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Technical Direction
Communication, ROI and Triage
MIKE ACTON (ENGINE DIRECTOR, INSOMNIAC GAMES)
@MIKE_ACTON
Why?
1. Nothing really new
2. Only my experience
3. Only my perspective
4. Things I’ve learned
My experience
1. 10+ yr Engine Director @
Insomniac Games
2. See the problems…
3. …to the end.
Why this talk?
1. Very hard to talk about!
2. Clichés and The Obvious
3. The Gap
Your easy to remember “take
away”
0x999990
What does it mean to manage
technical direction (for me)?
1. Confidence
2. Cost
3. Commitment
4. Conflict
5. Cooperation
*Context
1. Confidence
2. Cost
3. Commitment
4. Conflict
5. Cooperation
a. Example
b. Risk profile
c. Hard for me
d. Training
1. Confidence
2. Cost
3. Commitment
4. Conflict
5. Cooperation
a. Example
b. Risk profile
c. Hard for me
d. Training
What ...
1. Confidence
2. Cost
3. Commitment
4. Conflict
5. Cooperation
*Context
(Example)
“PM is making unrealistic
schedules!”
Confidence
Schedules are only about
confidence.
Confidence
Schedules are only about
confidence.
Ask: What would you need to
feel confident about this
project/system/feature/etc.?
Co...
80/50 Rule
Confidence
1. Confidence
2. Cost
3. Commitment
4. Conflict
5. Cooperation
*Context
(Example)
“You can’t know how long it’s going
to take to solve a problem you
haven’t solved before!”
Cost
If you don’t know how much it’s
worth, you don’t know enough
to work on it.
Cost
Development vs. Research
problems. Have a cost profile.
E.g. 80/20
Cost
Development problems: Have
an expected return.
E.g. 5:1
Cost
Build vs. Buy: Have a function.
E.g. Can we create a
competitive advantage by
knowing our context better
than anyone else?...
1. Confidence
2. Cost
3. Commitment
4. Conflict
5. Cooperation
*Context
(Example)
Q: “Can we do X?”
A1: “Well it depends… on the art,
design, animation, etc., etc.”
A2: “Well anything is possible…”
Commit...
Always “lots of variables.” Don’t
hedge.
People don’t need a probability table,
they need to know what they can plan
aroun...
What are you willing to stake your
reputation/job on?
Commitment
What would you be proud to say you
did five years from now?
Commitment
Choices aren’t forever.
But 10 years is a pretty good bet.
Commitment
1. Confidence
2. Cost
3. Commitment
4. Conflict
5. Cooperation
*Context
(Example)
1. How do you not be like Uber?
2. “I don’t want to work with that guy
anymore! He’s always so abrasive!”
Conflict
Put process to protect people from
my biases, when they conflict with
my values.
Conflict
Need to represent the company well
– What does the company stand for?
E.g. “To be a force for good.”
Conflict
If someone thinks there is a problem,
there is a problem. Even if it’s “just” a
perception problem.
Conflict
Accountability: Prepared to accept
the cost to fix mistakes that affect
others.
Conflict
Conflict cockroaches.
Insidious, stubborn, and very, very
hard to kill completely.
Conflict
1. Confidence
2. Cost
3. Commitment
4. Conflict
5. Cooperation
*Context
(Example)
1. “It’s not working because they’re
not using the tool/engine/system
correctly!”
2. “I had to rewrite it because they
cou...
Surprise is the enemy.
Every day find a way to make
something more boring.
Cooperation
80% of the thing is selling the thing
1. Know what people say they want
2. Paint a picture for the future you’re
selling
C...
Super boring: Roadmap
1Q
2Y
5Y
Cooperation
Every feature needs a user-side
champion.
Cooperation
1. Confidence
2. Cost
3. Commitment
4. Conflict
5. Cooperation
a. Example
b. Risk profile
c. Hard for me
d. Training
How I...
1. Confidence
2. Cost
3. Commitment
4. Conflict
5. Cooperation
*Context
(Risk profile)
> Not doing anything interesting.
< Not getting anything done.
Confidence
> Not doing anything interesting.
< Not getting anything done.
1. R&D profile
2. Shift to learning opportunities
3. Commod...
1. Confidence
2. Cost
3. Commitment
4. Conflict
5. Cooperation
*Context
(Risk profile)
> Losing money
< Opportunity to make better
Cost
> Losing money
< Opportunity to make better
1. Triage
2. Measure UX
3. Ruthless editing
Cost
1. Confidence
2. Cost
3. Commitment
4. Conflict
5. Cooperation
*Context
(Risk profile)
> a. Kill yourself / Burnout
b. Long-term failure
< a. No one can work with you
b. Implicit promises.
