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Chapter 3. Habits of Highly Effective Producers
leadership position. "Never let them see you sweat" and "Don't take things
personally" are two mantras you should adopt. The example that the producer
provides to the team, management, and the industry at large forms the basis of the
outsider's belief about the game—its viability and whether it's in good hands.
Professionalism is one of the cornerstones of producing effectively.
Displays Contagious Enthusiasm
Your role as a producer is to establish yourself as the person most willing to give for
the team and the team's goals. Your enthusiasm for the goal, the project, the game,
the team, the company, and your role in it must be contagious. As a source for
inspiration and encouragement to others, the producer must shine brightly with
contagious enthusiasm. Who wants to follow a leader who doesn't believe in or like
where he or she is going?
Doesn't Fear Failure
Everyone fails at some point. This is a natural part of life. Often, however, people
avoid opportunities because those opportunities increase the likelihood of a failure in
the future. The fact is, however, that from each failure comes a lesson—and from the
lesson an opportunity to grow stronger and succeed in the future. A producer cannot
be afraid to fail, because each failure yields its own opportunity for growth and
understanding as well as success. Do not become complacent; instead, venture forth
into the challenges that video game–software development offers without fear!
Doesn't Rush to Criticize
Although it is often easy to see the mistakes of others, sometimes the best approach
is to ask clarifying questions about a person's work or approach to the work before
criticizing the outcome. Often, you may discover that a team member thought he or
she was delivering as expected and simply needs you to clarify your expectations.
Of course, the most important rule when you feel criticism is warranted is to provide
others with the same respect you'd expect from them. Allow and guide them to
benefit not just from the specific correction that is required to their work, but from
the process as a whole. Such an approach can only increase the degree of respect
and esteem the team member holds for you, the producer—thereby ensuring a
harmonious working relationship as well as a more dedicated team member.
Refrain from personally attacking anyone, regardless of his work performance.
You can always work to remove someone from the team if he or she cannot
accept honest, constructive criticism.
Leaders are built through their ability to lead and inspire others. If you, as a
producer, are enabling others to do their best work, then they'll respect you for
empowering them to deliver their best. Live with the fact that most people won't be
able to do some key tasks as well as you do at first, but then realize that as they
learn, chances are they'll develop new efficiencies, skills, and procedures to
accomplish those same tasks, but in less time and with more quality. Give others a
chance to achieve their dreams, and they may just surprise you with the results. By
giving up tasks, roles, and responsibilities to others, it frees them to learn and frees
you to lead.
Follow through is perhaps the most important skill and trait a producer can have. A
lot of people take follow through for granted. Recognizing a commitment and
ensuring that it's carried out is the primary responsibility of the producer. The ability
of a producer to follow through on his or her commitment is paramount to building
team confidence. If a producer cannot follow through on his or her commitments,
there is virtually no way for that person to succeed in the long term.
Has a Positive Attitude
A positive attitude is one of the most important attributes a producer can have.
Why? The Game Development team faces many problems every day, from mundane
frustrations to near catastrophes, and it's the producer's job to help solve problems.
If a producer has a positive attitude when dealing with all of the problems associated
with software development, he or she can effectively solve those problems. After all,
have you ever witnessed an effective problem solver who complained constantly and
had a bad attitude? When you undertake your role with a positive attitude, it
improves productivity and the quality of the work performed. Besides, it's much
easier to work with happy, positive people than with those who have a bad attitude.
If you want your team members to have a positive attitude, then you need to start
with one yourself.
The ability to inspire others is a powerful trait. As a producer, others look to you for
wisdom, perspective, strength, attention, and proof that you care about the game,
the team, and the company. Your honesty in the face of challenges and mistakes is
also an important example for others. Often, when a leader admits a mistake,
apologizes, recovers, and continues toward the goal, the team enjoys a profound
experience in seeing that you're human after all!
Often, video game–development projects are plagued by indecision. The ability to be
decisive, whether the decision is right or wrong, is valuable. The team reacts to the
producer's actions and decisions; by delaying in making a decision, the producer
lessens the amount of time the team has to implement the decisions. This prevents
the next set of decisions from being made in a timely manner, causing a cascade of
delays. Try to make decisions early, communicate them clearly, and provide insight
into your decision-making process. Waiting to make a decision until all risks are
mitigated usually means that any competitive edge has been lost in the delay.
