Strange Convergence

Since my promotion earlier this year, I have effectively been a producer for the live team in an online non-gaming environment. We have an existing application with customers and a rather large database. The backlog of bug fixes and new features has requests dating back to the day the current system went live. We have a small team of programmers and testers. We have development, test, and live servers. There is a development process, documentation that we seem to be keeping up to date, and programmers with varying degrees of “big picture” versus “get this off my desk as quickly as possible” views.

By headcount, most of my staff is the customer service team, ranging from answering phones to database maintenance (which is a higher level CSR function here). You find an exciting variety of problems when interacting with the customers. Customer service tools are very important; I wish we could spend more programmer time automating things CSRs do frequently, but we have crises and legal requirements ahead of wish list items. Based on the feedback of the customer service team, they are surprised that management is asking for feedback. My new division seems more divided and stratified than my previous one, but then it is five times larger.

All those things I have written over the years about process and organization and documentation and development cycles? I am now in charge of making sure those happen. My project for next week is changing our patch notes process to improve documentation and make sure the CSRs are fully informed about what is intended behavior and what calls for bug fixes. While I got the job because of my professional experience, my experience here may be just as useful.

: Zubon

7 thoughts on “Strange Convergence”

  1. I am actually really curious to see how your experience will help in getting requests for changes implemented. It never seems fast enough in the mmo world, especially the obvious ‘omg fix it now’ stuff. You’ll have to post what holds up changes like that.

    1. I have the advantage of being able to say, “Make this your top priority,” with people paid to implement that directive.

      Categories recently holding up major changes:
      – limited staff and a LOT of ‘omg fix it now’ stuff
      – your ‘omg fix it now’ may be critical to you but of lower value to us
      – other parts of the internal organization that hold things up
      – the appropriate person for some step is on vacation, sick, etc.
      – external partners over whom we have no direct control, say contractors who report to another part of the organization or just coordinating efforts involving organizations in four different states
      – one of those external partners needs to make the change, not us (and our ‘omg fix it now’ is of lower value to them)
      – important things, if they were easy, would probably have already been done. Stuff can take quite a few iterations to get right, especially once you start stacking in the previous things

  2. grats to your promotion!
    I think the business world can learn much from gamers, its just not common yet.
    I read once about a guy who said he got his managment job because of the experience he had inmanaging his guild.
    There are many skills one can learn via gaming.

    I sometimes wonder if politics should be more like “law updates” with betas and testenvironmets and patchnotes…

  3. Gratz on the promotion Zubon.

    Does your job give you new insights into what game developers are doing wrong and doing right Zubon? I sometimes get the impression that while computer games are at the very bleeding edge of technology the business process being used to develop them are somewhat lagging behind.

    1. “the business process being used to develop them are somewhat lagging behind.”

      Not working in game companies but just IT in general, this is true across the board.
      There are a few doing Agile right who actually get things done, even large projects. There are many who do Agile wrong, trying to cram it into their old paradigms.
      There are a few doing RUP right and other iterative methodologies like rapid prototyping (which I use for small projects where I’m the only person involved with one client).

      Then there are the 99% of project managers out there who still insist on using waterfall because they can’t understand anything else. Waterfall is the absolute worst methodology ever.

      That is also why on the business side you see people not using any known project management methodologies, especially people in marketing, who should be and suffer from the same problems as badly managed IT projects. But they know waterfall sucks and say “that won’t work for us” but no one teaches them about other methods, because their PMO departments don’t know about other methods in the first place.

      Ugh yeah I can go on forever. But I would bet game companies are no different when it comes to project management than anyone else is.

      I so wish I had time to automate the big CSR issues. Of course, the truth is they take so much time that automating them would save tons of time. But there’s that whole “tyranny of the urgent” problem to get over. You need a good manager to back you up on pushing back on requests and the actual customer service problem, so you can implement the long term solution (Even hiring more people means more time taken away so you can train them)

      1. Our process is agile, which feels surprising in government. We are looking into that hiring solution. Unfortunately, we have limited options in fighting our “tyranny of the urgent,” as we have we have legal mandates to meet.

  4. Interesting – the thing that you find is people outside of a change management process have no idea of the level of effort involved in implementing a single change.

    But when you look at the number of changes without the structure in place and the documentation you would never have a way to find out what caused the newest ‘omg fix it now’ issue – and sometimes those are the kind that you stop *everything* to fix.

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