The concept and potential benefits of Agile are understood by most game creators. What’s less well known is inter-organisational Agile, which is scaled beyond the development team level to include other departments, external contributors, and even publishers.
Already being adopted in other industries, inter-organisational Agile optimises the development process, reduces risk, and improves collaboration across the entire game value-stream. It supports the trend towards games production that is increasingly distributed, with code, QA, publishing, and other activities dispersed between different organisations.
Collaboration is something that game studios struggle with as the parties involved in a project grows, particularly since the secrecy around new projects makes transparency a challenge. To deal with this, they may add in more meetings, recruit coordinators, and other actions. All of which adds to the management layer. Bureaucracy increases, as do bottlenecks. This is when an inter-organisational Agile mindset is the common-sense approach.
Here’s an example: going back to the original Agile Manifesto and using its ‘working software over comprehensive documentation’ principle, Agile helps reduce the amount of documentation needed. Ideas and changes can be handled without classic game design documentation, so documentation becomes less important, while still having the transparency required in order to reduce risk.
The successful implementation of inter-organisational Agile depends on a few factors. The most important of these factors is cultural: everyone on the team has to be on board and adopt an Agile mindset, particularly executives. Understanding that Agile is an evolution, and not a one-time activity, is vital. Frequently reviewing and improving the way of working is a necessity to find global optimisations across the organisations involved in a project.
There are a variety of different Agile frameworks to choose from, including ones designed for large-scale deployment. Large Scale Scrum helps align sprints across all organizations, but large-scale Kanban alternatives probably make more sense to understand the flow of information.
This is because many games today are not something that are just built and shipped, but instead, will involve continuous or regular updates over time. Having said that, successful inter-organisational Agile is less about what flavour of the methodology to adopt, and more about taking the elements that best suit a decentralised decision-making structure, while maintaining alignment to the common Northern Star of the project.
Other markets talk about Industry 4.0 and optimising operational efficiency. While game development is an inherently creative process and not a production line in a factory, it is also becoming more complex. It could even be called Game Development 4.0. While not yet widespread, inter-organisational Agile could be hugely beneficial for many modern game devevelopers to compete as a network, rather than individual studios.
An Agile specialist, Johan Karlsson is a Senior Consultant for Perforce Software.