Crunch time = Producer failure

July 01, 2009

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What does "crunch time" mean?? In standard terms it means that the entire team is working insane hours. Some are sleeping at their desks and there is no weekend. Crunch time can happen any time in the project cycle but usually it occurs near the end, where the big milestones live.

I say it now, and I say it loud... if there is crunch time in a project THE PRODUCER HAS FAILED.

Really, I'm not kidding.

What does the producer actually MAKE during development, he or she makes the schedule. It’s tough to make these schedules because, as we all know, producers aren't: artists, programmers, designers or even QA. Don't get me wrong, the producer may fill these roles but it’s just because of some dire need, not because he or she's the best on the team at that job.

And having made a few hundred of these schedules, I can tell you... it’s next to impossible to accurately predict what crazy artist #4 is going to do 16 months from now. But we do our best to estimate based on an 8-hour day, with weekends off. Sometimes we're smart and we skip known holidays like... Christmas, 4th of July and MY birthday. (I usually give everyone a half day on my birthday, in case they want to gang up for a "pie in the face" type event.)

So the question that is maybe rambling around in your head is: How do you void this failure?

Great question!

The answer is, YOU don't. You have a TEAM, the schedule is not ALL ABOUT YOU. It’s all about making everything MESH. You really don't know how much crazy programmer #3 is going to produce in a day, but his or her boss better know!

At one company we tried the pre-production test cycle. We made one level of the planned twenty-seven level game. I joined the project later in the cycle, near the end of the test. I examined the result, time taken, shortcuts learned, and pronounced: "Your 27 levels have to be reduced to 6, to make the schedule." I was instantly popular with the team, and the object of scorn from management. The sad truth was, I wasn't conservative enough... should have been only 4 levels.

I could go on and on about how to make a schedule, but that's another post. What I can tell you about crunch time, is... you as the Producer should see it coming, and do whatever it takes to avoid it. Crunch time in hindsight burns the team out, gives you a bad rep, and really... do you like it? No one does.

So don't be proud of surviving crunch time, be proud that your team worked together and you never had to crunch!

Your turn...



Attila Szigeti said...

I'm in the CG animation industry and have come to the same conclusion about crunch time. You could do that post on a good schedule! CG animation and game development piplines have a lot in common, so I'd be interested in your take on the subject.