The Wall - Game Developing

I have an effective, low-tech way of getting task visibility out to the team members: I print out the Gantt chart and/or task lists and pin them up on a central wall in our workspace. Software solutions such as Microsoft Team Manager and intranets to publish your schedules and tasks are distinctly unsatisfactory for two reasons: One, your developers need to remember to even open up the document or visit the site, and two, monitors are too small to show a whole Gantt chart, denying your team the appreciation of the project progress as a whole.

It is easy to print out your schedule and pin it up. I recommend just displaying task name and ID, start time, end time, who is assigned to it, and any predecessor tasks on the left-hand side and the Gantt chart on the right-hand side. You should use the widest time setting you have wall space for; when a schedule is scrunched up into just displaying quarters or months on the Gantt window, you are not getting any real-time information.

Now I make a requirement to my developers that they come out to the Gantt chart and mark the tasks off themselves. I do not mark them off even if I know they have been completed. This is to get the developers to come out and find their place in the schedule, mark off with a bit of pride what they have finished, and then look ahead to see what is coming up. Developers will almost always take the time to then look over the whole schedule to gauge how are they doing compared to other team members. When I first started using this method of task tracking it was considered somewhat controversial. Some people asked me privately if this was a good idea. If someone were not accomplishing his tasks on time, would it not be demoralizing for him if this were made public knowledge? Would not that developer feel more comfortable staying in his office and explaining privately why he is behind in the schedule? Bah! My first assumption is that everyone on my team is a professional, and even on an off day all would want to be treated as professionals. Why would protecting their comfort be of higher importance than getting our tasks done in a timely manner? If people are tasking late, they must have a reason. Was it illness? Jury duty? Task underestimation? Were they distracted helping another team member on another problem? All of these are legitimate reasons for being late and certainly nothing to cause embarrassment or discomfort. On the other hand, if they are late because they were just goofing off, then I feel comfortable making them squirm in front of their other team members and letting them know they have let the team down. Knowing that the whole team is aware of what they are and are not getting done goes a long way to inhibit goofing off.

A healthy bit of competition develops with a good wall. Assuming your schedule was a sane schedule and manifestly fair in the time allocated to the tasks to be completed, your team will be in a high morale state to begin with. I use brightly colored highlighting markers to mark off the tasks. Your developers will come out at the end of the day to mark off what they got done then look ahead for something simple to do before they go home—bam! Another task is taken care of! This competition effect will give extra momentum to your whole project. It will give your developers a meta-game to push themselves, and they will enjoy it.

Another benefit of the wall is that it makes a great piece of visual feedback to the executive management team. They look over the wall and see all the marked-off tasks spanning 25 square feet of wall space and nod to themselves and move along. Do not underestimate the importance of reassuring your management that you are respecting their time and money and are making measurable, steady progress. If you are working in a large studio or in a publishing house, the other teams will see what you are doing and think you are obviously trying to get attention. So what you are trying to grab management’s attention. There is no glory in obscurity.

Encourage your team members to go ahead and write any unanticipated tasks they had to complete onto the wall’s task lists. This will help team members who might be falling behind in tracking due to being sidetracked by tasks that were not originally on the schedule. While it may seem crude to scrawl new tasks on the list, it is legitimate. You are after the maximum visibility for all tasks, not just the ones you were smart enough to think of earlier.

When the time comes to update the schedule, the wall charts with the new tasks written on it and the completed tasks marked off will come in handy. Just tear it off the wall and bring it to your workstation where you have Microsoft Project.


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