Task management is everyone's job

Game development has been following a large spiral of hyper specialization for the last twenty years. Every now and again we have had a push to get out of this specialization but it’s never maintained momentum.

These pushes seem to be timed with console lifetimes, but that might be an observational bias.

The cleaving of games development along the current discipline lines is the most obvious first choice. Why? If you have 10 people on a game and a few of them are better at programming, or art, or design, or production, then you are naturally going to give more and more tasks to those people. As the jobs get bigger your going to look for help. The person that has been doing mostly programming tasks is going to look for an individual that can take some of the programming tasks off of their plate. Same for art and design. These groups eventually grow into departments and the original people into leads.

But go back to the original assumption. That you needed to specialize. What would happen if you always brought in people that could do more than one task? How would you split the work? What happens to the people that can program, and draw, and design? They fall between the cracks in the departmental plan.

What makes it worse is that a departmental system is a positive reenforcement system. You bring in people that are good at that task, and they see their job as that task. As each gets into a leadership role they look for stronger people with those tasks. This continues until departments can’t even communicate with each other because they use different terms.

I’ve seen the problem occur, to the point where departments get built for sub-tasks. Frontend department, AI department, etc. I’ve even seen it get to the point where rendering programmers couldn’t effectively communicate with artists and they needed others to translate task descriptions.

Now I’m going to pick on a department that I think is core to this argument. Everyone can argue, “Well it makes sense to have people that can model well work on the art,” and I can agree, to a point. What I can’t agree on is having a department in place to handle the lists of tasks, production. When you have a system that is built just so that you can hire people who don’t have the skills to manage task order and dependencies your system is broken.

My argument is not that you don’t need production staff, but if the job has devolved into task tracking for people that refuse to or don’t know how to then you have the wrong people working at your company.

Task management, communication, dependency management, these are the cornerstones of modern intellectual work. Not having these skills is a problem. Refusing to learn these skills because your “job” is too important is a sin.

A sin all too common among game development teams.

Production staff should be in a position to teach others how to do these tasks and simply account the books. It should be an oversight job, an accounting job, or an ombudsman job, everyone must be able to do this work, or have core understanding of it. If not they cannot move forward.

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