We started by understanding our goals and values, which form the foundation for everything we do in developing a collective-minded studio. We then explored the development and structure of the studio and how collectivism functions within that structure. We also talked about decision-making and how it informs our processes. In this article, we’ll be focusing on collaboration, process development, and tools.
This isn’t about how to use specific tools, though we will take a peek at some Miro flows and UI. More importantly, we’ll be discussing why we develop certain processes and how they benefit the collective.
Processes provide visibility into accountability. When we document our processes, everyone understands why things are the way they are, and they can adapt to the needs of those who are responsible. This means that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to processes, and we should review them regularly as requirements and roles evolve. Since your studio will likely change with members coming and going, it’s worth iterating on your processes to ensure they remain effective.
In a collective, the processes you adopt are a reflection of your studio structure. The design of your processes is an opportunity to practice inclusion and care. This is something that people often overlook when developing their processes for the first time. Think about your values: Who can access your processes, and how can you make them accessible to as many people as possible? Of course, some things are just what they are. For example, if your studio is focused on audio design, being able to hear the sound is critical. There’s only so much you can do for people who can’t hear. However, you can address accessibility needs by accommodating different learning styles and providing various ways to access processes and information (such as text, video, mind maps, etc.). By recording and using processes with regularity, you’re ensuring continuity in the operations of your studio, even in the face of change. Things will inevitably change, so it’s important to avoid relying on just one person or system. Have a backup plan.
In traditional companies, productivity and efficiency are the most important aspects of a good process. But these aren’t the only factors that should be prioritized, especially if you are trying to do things a bit differently from the norm. While it’s useful for members to feel empowered to streamline their work and eliminate unnecessary steps or tasks, try to examine what this emphasis on productivity means in the context of our capitalist society. We need to ensure that our focus on efficiency doesn’t result in overworking or burnout, for example. Instead, we should use tools and processes to help us stay organized and communicate better so that we can focus on the work that really matters.
To illustrate this point, let’s take a look at a typical co-op structure and the various roles and responsibilities involved. Members are responsible for voting on co-op decisions, while directors facilitate governance development and may handle government filings. Management is typically responsible for project management and reporting, while workers create and develop asset pipelines. By understanding these roles and responsibilities, we can work together more effectively and ensure that everyone’s contributions are valued.
What’s interesting is that creating processes can have multiple purposes and roles. For instance, a process for meetings can be used for any type of meeting within the co-op structure, from standups to the annual general meeting (AGM). It could be applied to one-on-one meetings, committee formations, and collaborations. The process of committee formation can be compared to working groups or node formation. Once you create a process, it can be reused for any committee or ad hoc group in your co-op.
When it comes to reporting, get specific. Describe the purpose of channels and how you handle task assignment, handoff, asset storing, and more. Asset storing can include 3D models, textures, sound libraries, co-op reference documents, financial documents, and other things. Although the specifics of how we store and name these assets may differ, the process of uploading them, making backups, and notifying everyone of the changes can remain consistent throughout the entire co-op.
When developing and analyzing processes, it can be helpful to think of them within a framework. One such framework that one of the Gamma Space members has been using for over a decade is what they call the core loop of Meet, Make, and Manage. Each of these functions is essential, and everyone performs them at some point.
- Meet is where you plan, solve problems, and document decisions.
- Make involves building, testing, and relaying what came out of the Meet stage.
- Manage is where you report, resolve discrepancies, and update communication as necessary.
This framework can provide a useful starting point for analyzing your processes, but it’s just one example.
Identifying when to implement a process involves asking a few essential questions.
First, we need to understand why we are creating this process and what we want to achieve through it. These are two different questions that require separate considerations as they may have variations or multiple parts to them.
Second, we need to determine how to carry out the process and who will be affected by it. This includes considering the scope of the process and the frequency with which it will be used. You’ll need to understand these factors to determine how complex or rigid the process should be. By addressing these questions, you can develop a clear and effective process that meets your needs and achieves the desired outcome.
Here are some factors to consider when applying a process:
- Responsibility: Who’s leading the process? Is it a stewardship role or something like IT support, for example?
