Joho the Blog » [2b2k] Distributed decision-making at Valve

[2b2k] Distributed decision-making at Valve

The title of this post is the subtitle of an article in Game Developer (March 2010) by Matthew S. Burns about the production methods used by various leading game developers. (I have no idea why I’ve started receiving copies of this magazine for software engineers in the video game industry, which I’m enjoying despite — because — it’s over my head.) According to the article, Valve — the source of some of the greatest games ever, including Half-life, Portal, and Left4Dead — “works in a cooperative, adaptable way that is difficult to explain to people who are used to the top-down, hierarchical management at most other large game developers.” Valve trusts its employees to make good decisions, but it is not a free-for-all. Decisions are made in consultation with others (“relevant parties”) because, as Erik Johnson says, “…we know you’re going to be wrong more often than if you made decisions together.” In addition, what Matthew calls “a kind of decision market” develops because people who design a system also build it, so you “‘vote’ by spending time on the features most important” to you. Vote with your code.

Valve also believes in making incremental decisions. Week by week. But what does that do to long-term planning? Robin Walker says that one of the ways she (he?) judges how far they are from shipping by “how may pages of notes I’m taking from each session.” That means Valve “can’t plan more than three months out,” but planning out further than that increases the chances of being wrong.

Interesting approach. Interesting article. Great games.

12 Responses to “[2b2k] Distributed decision-making at Valve”

  1. Seems Clue Train just arrived to Valve :-)

  2. It is only difficult to explain because the conventional business world as understood by conventional management school types hasn’t developed the vocabulary to explain it.

    So that’s what I did. Although I haven’t looked at it, Valve sounds like a UCaPP organization that defines itself according to ba-form valence relationships, thereby encouraging individual autonomy and agency, mutual accountability, and collective responsibility. What’s interesting is that an increasing number of organizations seem to be giving up the bureaucratic, administratively-controlled, hierarchical (BAH) form to adopt a “better way” for the organization of the future (by which I mean present).

  3. Sorry, something seems to have mucked up with the ba-form valence relationships link in the previous comment.

  4. I wonder if this process at Valve has anything to do with their amazing commercials for Team Fortress 2. Those commercials are so good I have seen them in short film festivals. (Well, I’ve seen them in *one* short film festival.)

    They are under “Trailers” here: http://www.whatistheorangebox.com/tf2.html

    Christian

  5. The Robin is a he, and he’s quite the gentlemen. Gave me a ride at QuakeCon one year.

  6. […] Joho the Blog » [2b2k] Distributed decision-making at Valve […]

  7. Sounds somewhat similar to 37 Signals “REWORK” approach, particularly the part about avoiding planning more than three months out.

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