Thursday, February 4, 2010

Creativity vs. Scope

Scott Jennings has new article up at MMORPG in which he writes about the common failures in MMOs. It’s actually part two of a two-part article – the first part being about the biggest MMO failures. In the article, he calls out four critical success factors for developing a new MMO:
  • Scope
  • Technology
  • Service
  • Design
For Scott, the biggest culprit appears to be scope. And with good reason. Scope is the definition of what a project is and everything it will include. In truth, the other three success factors he names (technology, service, design) are all included in the overall scope of a project.

As Scott points out, most scoping problems are either related to having unrealistic project goals or deviations from your scope (called scope creep). Realistic goal setting is really a function of experience, so ideally whoever is creating a project plan has the subject matter expertise to lay out achievable milestones.

In my experience as a project manager, scope creep has always been the bigger danger. Over the course of any long project, the scope of that project is likely to change or evolve.

When this happens, it’s important to clarify your scope and ensure your milestones are still achievable. You can’t be so inflexible as to never change your scope – but you also have to be cognizant that if you DO change your scope, it’s going to impact other areas.

For MMO developers, I’ve always believed that part of the problem is creativity. Which is ironic, because creativity is REALLY important. But the problem with creativity is that it doesn’t want to stay within the confines of a scope.

The plan (including scope) is a box. Thinking of an idea outside of that box (creativity) is bad for the plan. It might even be a really great idea – but it’s still outside of your scope. So do you incorporate that idea, possibly letting your budget or timeline slip?

Devs, I think, are more inclined to overlook scope implications because they like a new idea. At least, until they run out of money and have to release an unfinished project. And then, at that point, it’s simply too late to decide whether that was really an important enough idea to cause your project to launch unfinished.

The Plan
I’m not an MMO developer, but I have worked as a Project Manager in my professional life. One thing that I can tell you for certain is that ideas are cheap. Much cheaper than implementing those ideas.

The point being that it’s better to create your vision and your plan prior to even starting the project. Set your eagerness to BEGIN aside for a minute and think through the entire project from start to finish. Develop a comprehensive outline on paper of how everything will function together.

Think it through as thoroughly as you possibly can and THEN work to a proof-of-concept phase.  If that works – THEN STICK WITH THE PLAN.

Animated films are pretty damn creative. And guess what, they have a plan too! That’s because they come up with the ideas first, then storyboard the ideas. Then when they develop the animation sequences, they use rough animations to test the concept.

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