- Intensity: Is it very focused and on-demand or more casual and requiring less attention?
- Frequency: Is it regularly scheduled or done on an as-needed basis?
- Degree of specialization required: Do you need someone who is highly skilled or is minimal training sufficient?
Well-planned and considered processes can make complex tasks less daunting. For instance, if you’re working with a governance committee, you don’t need to know everything about governance. Instead, you can focus on tasks such as hosting meetings and making sure you have a representative from every node. The governance committee can bring everyone together and facilitate conversations around fundamental changes to decision-making, working with subcontractors or contractors, and other relevant topics.
The key is to have a question or goal in mind and facilitate the conversation around it. By allowing people to contribute to the agenda ahead of time, you can ensure that everyone’s voice is heard and the meeting is productive.
Thoughtful processes can mitigate many issues. This is particularly important for small teams. Context switching can be a major headache, especially for small teams. For example, switching between filing a CRA form and designing a level can be pretty challenging. There’s no magical secret to make this easier, but having a well-defined and thoughtful process in place can help people go through the steps more efficiently. It may be helpful to allocate specific time for this.
It’s essential to quantify these processes, even in small teams, to attach a value to them. This way, we can better understand the value flow and granularity and get a complete picture of what’s going on. This helps us address any issues that team members may feel uncomfortable about.
If it’s become untenable, maybe because you’re too small, what are you going to do about it? As you are aligned, respect shared processes and values – you’ll work through it and figure it out.
But what doesn’t work is working individually and then coming together and expecting it all to magically coalesce because you all get along on pizza night. Yes, you probably see your team members as friends, which is admirable. But resentment can happen when a context switch becomes an expected, almost semi-permanent thing. And that’s why it is helpful to regularly review your processes, and not rely on good vibes.
Finally, consider game dev work to non–game dev work ratios. For example, it might sound frustrating to spend three weeks writing a proposal without touching your level design tasks. However, as a member of a team, you have ownership and responsibility over the project as a whole. Everyone on the team must share in the non-game development tasks, or knowledge about how to complete them must be shared amongst the team. So, how can we do this? When do we get to make our game?!
A great first step is to write down the process you followed, even if you don’t have the answer yet. This way, you can share it with the group and see if anyone else can help. If you’re struggling with something specific, like creating a budget in a spreadsheet, that’s okay. There may be others who are willing to help with everything else, leaving you to focus on your specialized skill. Having this framework will help you have clear conversations about how best to approach the task.
Tools help facilitate process. They are not a replacement for process. Your desired process should always be considered as you select a tool. A common issue, particularly for small teams, is the lack of a dedicated project manager. If you don’t have a project manager, you’re probably going to look into a tool of some sort. Some try to ease into it and give you a starter template or link to a production methodology. But the truth is it’s not the same as having a skilled person there to help you. This is why your process should inform your tools.
Some tools have features that may help inform the process you choose and let you learn something from it – but it shouldn’t dictate it. Just because JIRA is set up perfectly for doing scrums and Agile development, doesn’t mean that your team has to do Agile development. In fact, for a lot of small teams, Agile development is not particularly helpful.
Some tools have implications when they are weighed against your values. This applies even when you are considering tools that are not specifically related to processes but rather used for creation. We have previously discussed this in the context of deciding between Godot and Unity. Game Maker may also appear appealing now, but their recent move to a free model could be subject to change at any point. You should also consider how open-source tools and reliance on big tech companies play into your decision-making process.
Slack is a big tech platform, and although there are non-big tech alternatives available, they may not offer all the same functionality as Slack. Similarly, Discord may not be suitable for every community. Regardless of which platform you choose, you are still at the mercy of their decisions regarding free plans and pricing for non-profit organizations. Make contingency plans and regularly explore alternatives.
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It’s worth thinking about what you’re trying to accomplish in your process, then finding tools that allow that.
One Gamma Space member says they were initially put off by Miro, as a person used to storing documentation and ideation as plain-text files. But when the pandemic hit, being inside a “page” with other people was comforting and helped him feel connected when our space had closed. And now the tool is central to our processes. So, give yourself the chance to see processes differently than you usually do.
