Plan for some failures

An interview Hunter Walk did with Stewart Bonn about his time at Electronic Arts contains some tactics for experimenting and still delivering at high quality.

First, undercommit:

When I was GM of EA Studios, my job was to deliver an agreed upon number of games on a particular schedule and at high quality. In order to make sure we delivered those products, we had to have more titles in development than we would commit which would give the Producers the freedom to slip some products if they needed more time as long as they could deliver other titles sooner. I was able to change the expectations of the company such that only 70% of the titles in development were committed.

Second, overbudget:

I also encouraged the producers to “kill early and kill often”. Entertainment software is a “hope business” as in “I hope all this time and money produces a hit product.” Sadly that is not always the case. In fact, the titles most in trouble take the most of everyone’s time in an attempt to improve them. Killing a bad project frees up more than its share in time and energy. To encourage people to kill stinkers, I gave each producer a budget for write-offs so they could kill a title and not have the company feel any unplanned financial impact.

In other words, plan for some failures—both in your schedule and your budget. Set expectations that not all experiments will succeed, and you’ll be free to focus on the winners and make them great.

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