We Optimise Our Products, Why Not Our Culture?

As part of the Game Outcomes Project, developers were surveyed about conditions in their workplaces for completed projects in game creation. Part two of the project's published analysis looks at regular dysfunctions that teams have, as understood by management theory, and aspects around teamwork have a very clear positive correlation with success.

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Described as a "systematic, large-scale study designed to deduce the factors that make the most effective game development teams different from the rest", the Game Outcomes Project collected responses from several hundred developers.

In its second article, it looks at the affect of culture on a product's success, as measured by delays, internal goals, critic ratings, and ROI. Its conclusions are by no means gospel, but they are borne of empirical evidence in a study that's pretty much the first of its kind, and should be listened to. And of course, while this is the games industry, it's easy to see how many of its insights can be applied to the wider software industry.

So what happens to the overall quality of a product when weighed against factors like timeliness, internal team satisfaction with the project, ROI and reviews?

In short, this:

If managers want to increase their score on the Y axis, it's clear that it'll help to increase their score on the X axis. And that means paying attention to various aspects of employee satisfaction. The project looks at the data through the lenses of three popular management books: Leading Teams: Setting the Stage for Great Performances, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable, and 12: The Elements of Great Managing.

That first lens revealed just how important it is that developers believe in the project they're working on:

While all question in the Hackman model used had high correlations with success, number two stood out quite a bit. That's the team being enthusiastic about the game, and having a clearly defined and communicated vision. Other factors related to growing skills, being able to bring up issues, and having clearly defined responsibilities.

When all factors are accounted for, it outlines just how important it is to foster an environment where teamwork is encouraged and admitting mistakes is not just okay, but seen as a positive step towards improvement. The project claims an 0.82 correlation between all factors considered and a successful product.

How big a deal is this? Out of the massive survey that this is, Paul Tozour had this to say:

If you take anything from the Game Outcomes Project, take this: the clearest finding from our survey is that culture is by far the greatest contributor to differences in project outcomes.

That's just a taste of the second installment of data analysis over at the Game Outcomes Project, and while I'd encourage anyone interested to read the full blog post, the authors also encourage anyone interested in good management to read the three above books. As just demonstrated empirically, they're not just theory. They result in better products.

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