Commitment
> a. Kill yourself / Burnout
b. Long-term failure
< a. No one can work with you
b. Implicit promises.
1. Steady pressure: ...
> a. Kill yourself / Burnout
b. Long-term failure
< a. No one can work with you
b. Implicit promises.
2. Team drive commit...
> a. Kill yourself / Burnout
b. Long-term failure
< a. No one can work with you
b. Implicit promises.
3. Provide problem a...
1. Confidence
2. Cost
3. Commitment
4. Conflict
5. Cooperation
*Context
(Risk profile)
> Toxic environment
< a. No creative energy
b. No critical review
Conflict
> Toxic environment
< a. No creative energy
b. No critical review
1. Survey team constantly
2. Intra-team review comfort
3...
1. Confidence
2. Cost
3. Commitment
4. Conflict
5. Cooperation
*Context
(Risk profile)
> Design by committee
< Pieces don’t fit
Cooperation
> Design by committee
< Pieces don’t fit
1. Practice leadership. Everyone is a
leader.
Cooperation
> Design by committee
< Pieces don’t fit
2. Champion for/of every feature.
Cooperation
> Design by committee
< Pieces don’t fit
3. Work backward from production
schedule
Cooperation
1. Confidence
2. Cost
3. Commitment
4. Conflict
5. Cooperation
a. Example
b. Risk profile
c. Hard for me
d. Training
How I...
1. Confidence
2. Cost
3. Commitment
4. Conflict
5. Cooperation
*Context
(Hard for me)
Scale of communication.
- Unique per person: Want every
single person to have confidence.
Confidence
Scale of communication.
1. Leads needs to know messaging.
2. Easier for people to react. Make
commitments loud and early.
...
1. Confidence
2. Cost
3. Commitment
4. Conflict
5. Cooperation
*Context
(Hard for me)
Perception is reality.
- Subjective measures of value.
A. How much is 1ms worth?
B. How much is one person slightly
less f...
Perception is reality.
1. Lots of surveys
2. Budget time for bunch of low-
hanging fruit
3. Budget time for optimization
s...
1. Confidence
2. Cost
3. Commitment
4. Conflict
5. Cooperation
*Context
(Hard for me)
Autonomy vs. Management
1. Self-burnout
2. “Oh yeah, that would probably be
pretty easy to do…”
Commitment
Autonomy vs. Management
1. Strongly encourage time off
2. We don’t want “heroism” – always
represent it as a problem to be...
1. Confidence
2. Cost
3. Commitment
4. Conflict
5. Cooperation
*Context
(Hard for me)
Not naturally “warm”
1. First instinct: “Suck it up.”
2. First instinct pretty much always
wrong.
Conflict
Not naturally “warm”
1. Time to build trust that I actually
care.
2. Ask if looking for suggestions or
advice.
3. Reminder...
1. Confidence
2. Cost
3. Commitment
4. Conflict
5. Cooperation
*Context
(Hard for me)
Timing
The next thing is always the most
important thing, ever.
Cooperation
Timing
1. Goal is to stay out of the way of the
next thing (demo, etc.)
2. Build reference targets
3. Dedicated resources ...
1. Confidence
2. Cost
3. Commitment
4. Conflict
5. Cooperation
a. Example
b. Risk profile
c. Hard for me
d. Training
What ...
1. Confidence
2. Cost
3. Commitment
4. Conflict
5. Cooperation
*Context
(Training)
How to pitch
What do I need to know most in
order to be confident?
Confidence
These things should be included in any
pitch
 Paint a picture
 Identify Value
 Identify Cost
 Identify Opportunity to ...
1. Confidence
2. Cost
3. Commitment
4. Conflict
5. Cooperation
*Context
(Training)
Cost/Value metrics
Can you articulate return on
investment (ROI)?
Cost
These things should be part of ROI
 Development cost
 Maintenance cost
 Cost of entry
 Efficiency return (if applicabl...
1. Confidence
2. Cost
3. Commitment
4. Conflict
5. Cooperation
*Context
(Training)
Minimum viable product (MVP)
“You will be able to…”
Separate would-be-nice from
guarantees.
