[Michael Levall outlines his experience leading a small project, explaining why Project Lead and Creative Lead duties should not be tackled by a single team member.]
Reflections on Leadership - Part 1
This text is based on my experience from the Loch Ness project that later became Epigenesis, which won the Make Something Unreal Live 2013 competition hosted by Epic Games' Inc. In this first part of a series of reflections I will discuss the difference between Creative and Project leadership, summing up with a discussion on why it is a bad idea to have both of these roles on the same person in a project with ten people. This text is meant for students/new leaders who are in the same situation I was in roughly six months ago. I have taken much inspiration and thoughts on leadership from Michael A. West's excellent book Effective Teamwork, and while it isn't focused on game development there are many wisdoms to be had from reading it.
Creative and Project Lead - What's the difference?
What is the difference between the Creative and the Project Lead? This will most likely depend on your group structure and the specific needs of your group. For example, if you have a small group with only four to five members, it might be better to have these roles on the same person to free up the others for actual work on the game. But for now, let's focus on their differences.
The picture below describes very simply the relationship between the Creative Lead (C.L), the members of the team and the product that is to be produced (in this case, a game). The members represent all of the members in your group, including but not limited to artists, programmers and designers. They are all tasked with producing material for the product, and the Creative stands as a filter between their work and the finished game. His job is to make sure that everything that gets created will neatly fit together in the end, he will also make sure that the core of the game stays intact and doesn't get messed with by any of the members. His job is to communicate the team's vision to the rest of the members, to make sure that everyone is going in the same direction at all times.
In my experience, the best way of doing this is to always try to make yourself available for your team. Work-related feedback is key here, try to take time out of your daily work to talk to every member of the group about their current work and how it can be improved to fit better in with the core of the game. There is of course a fine line between how much and how detailed your feedback should be, no one wants to be hassled every hour by someone who doesn't like the color of the nails on their character. Your job is not to make everything look just the way you personally want it, but to make sure that everything that gets created fits with the vision for the game. Being a small team, you probably came up with the core of the game together, so there is a good chance that your personal opinion might not always be the one that gets the game in the right direction.
On the picture below you can see the relationship between the Project Lead (P.L), the members, the Creative and the Product. While the Creative is the leader of the creative process, the Project Lead is the leader of the team itself (hereby referenced to as the "Leader"). Guiding the members in their daily work, the Leader is responsible for delivering the product on time and on schedule. It is the Leader that handles inter-team relationships such as with other game studios, publishers and other organizations. The Leader supports the team in order to ensure that the product gets made according to the vision, but he will always put time management, team budget and group members' mental health first. In this matter, the Creative and the Leader have two different angles on the same problem. Both of them want to create a "good" product in the end, but while the Creative tries to hold the product close to the vision, the Leader will try to get the product done on schedule without any delays.
As a Leader, I made sure that my team had all of the resources and skills they needed to complete the task assigned to them. During this project, this included discussing with teachers at our school to give us more time to work on our project, but also making sure that my members had the social skills needed to work together as a team. The last one is in my mind one of the most important, interesting and rewarding topics in leadership and I will discuss it more thoroughly in a later part in this series. This leads me to the last part of the picture that describes the roles of Leader and Creative.