Animus Interactive’s Approach to the Agile vs. Waterfall Problem in Telecommuting

Animus Interactive, a leading video game studio, have certainly taken up the challenge of demonstrating the potential for remote working in a highly competitive industry. They have been incredibly helpful in sharing their experience of establishing an effective virtual team from the ground up with us, providing us with valuable insight into the process of building a video game virtually. Their efforts have enabled us to gain an understanding of the intricacies of remote team creation.

Animus Interactive is not focused on simply carrying out mundane tasks; they are devoted to creating the most visually impressive and ambitious real-time strategy games for the Android platform, with the help of distributed teams.

Avalon Lords: Dawn Rises, the debut real-time strategy title from the team, is now available on Steam. The team are progressing well with their next project, and are now deep into the pre-production phase.

Creating high-quality video games requires the dedication of extraordinary teams with excellent communication skills, as well as a willingness to go the extra mile. Without these essential qualities, no business can hope to achieve success in this field.

In the following sections, we will explore Animus’ approach to managing multiple time zones. We will look into their distinctive hybrid methodology, which combines features of Agile and Waterfall. Additionally, we will analyse the techniques they use to achieve their goals and their method of assigning individual responsibility within the team. All of this is part of their overall strategy for successful remote working.

First things first however…

Introducing, Animus Interactive

The East Coast headquarters of Animus Interactive, led by CEO Frank Cefalu and Game Director Chris Schoolcraft, has grown into a global powerhouse.

This remote team comprises of a total of fifteen people. The art team consists of two Concept Artists, a 3D Modeler, and two Animators, with an Art Director responsible for overall supervision. Frank and two additional off-site coders are responsible for all coding related tasks, with a third coder set to join the team shortly.

The Audio department of the project is headed up by a Sound Lead/Composer and a Sound Effects artist. Following this we have a Social Media/Community Manager and a Story Writer to ensure all narrative elements of the project come together. Finally, the Project Manager is responsible for tying up any loose ends to ensure a successful delivery.

We have people working on this from the United States, Canada, Europe, the Middle East, and India.

Given the size of the team and the fact that their employees are located in three different countries, taking on the highly competitive business of creating a chess programme for mobile devices, as well as free, huge real-time strategy games for high-end PCs, may seem a daunting task. Nevertheless, the team’s commitment to excellence and innovation is undeniable, and they are determined to succeed.

I don’t understand how they make it work.

Having no “typical business hours” because to time zone differences

As Animus’ business grew, it soon became apparent that managing remote employees across multiple time zones was a challenge. To address this issue, the company implemented a tiered system to allow individuals to choose when they worked in order to fit their own schedules. Chris Schoolcraft, Director of Games, described it as follows:

Due to the different time zones, our routine does not adhere to traditional business hours. Each member of staff has designated working hours and we have regular audio and video conferencing sessions via Google Hangouts according to the division; for example, the Art team have a set time, followed by Development and so on.

As a consequence, the team have decided that once-weekly virtual meetings will be a convenient time for everyone to be available. This is imperative for keeping team morale high and preventing the team from feeling isolated from one another. Moreover, it ensures that messages are not misinterpreted.

Combining Agile with Waterfall: Advantages of Each

At the outset, Animus was established on the premise of exceptional nimbleness. The Agile framework has now come to be recognised as the epitome of software development. Regrettably, a few obstacles were encountered during the process. The Agile approach necessitated more than the weekly virtual gathering which was provided, and the time differences between team members meant that regular reliance on it was unfeasible. According to Schoolcraft,

Determining an appropriate time for everyone to convene was proving to be an unnecessary struggle, particularly for the Agile project. When all participants were situated in the United States and Canada, the process was far simpler. For some of us, daytime was the equivalent of evening for others, and the middle of the night for yet more.

As the team grew, more members were recruited. When Animus attempted to arrange a meeting with the entire team, they found they had to rearrange the date multiple times. There was a considerable gap between when personnel were given their tasks and when the organisation was able to complete them. This was due to the people in charge of allocating work either being absent or dozing off.

Animus sought to have the best of both worlds, and thus combined the Agile model with the Waterfall technique. This included the continuation of Scrum meetings and status checks, while assignments are made using the Waterfall methodology. Rather than taking sides in the debate between Agile and Waterfall, they chose to settle on a compromise. The following procedure has been adopted:

The Management Team is responsible for determining the scope of various tasks and organising them into a backlog queue. This list often consists of a large number of tasks, and the team may decide to assign a single employee to a job. Generally, the work is delegated across different divisions.

Management have carefully selected a portion of the backlog to be prioritised at this present time, allowing the team to focus upon the most important tasks, while still keeping in mind the overall objectives. Team members are then able to review the inventory of outstanding assignments and select those that are within their area of expertise. Upon the completion of a task, they return to the list to identify the next suitable assignment.

Department Heads are continually taking items from the backlog and adding them to the active list as work is completed. When a backlog is encountered, the Management Team simply add further tasks to it. As a result, urgent tasks frequently descend down the corporate hierarchy and are filled when employees are available to take them on.

As a consequence, the production team is never behind on their backlog and is invariably several weeks ahead. This ensures that team members are never left idle and the job remains desirable in an industry where projects are often delayed.

Maintaining Team Responsibility

It is understandable that when transitioning to remote working and virtual teams, managers may be concerned that employees may become less productive without their physical presence to keep them accountable. Whilst it has been suggested that workers with the option to work from home tend to be more productive, it is important to not rely solely on this belief and to instead consider other methods of ensuring staff responsibility and efficiency.

Prioritizing first-hand observation and gut instinct, Schoolcraft

At our organisation, we do not have rigid timelines for our projects, however, we all recognise the amount of time it should take to complete a task and it is obvious when someone is not contributing their fair share.

Without a doubt, teams within an organisation set objectives and targets for themselves that they aim to achieve within a certain month or year. All team members collaborate and work together in order to reach those goals, whilst department heads are responsible for keeping an eye on their staff to guarantee that the products are delivered on time.

Animus have identified Monday (https://monday.com) as the project management solution that is most suitable to support their hybrid strategy. This is due to its high level of adaptability, as well as its capability to extract and analyse productivity measures. As a result, Animus are able to effectively monitor and manage their remote workforce, ensuring that productivity is maintained.

The team can gain an extremely precise understanding of their progress thanks to this system. The time taken for completion is worked out from the moment a task is accepted until it is marked as complete. This information is then shared with the whole team, enabling them to use it to create and keep track of their gamedevmap. This map is automatically updated whenever tasks are completed.

Chris recognises the importance of having a Project Manager who is both persistent and diligent in their approach to providing regular updates. The human element should not be overlooked in this instance.

There May Be Another Case of Remote Success Coming Soon

At all times, we have held the belief that there is no universal formula for success when working remotely. Each organisation must discover its own optimal set-up through a combination of ambition and resourcefulness. Every company has its own culture and objectives, and as a result, their processes must be customised to their particular requirements.

Due to the distinct difficulties posed by remote working, Animus have developed their own distinct interpretations of Agile and Waterfall. This has enabled independent video game developers to create titles that can rival those of major AAA publishers in terms of both visuals and gameplay.

Are you looking to achieve success but don’t know where to start? The key to any successful project is to have a knowledgeable and capable development team. Contact us and we will be more than happy to provide you with assistance to find the right video game programmer for your project.

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