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Globalizing Production for the Future
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Globalizing Production for the Future

September 23, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 5 of 6 Next

The Tools of Globalizing Production

If you expect to have a VERY successful virtual team, especially one which is truly global, then you need to be willing to invest in some tools and technologies to help you.

Scheduling is tough enough to do with a local team, but even worse with an international team. Finding a good scheduling tool, especially one which works online, can be a lifesaver. Unfortunately, there are no really great solutions out there.

Technology is critical to standardize and follow critical production standards with. Having great secure source control, build systems, merge processes, asset tracking, version control, a componentized engine structure and other technologies standards is critical.

Asset Management needs to have a robust solution, and not just checking in assets to source control. You need to make sure you can review, track, give feedback and approve all assets.

Documentation also needs to be robust, and more than just a large GDD or other series of documents thrown on a server somewhere. This is part of the total communication problem, in that everyone on the team needs to not only have great documentation, but be able to search it easily, find the things they need, know when changes have been made and so on.

Communication is critical to your success. Dealing with virtual teams and doing conference calls is still harder than in seems, or more expensive than it sounds, especially to some countries. Making regular calls to China is expensive; however Skype, Ventrillo, and other VOIP solutions tend to break up badly when going to Asia or if too many people (maybe more than five or 10) are using it. Using those solutions in the U.S. or some countries can be fine, but don't assume they will work in Asia and some other parts of the world. This obviously rules out great international group teleconferencing for awhile. So, finding a good teleconference and video conference solution will be important. Fortunately there are some great advances in these areas right now.

Approvals are also extremely important to track. You need to know where everything is at, what needs to be reviewed, where everything is at in the pipeline and so on. Otherwise you will risk a very upset developer and a bad relation which can lead to other problems. Having a software solution to manage approvals is critical, even if it is just an excel file which is manually tracked.

Depending on the teams, your tools, pipelines and projects, you may also need to invest in better source control, build processes, and other technologies to help the teams work better virtually.

Time Zone Issues

Dealing with the difference in time zones can also be tricky. You need to evaluate where your global teams are based and how your team can manage them.

For example:

  • 9 am in England is 3 pm in China.
  • 9 am on the U.S. East Coast, however, is 8 pm in Japan.
  • 9 am on the Los Angeles is 9 pm in Moscow.
  • 9 am in Chicago is 11 pm in Australia.

So, you need to understand if you team is able to deal with the differences in time zones. Some solutions are that your team, or some from your team may need to work longer hours, shift their schedules, or find a technology solution to help them communicate better if they are rarely able to talk on the phone or video conference.

Dealing with Cultural Issues

One of the things which many teams and managers fail to properly understand is the differences in cultures between different teams. There are cultural difference due to society and the country you are in, as well as company and management cultures to overcome. Often, the cultures at other companies get in the way, even though people never realize it and never think to ask about it.

Some of these problems are just human nature as well, which must often be overcome in a remote environment. Many of the cultural "issues" are unwritten and not something most will admit or talk about. Some of the "issues" may also only occur with specific people, those in certain age ranges, and so on.

For example, when people don't understand you exactly, because they don't speak your language well, they will often keep saying "yes," even though they really didn't get it. They're often either too polite to make you repeat yourself, or too embarrassed. This is why I always follow-up oral communication with a written task list and explanation, just to make sure they really understood me, and didn't forget something.

In some cultures (especially in Asia), it is often considered rude to ask questions during or after someone's lecture. They are "taught" that to ask a question, especially in public, is to imply that the person gave a poor talk, and therefore did a bad job, which is considered insulting. So, often in a group environment, they will not ask questions. Therefore, it is often necessary to make sure you have contact with the team members directly.

Also, in a related problem, people often are afraid to ask questions, because they think it will reflect badly on them. Or, they may not want their boss to know they don't know, or may not want to bother them because they are busy, so the questions go unanswered. So, communication and lack thereof is a major problem for all teams, even within the same company and building, let alone globally.

Language is a major cultural issue. Even when working in England, I found that I often used words which meant different things in American English versus British English. On more than one occasion, this led to some confusion and awkward moments. This problem can be compounded exponentially when your common language you are working in is not native for one or both of you.

We often use popular culture to explain things, especially other games. However, we assume that people have watched the same shows, played the same games and so on. We also usually assume that they had the same experience as us. We have to be careful when assuming that people know the same things that we do. We also can't forget that some shows are even changed for international audiences, such that a character may be changed for another culture, to make them more acceptable.

Storytelling is one place where most cultures and writers in different countries are often on completely different pages. For example, what an American player likes is usually opposite what a Chinese player finds fun and interesting. Sometimes these differences are cultural, and sometimes it's just differences in taste. A lot of games which are successful in places like China don't have the same story in China and the rest of the world.

Even just doing business overseas can be shocking for many people. A lot of business, especially in Asia, is done at strip clubs and other strange locations that seem unprofessional to some. Their cultures may have other unwritten rules about what etiquette to use while having meals, going out drinking and things like that. So, especially if you are visiting a development partner, it is good to get advice if you are new to doing business there and think that something may bother or offend you or them and ruin the relationship.

There are many other cultural issues to be aware of when dealing with teams in other countries. It is good to talk to some people and try to not be shocked when something weird or different happens and just try to adapt to it.

Article Start Previous Page 5 of 6 Next

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