Commitment
These things should be part of
commitment
 Concrete changes (What will you be able to do
you can’t do now?)
 Problem and...
1. Confidence
2. Cost
3. Commitment
4. Conflict
5. Cooperation
*Context
(Training)
Clear expectations for values
Not about “changing your
personality” – about effectiveness and
what’s right.
Conflict
These things should be part of setting
clear values
 What do you believe?
 Connect to news / current events.
 Value exp...
1. Confidence
2. Cost
3. Commitment
4. Conflict
5. Cooperation
*Context
(Training)
Champion a solution
Follow through end-to-end.
Force sign-off to give yourself
confidence.
Cooperation
These things should be part of
championing solutions
 Articulate how the studio/games will be
radically different.
 Arti...
1. Confidence
2. Cost
3. Commitment
4. Conflict
5. Cooperation
*Context
Review
Your easy to remember “take
away”
0x999990
Review
1. Confidence
2. Cost
3. Commitment
4. Conflict
5. Cooperation
*Context
1. Confidence
2. Cost
3. Commitment
4. Conflict
5. Cooperation
CCCCC*C
*Context
1. Confidence
2. Cost
3. Commitment
4. Conflict
5. Cooperation
CCCCC*C = 0x999990
*Context
0x999990
Mike Acton
Engine Director,
Insomniac Games
@mike_acton
macton@insomniacgames.com
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Technical direction

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Experience and approaches directing Insomniac Games Core (Engine/Tools) Team.

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Technical direction

  1. 1. Technical Direction Communication, ROI and Triage MIKE ACTON (ENGINE DIRECTOR, INSOMNIAC GAMES) @MIKE_ACTON
  2. 2. Why? 1. Nothing really new 2. Only my experience 3. Only my perspective 4. Things I’ve learned
  3. 3. My experience 1. 10+ yr Engine Director @ Insomniac Games 2. See the problems… 3. …to the end.
  4. 4. Why this talk? 1. Very hard to talk about! 2. Clichés and The Obvious 3. The Gap
  5. 5. Your easy to remember “take away” 0x999990
  6. 6. What does it mean to manage technical direction (for me)?
  7. 7. 1. Confidence 2. Cost 3. Commitment 4. Conflict 5. Cooperation *Context
  8. 8. 1. Confidence 2. Cost 3. Commitment 4. Conflict 5. Cooperation a. Example b. Risk profile c. Hard for me d. Training
  9. 9. 1. Confidence 2. Cost 3. Commitment 4. Conflict 5. Cooperation a. Example b. Risk profile c. Hard for me d. Training What it means to me; Rules of thumb.
  10. 10. 1. Confidence 2. Cost 3. Commitment 4. Conflict 5. Cooperation *Context (Example)
  11. 11. “PM is making unrealistic schedules!” Confidence
  12. 12. Schedules are only about confidence. Confidence
  13. 13. Schedules are only about confidence. Ask: What would you need to feel confident about this project/system/feature/etc.? Confidence
  14. 14. 80/50 Rule Confidence
  15. 15. 1. Confidence 2. Cost 3. Commitment 4. Conflict 5. Cooperation *Context (Example)
  16. 16. “You can’t know how long it’s going to take to solve a problem you haven’t solved before!” Cost
  17. 17. If you don’t know how much it’s worth, you don’t know enough to work on it. Cost
  18. 18. Development vs. Research problems. Have a cost profile. E.g. 80/20 Cost
  19. 19. Development problems: Have an expected return. E.g. 5:1 Cost
  20. 20. Build vs. Buy: Have a function. E.g. Can we create a competitive advantage by knowing our context better than anyone else? Cost
  21. 21. 1. Confidence 2. Cost 3. Commitment 4. Conflict 5. Cooperation *Context (Example)
  22. 22. Q: “Can we do X?” A1: “Well it depends… on the art, design, animation, etc., etc.” A2: “Well anything is possible…” Commitment
  23. 23. Always “lots of variables.” Don’t hedge. People don’t need a probability table, they need to know what they can plan around. Commitment
  24. 24. What are you willing to stake your reputation/job on? Commitment
  25. 25. What would you be proud to say you did five years from now? Commitment