Discretion—specifically, the ability to respect confidentiality—is one of the traits
required of an excellent producer. In any leadership role, there is an inherent
opportunity for the leader to know privileged information. Respecting others' requests
for confidentiality can only help you do your job and build respect in the long term. If
others know that they can trust you with their secrets, then you'll have the
information you need to do your job well and to head off problems before they occur.
A producer must be able to passionately lead a team. This means that the producer
must believe in the game concept, direction, and vision. Effectively conveying his or
her passion for the product to the team is a very important part of being a producer.
The producer must maintain his or her emotional connection to the game concept
and vision throughout the development process, up to and including the completion
of the product. The dominating and powerful belief in the product must be contagious
in order for the producer's passion to be effective.
Reliability is another critical trait for a producer. As an example to the team, the
producer must show that he or she can be counted on in all circumstances. Delivering
the same results, with a commitment to quality, is required of almost every
producer. Working late with the team to meet a critical deadline, ensuring that all of
your responsibilities are completed in a timely manner, and ensuring that
contingency plans are in place are just a few examples of being a reliable and
Successful leaders look to find humor in facing the daily challenges of life. Indeed,
humor is often the lubricant for tense situations, of which you'll experience many
during the development of a game. Humor helps leaders remain cool under pressure,
and helps keep the challenges in perspective. Case in point: President Reagan, after
surviving an assassination attempt in which he was seriously wounded, quipped to
the doctors upon arrival to the emergency room, "I hope you are all Republicans."
Be careful, however, not to employ sarcasm in your humor or to use humor to
indirectly criticize someone on the team; doing so may be unsettling and
unproductive. Benevolence in humor is always the best course for ensuring that
others appreciate your point of view. As the old saying goes, "Laughter is the best
medicine." It is often true that the best and healthiest organizations know how to
laugh at themselves.
Leads by Example
In basic terms, leadership is getting others to do what they don't want to do to
achieve the results that you want. Leadership also encompasses the ability to convey
a degree of confidence to those who are working with you that the leaders of the
project are going to make the right choices. Whether you're the executive producer
or simply an assistant producer or associate producer, you'll need good leadership
The best way to lead is by example. That is, if you're asking the team to work
accomplish a specific objective or implement a certain gameplay feature by a specific
time, make sure that as the producer your work is completed on schedule and that
you've met the commitments promised to the team in return for their accomplishing
this task. Ensuring that you've made the decisions so that work can progress is
another case of leading by example. Don't delay on a making a decision and then
expect the team to make up for your delay. As a producer, you do more than what
you ask of others. By being a role model, you set the work ethic standard. Practicing
what you expect of others, offering your support, demonstrating that you care, and
being there to make it happen shows that you're a passionate, committed member of
Andrew Carnegie once said, "No man will make a great leader who wants to
do it all himself, or to get all the credit for doing it." This mantra holds true in
the video-game industry as well. Whenever possible, give the credit to those
you're leading. In the end, it makes you a more effective leader. Empower
those you work with by giving them full responsibility for their portion of the
game. The results generally are surprisingly positive.
A commitment is a personal promise to perform a duty or task. When you make a
commitment, you make a statement about yourself and about your values. Your
willingness to fulfill the commitments you make to others—to do exactly what you
said you were going to do—is a key indication of how much you value that
commitment, and of the strength of your word.
Commitments are made both by people and by organizations, and an organization's
value depends on its ability to meet a commitment. Often, an organization's ability to
fulfill its commitments depends on each person in the organization meeting his or her
own individual commitments. As such, the organization's commitment is only as
strong as the weakest link within the chain of commitments. As a result, your ability
to meet your commitments increases your value to the team and to the company.
As a producer, you have the added responsibility of making commitments on
behalf of the entire team. If you make it a habit to fulfill your own
commitments, you'll find that others will prefer to work on your team, and
that they'll be motivated to do everything possible to meet their commitments
to you. As a result, in the long term, you'll enjoy greater flexibility and
freedom, and the ability to manage as you desire.
Perseverance is an ageless trait that has propelled countless leaders to greatness.
Being determined to complete a goal that might elude others because it is perceived
to be too difficult is what sets a producer apart as an effective leader. At every job,
on every game, every producer I know has considered quitting his job at one time or
another when the going got tough. They didn't, and each time, the end result was
the attainment of their ultimate goal: the development of a great game.
Shares a Vision
Sharing a vision entails creating and believing in a greater purpose that everyone on
the team can relate to. By providing this vision—and in the end—a purpose, the
producer can establish a positive outcome of the team's efforts. You have a much
better chance of completing a long journey inspired by a vision of success than one
that is just a forced march. Great accomplishments start with great visions.
