager role. If we were to aggregate these roles then some if not most of this work would never be done. This is one of the drivers for the disenfranchisement that I discussed earlier. The lead/manager simply does not have the time to spend and work with the people in their department or feature teams.
Take Away: Decision power within a department should rest in a department lead whose responsibility is to lead by example, and participate in the work being done by the department. A separate manager should report to the lead, whose job is to maintain schedules, monitor dependencies and keep communication at a high level within the team