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Five Easy Ways to Be a Bit More Agile at Your Studio

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Nathalie Goh-Livorness, a Gaming Evangelist at Microsoft, gave a talk at GDC 2015 about how you can start being more Agile at your studio. What's Agile?

Agile isn't related to how agile you are with your movements, it's a process that helps people work together on projects. It can be difficult to convince people you work with to move to an Agile model, especially if they've been working with old fashioned processes or even without a process.

Agile helps you have greater visibility to your process and helps you find and fix problems quicker, Goh-Livorness said.Agile is scalable as well, whether you're working alone or in a giant studio and is optimized for delivering value, is adaptive, supports continuous planning and fosters feedback.

In her talk, Goh-Livorness outlined five ways you can get your team to start being more Agile.Goh-Livorness stressed that you need to do what works for you and your studio and your particular project or game and that every process and studio can go through these steps a little differently.

Agile makes up a lot of practices and can be a little overwhelming to a newbie, so breaking it up into these five ways should be easier for someone new to swallow. It should also be a slow implementation and be eased in to at your studio.

1. Stand Up Meetings

The first step to being more Agile is by adding stand up meetings. Sometimes stand up meetings are referred to as "scrums". A stand up should take place every day and should always cover these three things, and only these things:
  1. What I did yesterday
  2. What I'm doing today
  3. What my roadblocks are
You'll want this meeting to be the same time every day, even if someone has to be late or miss, and be less than 13 minutes, according to Goh-Livorness.  Also, have a speaking token, meaning that only the person holding the token (it can be anything - like a toy or wand) can speak and no one can interrupt them and all the attention is on the speaker. Also, the speaker should literally stand up, since they'll unconsciously keep their part brief because when people are standing then tend not to want to talk as much.

2. Retrospectives

A retrospective is another type of meeting used in the Agile process. "Retrospectives are a great way to keep eyesight on your whole project," Goh-Livorness said. These meetings should take place roughly every two weeks at the end of the Sprint. A Sprint is one to four weeks of your development cycle and will be made up of work items or features that you're working toward in your projects. A bigger version of this is a Post-Mortem, that could take place after a few months, at a milestone, or the end of a project. Remember to keep, stop, and start. The bigger versions, like Post-Mortems are opportunities to invite stakeholders and discuss bigger issues like budgets. A Retrospective will have three specific talking points for each person, based around these questions:
  1. What things should I keep doing?
  2. What things should I stop doing?
  3. What things should I start doing?
You can talk about anything that's either technical or process related. The meeting should be around an hour long.

3. Quality & Prioritizing

You should consider yourself as a gatekeeper of quality because our name is published on the credits and you should be proud of your work, Goh-Livorness said. Use the M. S. C. W. (Moscow) technique to sort tasks into buckets and keep quality and prioritizing at the forefront.
  • Must  - Requirements that must be included to be considered a success
  • Should - Requirements that should be included
  • Could - Requirements could be included if time and resources are available
  • Won't - Requirements that won't be included according to stakeholders
Creating buckets like these to prioritize will help you set goals without getting to much into details.

4. Keep Roles in the Loop

Using RACI charts can help you make sure that you're keeping everyone that needs to be involved in the loop of your development.
  • Responsible - The person who's actually responsible for doing the task in your development cycle.
  • Accountable - The person who has ultimate ownership and making the final decision or a task.
  • Consulted - Someone who needs to be consulted before a decision is made.
  • Informed - Someone who needs to be informed once a decision has been made.
Make a chart your roles and tasks and then you can assign roles an R, A, C, or I for each of the tasks. Sometimes some roles might get a C and an I. This is because it's important to know who is responsible for what and will help with stand ups and retrospectives as well.

5. Use Planning Walls

Putting up your work on a board that will show some progress that you can move around will help you improve visibility and get a quick glance at your progress. Scrum boards are an example or a planning wall. You move the post-its through the columns as progress has been made or to show the status of a task.

Example of scrum wall with colored post-its

Example of a Planning Wall

Notes can be added on the post-its. They can be moved by whoever happens to be working on them. Another type of planning wall is a burndown chart.

Common Pitfalls to Avoid 

There are a few things you’ll need to avoid when you’re working Agile. Stay clear of communication silos by keeping different disciplines separate because you’ll only use the language you know the people around you will understand. It’s easy to rearrange where people are sitting. The stand ups will also help with people working together getting more comfortable with each other.

Don’t estimate work by hours when assigning time to work items because you’ll fall into a trap of a small scope.

Make sure to report roadblocks even if it’s hard to get up in front of everyone to say what you might be struggling with or can’t ship it in time. But reporting early on is more time effective and less costly.

Avoid the “not done yet” syndrome, meaning you have to ship it sometime. You might feel like it has to be absolutely perfect or just needs a few more tweaks, but whatever you’re working on needs to get moved through the pipeline.

Don’t replace your stand up with a digital aspect, like email or someone other online tool, because it can quickly create a “blackhole” effect, according to Goh-Livorness.

And, above all, be on the lookout for falling back on old habits. Agile is ever-changing and won’t happen overnight. Maker sure to adapt slowly.

Key Takeaways

At the end of her talk, Goh-Livorness gave three main takeaways that can help you get more Agile and get this process in place.

  1. Meetings done properly can help to improve communication on your team.
  2. Be aware of all roles, not just your own.
  3. A physical planning wall can create greater project visibility.

Remember, Agile is all about valuing the importance of time, planning projects, and learning from each iteration before moving forward.

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