Monday, August 17, 2009

Game Dev Management Tips: The Power of the "One On One"

Before I tell you what I think about One on Ones I would like to give you some background on myself so you know where I'm coming from. The past year or so I was the lead of game development for the company I work for. I directly managed the development of eight game programmers and worked with all the other departments to get the job done. In addition to that experience I have had formal training from the American Management Association (AMA) and have used the resources over at (which I highly recommend you check out if you are interested in that kind of thing).

Now that you are aware of my newb level I will begin telling you about a management tool that I feel can be too often over looked in the game development industry.

I've attended sessions at this year's GDC about project management and more recently I attended one at the Boston Game Loop. One of the common themes that have been at these sessions has been on the topic of communication between the manager/producer and the worker. I did not have any major issues in this area with my guys, and I believe it was due to my use of the management tool: One on One.

The definition of the term "One on One" that I will be explaining is in short: The regular meeting of a manager and those he/she manages. So what the hell does this mean? You can check out the site I mentioned earlier and get the general public's definition, but I found that I needed to adapt the concept. I will breakdown my adapted version that I've used for managing a team in a game development setting.

One on One
A quick, bi-weekly meeting, with each person you manage (30 minutes on average)

Meeting breakdown:
0-10 minutes - Their time
10-20 minutes - Your time
20-28 minutes - The future
28-30 minutes - Final request

Lets dig deeper into each part of the One on One.

Their Time
This should be their time to tell you what has been going on with them in the last two weeks. It can be focused around work, but don't be afraid to ask them how things are at home. This is the most important part of the One on One, it shows you care about about what they've been doing lately (you do care, don't you?). You can also discover background information that is vital in figuring out what kind of person they are so you know how to treat them and give them effective feedback when the time comes.

Your Time
This time is for the Manager. I like to use this time to update the individual on important happenings that may not be known in detail. Another thing discussed is what is coming up around the corner. I also use this time to give the individual detailed feedback of their performance since last One on One. Though constructive feedback is very important you should stress positive feedback even more. If you don't tell him/her what he/she is doing right, he/she may not keep those good habits. There are great formats and guidelines for effective feedback that you can look up, but I really think it is dependent on the individual and requires a bit of playing it by ear.

The Future
This part is very important. This time should be used to look at the development of the individual. You should ask them what skills they would like to develop and offer whatever is in your power to assist with these developmental goals (financial assistance with education, purchasing of books etc.). If there is an area you believe they need to improve to get the job done better you should pitch it to them as something to focus on. Once a goal is established you should then check its progress every two weeks and use this time to track that progress.

Final Request
This last step is essential for your own personal improvement as a manager. I always ended each One on One with a final request: "How am I doing? Is there anything that I could do to make your life easier". At first people will probably just say you're doing fine, not wanting to say the wrong thing. Having this routinely in your One on Ones over time will get you vital feedback from your guys that you would otherwise never hear (you have to want their feedback for this to work :-) ).
IMORTANT: never never NEVER be defensive about their feedback, the moment you do this you will never hear their feedback again. Just suck it up and take it like a man, don't show emotion, and really consider it.

If you're skeptical, that is only natural. I had one every day following lunch. At first it kinda messed with my routine, but once I got used to it it did little damage to the productivity of my day. If you are able to do enough of this kind of thing impromptu in your hallways, then you are an amazing individual. Making this a routine has prevented numerous bottlenecks in development before they get out of control (making me look pretty good). I've also found it great at getting the best out of those I managed. Not to mention the detailed notes you will be taking will be vital for properly evaluating the individual once the time comes for reviews.

As with every tool, for it to be effective you need to use it properly. Unfortunately I don't think there is anything I can tell you that will magically work in every situation or culture. This tool proved vital to the success of my team and I think it could help others as well if adapted properly.

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