  26. 26. Choices aren’t forever. But 10 years is a pretty good bet. Commitment
  27. 27. 1. Confidence 2. Cost 3. Commitment 4. Conflict 5. Cooperation *Context (Example)
  28. 28. 1. How do you not be like Uber? 2. “I don’t want to work with that guy anymore! He’s always so abrasive!” Conflict
  29. 29. Put process to protect people from my biases, when they conflict with my values. Conflict
  30. 30. Need to represent the company well – What does the company stand for? E.g. “To be a force for good.” Conflict
  31. 31. If someone thinks there is a problem, there is a problem. Even if it’s “just” a perception problem. Conflict
  32. 32. Accountability: Prepared to accept the cost to fix mistakes that affect others. Conflict
  33. 33. Conflict cockroaches. Insidious, stubborn, and very, very hard to kill completely. Conflict
  34. 34. 1. Confidence 2. Cost 3. Commitment 4. Conflict 5. Cooperation *Context (Example)
  35. 35. 1. “It’s not working because they’re not using the tool/engine/system correctly!” 2. “I had to rewrite it because they couldn’t tell me what they wanted!” Cooperation
  36. 36. Surprise is the enemy. Every day find a way to make something more boring. Cooperation
  37. 37. 80% of the thing is selling the thing 1. Know what people say they want 2. Paint a picture for the future you’re selling Cooperation
  38. 38. Super boring: Roadmap 1Q 2Y 5Y Cooperation
  39. 39. Every feature needs a user-side champion. Cooperation
  40. 40. 1. Confidence 2. Cost 3. Commitment 4. Conflict 5. Cooperation a. Example b. Risk profile c. Hard for me d. Training How I approach the trade-offs.
  41. 41. 1. Confidence 2. Cost 3. Commitment 4. Conflict 5. Cooperation *Context (Risk profile)
  42. 42. > Not doing anything interesting. < Not getting anything done. Confidence
  43. 43. > Not doing anything interesting. < Not getting anything done. 1. R&D profile 2. Shift to learning opportunities 3. Commoditization Confidence
  44. 44. 1. Confidence 2. Cost 3. Commitment 4. Conflict 5. Cooperation *Context (Risk profile)
  45. 45. > Losing money < Opportunity to make better Cost
  46. 46. > Losing money < Opportunity to make better 1. Triage 2. Measure UX 3. Ruthless editing Cost
  47. 47. 1. Confidence 2. Cost 3. Commitment 4. Conflict 5. Cooperation *Context (Risk profile)
  48. 48. > a. Kill yourself / Burnout b. Long-term failure < a. No one can work with you b. Implicit promises. Commitment
  49. 49. > a. Kill yourself / Burnout b. Long-term failure < a. No one can work with you b. Implicit promises. 1. Steady pressure: 80/50 Rule Commitment
  50. 50. > a. Kill yourself / Burnout b. Long-term failure < a. No one can work with you b. Implicit promises. 2. Team drive commitments + veto/review Commitment
  51. 51. > a. Kill yourself / Burnout b. Long-term failure < a. No one can work with you b. Implicit promises. 3. Provide problem and value to solve. (Never solution) Commitment
  52. 52. 1. Confidence 2. Cost 3. Commitment 4. Conflict 5. Cooperation *Context (Risk profile)
  53. 53. > Toxic environment < a. No creative energy b. No critical review Conflict
  54. 54. > Toxic environment < a. No creative energy b. No critical review 1. Survey team constantly 2. Intra-team review comfort 3. Unfiltered feedback firehouse Conflict
  55. 55. 1. Confidence 2. Cost 3. Commitment 4. Conflict 5. Cooperation *Context (Risk profile)
  56. 56. > Design by committee < Pieces don’t fit Cooperation
  57. 57. > Design by committee < Pieces don’t fit 1. Practice leadership. Everyone is a leader. Cooperation
  58. 58. > Design by committee < Pieces don’t fit 2. Champion for/of every feature. Cooperation
  59. 59. > Design by committee < Pieces don’t fit 3. Work backward from production schedule Cooperation
  60. 60. 1. Confidence 2. Cost 3. Commitment 4. Conflict 5. Cooperation a. Example b. Risk profile c. Hard for me d. Training How I shore up my weaknesses.