Shows Business Savvy
Every producer has some element of business responsibility, and business savvy is a
generally a required skill. Programmers, artists, and designers do not want to have
to worry about the business elements of a project. They want someone who is as
good at business to manage the project while they are creating art, code, or design.
A good producer allows each member of the team to focus on his or her discipline
without worrying about the business aspects of a project. A producer who is business
savvy clears a path on which the team and the project can succeed. Negotiating
deals for software tools, cooperative or complimentary products, or required thirdparty software licenses are just a few examples of where business savvy helps the
team accomplish its goal. Other elements may include voiceover talent negotiations,
hiring the right contractor, or negotiating with partner or licensee. If a producer does
not demonstrate some business savvy, then it is unlikely he or she will be able to
achieve a promotion in the role of the producer.
The old saying "Respect is not given but earned" is never truer than when used to
describe what is required for a producer to succeed. Demonstrating respect for
other's ideas, initiative, passion, and advice is of paramount importance for
producers. The producer earns respect by demonstrating initiative, follow through,
and a commitment to excellence. At the very least, if you simply do what you say
you're going to do, then you'll be able to earn at least a little respect.
Initiative is the power or ability to begin and to energetically follow a plan, task, or
enterprise with determination. The initiative of the producer sets an example for the
entire team. The end result of the team's collective work is widely affected by the
initiative demonstrated by the producer. The producer must take the initiative to
solve problems before they affect the game's development. It is almost impossible for
a producer to demonstrate too much initiative.
John F. Kennedy once said, "There are risks and costs to a program of action. But
they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction."
Indeed, the acceptance and willingness to take risk is what liberated millions of
people from the bonds of war in the 1940s. Simply put, the extraordinary does not
come to those who do not take risks. Practice taking small risks first, and then build
your own method of managing risks. Over time, you'll grow to take larger and larger
risks and be ready to face the failures and rewards as they come.
Organization and Successful Processes
The basic habits of highly effective producers start at the project and daily
management level. This section discusses a few of the ways (by no means is this an
all-inclusive list) you can be a more effective producer. If you turn these principles
into habits, you will have laid a solid foundation for becoming an excellent producer.
Do Daily Delta Reporting
The tool I've found to be of foremost use to a producer is the Daily Delta Report.
This term comes from the mathematical reference to the word Delta, meaning a
finite increment in a variable. This process is used by some of the industry's top
game developers to ensure that they're tracking and managing the development of
their games efficiently.
A Daily Delta Report is a list of all of the changes in task or feature completion or
states. This means that each member of the team sends a quick e-mail at the end of
the day listing the work that was completed only, not everything that was worked on
during the day. These individual three-to five-line emails are sent to the assistant
producer or the producer who then group each person's email details by their
contribution area (art, design, production, and programming) into a single report,
published the following morning. The Daily Delta Report provides a clear outline of
the daily accomplishments of game development progress from each team member—
the finite increment in an easily reviewed fashion.
The producer or assistant producer compiles the myriad of e-mails from the team
into a single comprehensive report of all the team member's accomplishments and
distributes the report at the beginning of the following day. It is an easy process
which allows the producer to understand and follow what each team member is
doing without being intrusive on a daily basis. When everyone the entire team has
this report, this means that everyone has the same information that the producer
does about what was worked on and for how long. It promotes communication and
problem resolution, as on large teams it is sometimes difficult to know what
everyone else is working on. If you're an artist working on animating a character and
the programmers are working on a key feature of the animation engine, reading this
report allows the opportunity you to collaborate in a timely basis and discuss the
requirements of the animation engine.
Collaboration and clarity is promoted by Daily Delta reporting. It's less intrusive and
takes less time than an assistant producer going around an interrupting everyone to
get their statuses. If every accomplishment, or delta, is archived, there's a clear
record of what the entire team did on each day of the project (assuming that these
emails are saved into their own folder). This makes understanding and rectifying
mistakes easier and makes possible progress for benchmarking purposes.
Ask Clarifying Questions
The foremost aspect of the producer role is to clearly understand at what stage the
project is in and what it will take to complete the project on time. There's virtually no
way to do this without asking questions of others. But there's a way to do that that's
more effective than constantly asking "Hey, when is the DirectX integration going to
When asking a clarifying question, you should pose it in a non-confrontational, nonaccusatory manner. "What remains to be done to complete this feature and how I
might help overcome some of the challenges you're facing?" Is a much different
question than "You said that you'd have this feature complete by now—why is it
more than three days late?" By asking clarifying questions you make it clear to the
person whom you're asking that understanding him is your first priority.
