Scott Howard
These are the personal musings of Scott Howard, Producer / Designer / Gamer

Over the last 15 years in the games industry I have worked on console, mobile, social and free to play games enjoying the nuance and challenges each of these brings. 
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Entries in Executive Producer (2)

Sunday
Apr062014

Never Work for Someone Who is Not Willing to Out Work You

I just finished reading, The Gates of Fire by Steve Pressfield which is a fantastic book about the historical (though fictional) account of the battle of Thermopylae and the 300 Spartans (and thousands of Greeks) that fought there. In the book there is one of the best passages I have read about what it means to lead. As an executive producer becoming a better leader is paramount to me and this message really nailed it.

Leonidas and the 1000 yard stare

[From The Gates of Fire describing Leonidas (King of Sparta) and what it means to be a leader, told to Xerxes (King of Persia)]. 

“I will tell his majesty (Xerxes) what a king is. A king does not abide within his tent while his men bleed and die upon the field. A king does not dine while his men go hungry, nor sleep when they stand at watch along the wall. A king does not command him men’s loyalty through fear, nor purchase it with gold. He earns their love by the sweat of his own back and the pains he endures for their sake. That which comprises the harshest burden, a king lifts first and sets down last. A king does not require service of those he leads, but provides it to them - he serves them, not they him.”

Xeones

All of us have heard the phrase, “lead by example”, but leading teams, especially game teams is a lot more complex than that. In Stanley McChrystal’s memoir, My Share of the Taskhe outlines 16 lessons learned from his time as a four star general. I don’t want to cover all of them, but a few are worth mentioning, you can read the rest on your own here

“Leadership is the single biggest reason for success or failure”

If you are misinterpreting that as leaders are the most important people and individuals on teams don’t matter, then you need to re-read the quote above. Leaders serve their teams, not the other way around. In other words, leadership - the act of serving others on a team is the single biggest reason for success or failure. Managing a game team is about giving ownership to the team to solve the problems in ways one person alone could not possibly do on their own.

“Success is rarely the work of a single leader”

Just to further hammer it home, success is not a one person show, nor are leaders just the people who have direct reports. As John Quincy Adams is quoted, "If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”

John Adams doing his best Leonidas impression

I have a simple rule as a leader, never ask anyone you lead to work longer or harder than you yourself are willing to work. If you feel that next feature is worth staying till midnight to get done right, you better be willing to be there till 1am to see everyone home. If that bug needs to be fixed at 8am tomorrow before the release goes out, then you better be there at 7am with coffee and donuts (I recommend Dynamo Donuts, specifically the apple, maple bacon variety). Let’s re-read that quote from The Gates of Fire as defined for an executive producer.

“I will tell the CEO what an EP is. An EP does not sit within an office while his team toils at cramped work stations. An EP does not go out to fancy dinners while his team stays late and works, nor go home and sleep when they pull an all nighter. An EP does not command his team’s loyalty through fear, nor purchase it with bonuses. He earns their love by the sweat of his own brow and the pains he endures for their sake. That which comprises the harshest burden, an EP does first and finishes last. An EP does not require service of those he leads, but provides it to them - he serves them, not they him.”

Scott Howard

Beyond my simple rule for those who lead, I have a simple rule for those who report to a leader, and let’s face it, we all report to someone. Never work for someone who is not willing to out work you.  

 

Monday
Mar312014

Who's Job is it Anyway?

“What is the difference between a product and a project manager?”

I am often asked that question, especially these days since you see both roles often used (erroneously) interchangeably. The important question though is not simply what is the difference between those two roles, but really what are the critical roles and responsibilities in game / product development? How do they work together and against each other? How do you build a team of people who share mutual admiration and respect for the different skills each bring to the table?

Let’s start with roles and responsibilities - Roles are broken into responsibility and authority. You can not be held responsible for something you didn’t have authority over. 

 

Product Manager - Responsibility and authority over the business of the game.
Designer - Responsibility and authority over the player experience of the game.
Project Manager - Responsibility and authority over the schedule of the game and the health / morale of the team. 

Each role has a person or aspect they serve or champion and when in gridlock, they carry a trump card of authority on. In the case of design, when in subjective debates of what is, “fun”, the designer is the person who holds authority over this domain, because, at the end of the day, they are the ones who will be held accountable for the results. For product managers, when the discussions are about what will make the most money, improve engagement, vitality or retention, they get to make the final call. Lastly project managers have an often overlooked responsibility to the team. It is almost perfunctory to say a project Manager owns the schedule, but a great project manager also has the pulse of the team and knows how hard they can push, what they will push for (as different people are motivated by different things), and when it is time to get some easy wins in. It is this triumvirate that fights collaboratively together to make the best overall product, feature by feature, point by point. 
 

So what is the role of an executive producer (or general manager)? In an ideal world everything naturally works itself out and everyone agrees on what the best course of action is all the time, but alas that is rarely the case. This is where the executive producer role comes into play, they are the arbiter and decision makers for the overall product success (the balance of fun, business and time). Where as each of the triumvirate have their domain to fight for, it is the executive producer’s job to see all the pieces of the puzzle as a gestalt and discern the best course of action. Like the golden triangle of project management - good, fast, cheap and you can only pick two, the executive producer balances these tradeoffs - fun, monetizing or fast and you can only pick two. This is not to say that is the only job of the executive producer, but more on that in a future post …