• Andersen Pinckney

How Do You Explain a Vision? My Experience as the Product Owner and Lead Designer

Updated: Feb 20, 2020

Two weeks ago I wrote about how my senior production team more than tripled in size. In a matter of 1 month, we grew from 5 members to 17 members with an additional 4 contracted members. Have you ever experienced rapid growth in a team? If so, you know the on-boarding process can become rather tricky and time consuming. Continue reading and you might find some interesting similarities or differences from yours and our on-boarding process.

If you’re not in the loop with our game, we created a vertical slice of what we called “Vacuum Vault” in 13 weeks. Our game was one of 8 to move forward into a stage of production. Each project that went forward is given greenlight criteria that has to be met in order to continue development. The most outstanding criteria for us was to define our context and story. Essentially, we created a casual adventure game with most of the required systems and feedback to showcase what we wanted our player experience to be like. As we’ve learned, adventure games need stories… it just seems to work that way! This criteria was both a blessing and a curse - sure, we had to make a context fit with the systems we have in place, but our new team members were also able to make the project their own.

As the product owner and lead designer, I was responsible for leading the vision of our game. For what we made last semester, the most important element of our vision was our player experience. As the team started to become invested in the project, I let go of the reins so long as ideas were enforcing our current experience. The team started creating a story, level blockouts, upgrades, and more. The most important thing I could do for the team was ask questions and maintain documentation.

Last blog I mentioned there was a vision board I was maintaining. As the team started developing the game further, I’ve since updated the vision board to reflect the current state of our project HERE. In the previous blog, I also said I would create and maintain a product backlog. I created a Google spreadsheet that automatically sorts features and stories based on their priority, estimated sprint start, and status. This has helped the team prioritize what features and stories to select during our sprint planning.

This is a screenshot of the feature list with priorities and how I am describing tasks.

Now that the team has had time to settle in, I can reflect on what I did well as a product owner and what I need to improve on. At our most recent work session, I asked designers what I could do to improve as a product owner and a lead. My current role includes the responsibilities of a servant leader, making sure I support people as individuals and the team as a whole. The designers said they were happy with how I am currently handling the team and appreciate what I’ve done. They said what is working well for them is my timely feedback on documentation. I make sure to read through any documents that have gone through change almost every night. Anything that I see a weak area with I leave a comment. If there is a question I have from reading the document, I leave a comment. If there is terminology or something that doesn’t quite line up with our current vision, I leave a comment. My intent - which seems to be working - is the designers would reflect on and filter the comments I leave to improve their documentation and process to best fit the vision of the game. This seems to be what I am doing best.

What do I need to improve on? As we are starting to transition into engine more - specifically with level designers - I need to start playing through what people are creating. My focus for the past several weeks has been primarily on documentation. This honestly has given me quite the headache and I am super pumped to start going in engine more. Level designers recommended that I check out their levels and give feedback on scale, blockouts, and coordinate with artists. My main focus for the next two weeks will be working on keeping work in engine running smoothly and coordinating between programmers, artists, and designers to make sure that content is being built in the game. Now that we are approaching the end of greenlight, we need a stable build each week that is supporting the vision of the game.

How will things go for my team in the next few weeks? I am confident that you will learn all about it in my next post!