Clarifying questions can also prevent an emotional outburst from an overstressed
team member and help identify other problems before they become more acute and
disruptive to the whole team. For example, I've often just taken a team member to
lunch and asked them about how their work is going, what they are enjoying or not
enjoying and why. It is not surprising that learning this type of information can help
you understand a specific part of your project, but it can also help you understand a
specific team member's challenges. By listening first, you establish a level of rapport
and trust with the team members, and establish yourself as someone who can help
This approach also prevents the natural human tendency to cover up for mistakes
and hide faults. Often, the team member does not want an immediate solution from
the producer so much as to know that his concerns are being heard. An immediate
response from the producer is not mandatory as it is sometimes better to just think
about the answer before responding.
Table 3.1 lists some examples of clarifying questions to use in a variety of situations.
Table 3.1. Clarifying Questions for Common Situations
Team member wants a
raise (outside of the normal
I'd like to understand why a raise outside of the
normal performance review process is warranted?
Please help me understand type of (financial)
recognition you are expecting?
How do you think that your pay rate measures against
others in the industry and the company?
A team member Is unhappy Do you feel free to speak to me candidly about what
with his raise after a
elements of your performance review were
unsatisfactory, unclear or unfair?
Do you have a clear idea about what performance
improvements would make next year's review an
What elements of your performance review weighed
most negatively on your overall rating?
I'd like to help you outline a When can we sit down and outline and plan and a goal
plan to achieve the
performance review rating
you want for next year.
When a team member is
What challenges remain to completing this work?
Is there anything that I can do to help improve the
efficiency of completing this task?
Are there any tools that you're lacking?
When a team member is
Which elements of this task did I not account for in the
schedule when it was established?
Can we discuss the plan for completing this task by a
When a team member is
Can you please tell me how you feel or how his
upset with the behavior or
performance of another
behavior upset you?
Why do you think that he acts this way?
What factors do you believe contributed to this
Do you believe that he meant his actions against you
When someone is upset at
How did you feel when you learned of this decision?
the decision of an executive What are your suggestions for how I should respond to
or higher level manager.
the impact of this decision?
When someone is habitually What is inhibiting your ability to get to work on time?
late to work.
Did you realize that your lateness affects others?
Can you take a moment to understand how your not
being here on time affects everyone else who is here
When work quality is
What steps do you think are necessary to get your
work product quality to a higher level?
Do you understand why this work product can't really
be used in our game without affecting many other
What can we do to help increase the product quality of
your future work? Do you need more time? Better
tools? Or a better understanding of the requirements
at the beginning of the work?
When there's a
disagreement over the
creative direction of the
Can you help me understand exactly where you're
coming from and why you feel this way?
What other concerns do you have with this direction?
What do you suggest we do to minimize this issue and
solve it effectively?
Wants a day off (with little
or no advance warning)
Did you realize that your absence is going to affect the
team's ability to complete our work on schedule?
How did we not know about this potential situation
What can I do in the future to make sure we plan for
these types of occurrences?
Anticipate the Needs of Others
Anticipating the needs of others means being flexible and adaptable about responding
to the direction of the product with a focus on what each team member is going to
need to succeed in their role. For some team members, this means the right tools
and plug-ins for Maya, 3D Studio Max, Lightwave, or whichever 3D software package
the team is using. Anticipating the needs of programmers might require that you help
outline which tools are going to be licensed from a third party and which ones need
to be developed internally.
Another way to anticipate the programmers' and the artists' collective needs is to
help formulate the plan for the assignment of critical path tasks and features to
ensure that the items on the critical path of the project schedule are completed on
Naturally, it is difficult to anticipate the needs of others without a clear and open
communication process, so ensure that a fundamental communication network is
available for constant collaboration among the team members.
To effectively anticipate the needs of others, stay away from the "Dilbert"
management style and company structure. An authoritarian management style
undermines a producer's ability to understand and anticipate the needs of other.
More importantly, team members find it easier to fall into the role of complaining
without taking any steps to improve the situation.
