The team at Creative Assembly debunks some common dev role myths. This month, Stefan Aluttis, development manager at Creative Assembly explains the mentality and skillset required to deliver a project successfully
What makes a great development manager? Most in our industry will respond with “someone who gets the game shipped on time, on budget, and to quality.” Although that is describing the result rather than the skills and characteristics required to achieve it, this answer is fundamentally correct.
A major part of a development manager’s responsibility is to balance the competing project constraints of scope, schedule, and budget (and to a certain extent quality). They need to identify and address project requirements and risks, while planning, executing, and monitoring the development process.
And there is a certain skillset and mentality required in order to do this efficiently:
Excellent communication skills to collect, process, and present information to relevant channels, as open communication is a key factor for a project’s success.
Leadership and team building, to focus the efforts of a group of people towards a common goal and enable them to work together as a team.
- Organisational skills in planning, tracking, and forecasting a project’s progress.
- Analytical thinking and strong decision making.
- Problem solving skills, with a mindset of focusing on the solution rather than the problem.
- Being proactive and able to prioritize not just the team’s, but also their own work.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it is most likely what people have in mind when defining the development manager role. However, with video game production being such a team centered effort, I believe you need to be more than just a talented project manager:
A development manager helps the team in making video games. In many cases this means taking the burden off the developers and removing obstacles that prevent them doing what they do best: writing code or creating art. That could be identifying and improving shortcomings in a workflow between disciplines, chasing that one code task that will unblock the environment art team, or be as simple as fetching food when the team stay to finish the latest build.
But more importantly, a good development manager will help the team to become better at making video games. By creating and facilitating an environment of continuous improvement, in which teams look back and reflect on the way they work together and learn from their mistakes, to become better developers. Teams that I recently worked with on a Total War project had great results from sprint retrospectives we ran every two weeks; discussing what went well, and not so well, during the last development cycle. If conducted in a positive atmosphere, where teams focus on the things they can make a difference on, they can see improvements in their day to day work and appreciate the chance to inspect their collaboration.
Finally, as development managers require a high-level view on every aspect of the game they are helping to make, they are rarely experts in any of the many disciplines involved. It’s important to recognise your lack of knowledge and not be afraid to ask seemingly stupid questions. You will find that others in the room had a similar question and benefit from you seeking clarification. Ultimately a development manager is successful if the team are successful.