  61. 61. 1. Confidence 2. Cost 3. Commitment 4. Conflict 5. Cooperation *Context (Hard for me)
  62. 62. Scale of communication. - Unique per person: Want every single person to have confidence. Confidence
  63. 63. Scale of communication. 1. Leads needs to know messaging. 2. Easier for people to react. Make commitments loud and early. 3. All the 1:1s Confidence
  64. 64. 1. Confidence 2. Cost 3. Commitment 4. Conflict 5. Cooperation *Context (Hard for me)
  65. 65. Perception is reality. - Subjective measures of value. A. How much is 1ms worth? B. How much is one person slightly less frustrated worth? Cost
  66. 66. Perception is reality. 1. Lots of surveys 2. Budget time for bunch of low- hanging fruit 3. Budget time for optimization sprints Cost
  67. 67. 1. Confidence 2. Cost 3. Commitment 4. Conflict 5. Cooperation *Context (Hard for me)
  68. 68. Autonomy vs. Management 1. Self-burnout 2. “Oh yeah, that would probably be pretty easy to do…” Commitment
  69. 69. Autonomy vs. Management 1. Strongly encourage time off 2. We don’t want “heroism” – always represent it as a problem to be solved. 3. Examples of implied promises Commitment
  70. 70. 1. Confidence 2. Cost 3. Commitment 4. Conflict 5. Cooperation *Context (Hard for me)
  71. 71. Not naturally “warm” 1. First instinct: “Suck it up.” 2. First instinct pretty much always wrong. Conflict
  72. 72. Not naturally “warm” 1. Time to build trust that I actually care. 2. Ask if looking for suggestions or advice. 3. Reminder perception problems are real problems Conflict
  73. 73. 1. Confidence 2. Cost 3. Commitment 4. Conflict 5. Cooperation *Context (Hard for me)
  74. 74. Timing The next thing is always the most important thing, ever. Cooperation
  75. 75. Timing 1. Goal is to stay out of the way of the next thing (demo, etc.) 2. Build reference targets 3. Dedicated resources to immediate concerns Cooperation
  76. 76. 1. Confidence 2. Cost 3. Commitment 4. Conflict 5. Cooperation a. Example b. Risk profile c. Hard for me d. Training What I want to make sure team knows.
  77. 77. 1. Confidence 2. Cost 3. Commitment 4. Conflict 5. Cooperation *Context (Training)
  78. 78. How to pitch What do I need to know most in order to be confident? Confidence
  79. 79. These things should be included in any pitch  Paint a picture  Identify Value  Identify Cost  Identify Opportunity to Learn  Strategy for Transition
  80. 80. 1. Confidence 2. Cost 3. Commitment 4. Conflict 5. Cooperation *Context (Training)
  81. 81. Cost/Value metrics Can you articulate return on investment (ROI)? Cost
  82. 82. These things should be part of ROI  Development cost  Maintenance cost  Cost of entry  Efficiency return (if applicable)  Player value (if applicable)  Learning value
  83. 83. 1. Confidence 2. Cost 3. Commitment 4. Conflict 5. Cooperation *Context (Training)
  84. 84. Minimum viable product (MVP) “You will be able to…” Separate would-be-nice from guarantees. Commitment
  85. 85. These things should be part of commitment  Concrete changes (What will you be able to do you can’t do now?)  Problem and part of problem solved. (Not tasks or tech description.)  Clear expectations about what will not be done.
  86. 86. 1. Confidence 2. Cost 3. Commitment 4. Conflict 5. Cooperation *Context (Training)
  87. 87. Clear expectations for values Not about “changing your personality” – about effectiveness and what’s right. Conflict
  88. 88. These things should be part of setting clear values  What do you believe?  Connect to news / current events.  Value expectations part of review/1:1 process  Always know who will take action after conflict.
  89. 89. 1. Confidence 2. Cost 3. Commitment 4. Conflict 5. Cooperation *Context (Training)
  90. 90. Champion a solution Follow through end-to-end. Force sign-off to give yourself confidence. Cooperation
  91. 91. These things should be part of championing solutions  Articulate how the studio/games will be radically different.  Articulate why the change is important to you, personally.  Need to know how to gather support.
  92. 92. 1. Confidence 2. Cost 3. Commitment 4. Conflict 5. Cooperation *Context Review
  93. 93. Your easy to remember “take away” 0x999990 Review
  94. 94. 1. Confidence 2. Cost 3. Commitment 4. Conflict 5. Cooperation *Context
  95. 95. 1. Confidence 2. Cost 3. Commitment 4. Conflict 5. Cooperation CCCCC*C *Context
  96. 96. 1. Confidence 2. Cost 3. Commitment 4. Conflict 5. Cooperation CCCCC*C = 0x999990 *Context
  97. 97. 0x999990 Mike Acton Engine Director, Insomniac Games @mike_acton macton@insomniacgames.com

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