Always Call People Back and Answer E-Mails
While this may seem like a simplistic principle, returning people's calls (whether it is
today, tomorrow, or next week) is a valuable trait. It ensures that people will call you
to discuss news, and that you're afforded every opportunity to understand and
anticipate external problems or opportunities that may affect your product. Being
responsive is one of the traits that is highly respected and appreciated by others—
you're not wasting their time making them wait for a callback or stalling on making a
decision until some later date.
The rule that I try to live by is that everyone gets a return phone call by the end of
the day—or at least on the way home. The exception to this rule is when I'm
traveling and it is not practical to return the call until later.
It is often easier and more convenient to send a caller an e-mail to let him know that
you received their voicemail and that you're working on the situation. I often send a
response e-mail saying "Thanks for your call today. I need to gather the right
information before I call you back to discuss this further. I should be able to get in
touch with you by [date]." This is a great way to be responsive without being evasive
Returning people's calls is a way to distinguish your performance and approach from
those who may consider it acceptable to not respond unless it is to their advantage.
I've been able to get my calls returned by people I needed to speak to because they
knew that I would always call them back. Respect breeds respect, and in this
industry respect is an important and valuable commodity that often takes years to
Always Follow Up in Writing
One of the most important parts of effective communication is confirming that the
other party clearly understands your position and what you're saying. One of the
ways that I've found to be effective is to follow up important phone or in-person
conversations with an e-mail. Politely restating your understanding of the
conversation and identifying the next steps to be taken is an important tool in
ensuring your project stays on schedule. There's nothing worse than, after having a
conversation with the IT department and expecting a problem to be solved by a
certain date, you later find that the IT guy has been waiting for two weeks for you to
confirm the specifications of the hardware and the cost that you've budgeted.
To prevent such situations from arising, I follow up with the individuals involved in a
conversation with an e-mail stating:
The issues that I remember being discussed.
The proposed and agreed-upon resolutions.
Who is responsible for completing the agreed-upon tasks.
The date or time by which the tasks are to be done.
This simple procedure has undoubtedly prevented numerous mistakes and
misunderstandings (especially on my part) from affecting the team or the rest of the
Confirming your understanding in writing. Be especially sure to clarify critical and
sensitive situations such as those concerning performance, compensation, critical
path schedule items, and public relations events.
It has often been said that the first rule of corporate America is to
"cover your ass" or "CYA." The "always follow up in writing" trait
is not to be construed as motivated solely by CYA. In fact, CYA
emails are generally very transparent and are easily distinguished
from those motivated by an individual concerned with the
project's success and that of other team members. Don't get the
CYA rule confused with responsible and clear communications.
Understand the Contract
For external development teams and third-party producers, understanding any
existing contracts is a fundamental and necessary skill. While the authoring of an
external development or license agreement is not usually the sole responsibility of
the producer, understanding the key principles, milestones, conflict resolutions and
goals for the project as outlined in the development agreement is an excellent way to
ensure that you're effective in your role.
Once you understand the key principles behind the agreement, it become easier to
administer and drive toward completing the goals outlined therein. I've witnessed
development teams reach the point of total frustration because the contract was so
vague and the goals so ill-defined that it would have been nearly impossible to meet
the objectives in it when it was signed.
If you inherit a project with a poorly defined contract or one that's hard to
understand, read through it and create a checklist of key dates and goals. Then
ensure that you understand the way to resolve conflicts or disagreements within the
framework of the contract. They are almost always evitable, so the sooner that you
understand them the better.
Follow the Contract
Once an understanding of the contract has been achieved, there's the second step of
using documentation to support your case and ensure that you're following the
procedures and definitions in the agreement.
Make sure that for each milestone review or license-review stage, you have a
checklist clearly specifying all of the details in the milestone review and how they
relate to the agreement. Provide a place for acceptance of the milestone, with a
signature line or other indication that what's been provided is acceptable and meets
the terms of the agreement.
While it may seem disadvantageous to the product's development process to follow
the strict letter of the agreement, I've rarely seen a producer take the heat for a
project that remained on schedule because he stuck to the milestones outlined in an
agreement rather than modifying the product to be the best or the coolest, or to
include features or content that was not specified in the agreement in the first place.
If you don't agree with the terms outlined in the agreement, then work with your
management to update the contract to reflect a reality that makes sense for the
product and its marketability. Propose a solution for improving the circumstances and
restrictions of the original agreement. But until that agreement is executed and in
place, you probably shouldn't proceed on a course of action which deviates from the
spirit or letter of any agreement regardless of external force or outside market