Even if you are working with your team in person, a virtual whiteboard tool can still be helpful. Not to mention, it helps address accessibility needs for folks who can’t come in to the office.
Regardless of the tool you’re using, you’ll need to establish a workflow process. This applies to your virtual whiteboard, where you might plot marketing and development ideas, as well as your project management tools, covering everything from assignments to task completion (and any other tools!).
The assignment of tasks may seem straightforward, but it raises questions, especially if your team doesn’t have project manager. Should the task-assignment role rotate based on the current sprint or work unit? Or should it fall to the person coming up with the idea? In some cases, it’s someone other than the person executing the task, which streamlines the process for review and accountability.
The execution of tasks often leads to ambiguity. A common scenario involves someone marking a task as done without thorough completion or oversight. This raises the question of who reviews these tasks. Trust and repeatable review processes are critical here. In our workflow, task completion and review expectations are clearly set from the start, ensuring everyone understands their roles and responsibilities.
Balancing conversation and reporting is another issue. In platforms like Asana, comments can either facilitate discussions or become a space for making decisions. In our case, conversations about tasks happen in Slack channels related to the project, while the decisions and actionable steps are recorded as comments in the Asana task.
Integrating task management tools like Asana into communication platforms like Slack can be challenging but beneficial. You need to be clear about where conversations and decisions take place. For example, any decision made during a discussion in Slack can be added to the relevant task in Asana for clarity and documentation.
Take a simple workflow:
- The project lead assigns a task.
- The team member then devises a strategy for execution.
- If needed, support is brought in.
- Once the task is complete, the lead reviews and marks it as done.
Visualizing this workflow on a Kanban board, such as in Asana or Trello, helps track the stages of a task – whether it’s due, in progress, ready for review, or completed. Again, the choice of tool is totally up to you!
In our approach, before marking a task as complete, the lead and team discuss the tasks and necessary communication channels. This ensures everyone understands the workflow. The lead then reports on the outcomes according to the set schedule. This is our specific structure, but you can adapt it to fit your own needs. Carefully consider how you incorporate these things into your structure – don’t just insert a tool or process all willy-nilly!
So, to summarize, our process is iterative and recursive. It begins with defining our goals and values, followed by studio development and decision-making. We then develop our collaboration processes. These collaboration processes can influence and improve the initial stages as we revisit them. This means that as we learn to work more effectively together, we can refine our studio’s foundational elements, like goals and values. Remember, our goals and values are not fixed; they need to be continually refined. This commitment to improvement helps us build a strong collective, enabling us to make diverse decisions and establish structures that truly challenge industry norms.
Q: In a small team of three to four members where there are no designated roles like a producer or a team lead, how are tasks typically reviewed, created, and assigned? Can you provide an example of this process?
A: First: Recognize the importance of discussing rules, responsibilities, and structure with everyone on the team. At Gamma Space, it’s crucial for someone to responsibly steward a project, though this role doesn’t have to be fixed and can rotate. We’ve implemented a concept of “on and off ramps,” allowing changes in who leads project management.
Before a task is added to a tool like Asana, we define its scope and timeline, identifying who is responsible and when they can transition out. For example, a person might lead a task with high intensity for two months, after which they can step back, and someone else can take over. This process is planned and understood by everyone, enabling flexibility and learning opportunities, especially for those with varying levels of experience.
It’s easy to see how important an approach like this is in a cooperative environment where everyone shares ownership, responsibility, and accountability for the organization’s health. It’s not about hierarchy but about creating a system that’s adaptable and conducive to learning. Not all co-ops operate this way – some prefer more rigid structures. However, each co-op must choose a method that aligns with its values and impact goals.
Regarding task management in Asana, we could implement a system where everyone pairs up to review at least one other person’s tasks. This ensures collective oversight, but we use our judgment to avoid redundancy, like reviewing every step of a repetitive task. This is where discernment comes into play. It involves not just intelligence or experience but the ability to assess whether a process is efficient and if there might be a better approach.
This content was developed by Gamma Space for a 2023 Baby Ghosts cohort presentation. We have summarized and adapted it here.