Working Effectively with Outsourcers

After an external vendor is hired, work with them to set up an effective working relationship. You will get their best work if you are actively involved in checking in on status, being available to answer questions, and reviewing and providing feedback on their work in a timely fashion.

Start the working relationship with a project kickoff. The kickoff is an easy way to onboard the outsourcing vendor with the internal people they are working with. During the kickoff, do the following:

  • Clarify expectations: Review the scope of work and what the vendor is expected to deliver. Answer any questions the vendor has. Include the necessary internal team members in the meeting so they also have a clear understanding of what work the vendor is actually doing. If there is any confusion, the internal team may duplicate work that the outsource vendor is already doing.
  • Discuss deadlines: Review all the deadlines, and discuss contingency plans if the vendor runs into any delays. Establish a protocol for them to follow if they are blocked by waiting for something from the internal team. Discuss what will happen if the dates change (which they will).
  • Designate points of contact: Most external vendors will have a project manager who is responsible for managing the vendor's part of the development process from beginning to end and acting as the primary contact for the developer. A single person from the development team should be the primary point of contact for the vendor's project manager. These two must communicate on a daily basis, even if it is just to provide a brief status update on what went on that day with the project. If more people are involved in the communication chain, it is likely that confusion will occur.
  • Establish communication channels: If they are interfacing directly with members of the internal development team, make sure a clear communication pipeline is set up and adhered to. If the developer and the vendor do not establish the communication pipeline up-front, information will fall through the cracks, and key details will be missed. Poor communication might also impact the vendor's ability to meet proposed deadlines, especially if necessary information from the developer is not received on schedule. Consider adding them to any internal chat channels or email lists if it makes sense and is not a security concern.

The internal development contact is responsible for delivering all the necessary assets and resources to the vendor. They must also inform the vendor of any changes to the schedule, especially ones that affect the vendor's deadlines. If the vendor is not informed of a schedule delay that affects work deliverables, you might find yourself paying them extra money because they put in extra effort (beyond what was agreed to) to meet the new deadline. If the vendor is flexible, unforeseen schedule changes can be accommodated.

Provide resource to the vendor so they can get familiar with the game. It is helpful to show them concept art, playable prototypes, the style guide, and anything else that can help them get a good idea of the game's vision, and understand how the work they are doing fits into the development pipeline.

Think of the outsourcing vendor as an extension of the team, and treat them as such. Include them as much as possible in necessary meetings, make sure they receive important announcements, and try to establish a virtual "water cooler" where they can hang out and build rapport with the team. If possible, have the vendors come on site for a few days (ideally for an in-person kickoff meeting) to meet the team, play the game, and ask questions.

CHRIS SCHWEITZER, PRODUCER OF

INTERACTIVE ENTERTAINMENT

I would say that in order to be effective with working with outsourcing, you should start small. The goal is to get both teams familiar with working with the other, start identifying and working through issues in the pipeline, and be able to define or change expectations before going into a long-term contract. Specifically with art outsourcing, the starting small period usually occurs while you have the outsourcing studio work on some "test” assets (these are game assets that are not high priority or that have an upcoming deadline).

I worked on a project that had a very unique art style. When we started looking into animation outsourcing, we had to find a studio that would meet the strong stylistic expectations while hitting our high-quality bar. When we found a potential company, we had the company animate a small set of character emotes, six in total, that ranged in animation difficulty. Since this was the first time we had this company working on emotes, the varying difficulty allowed us to judge the effectiveness and skill of the animators, with emphasis on receiving and interpreting feedback from the animation leads. This process allowed us to identify two major issues: there was a bottleneck in giving feedback on the submitted animation videos, and there was a broken dependency between animation and audio. Because we only had a set of six emotes, we were able to correct the pipeline and feedback process quickly, and have it ready for when we started the long-term contract.

The other thing I would say to keep in mind while working with outsourcing is that both sides (contractor/contractee) are a business, and dead time is wasted money. If you want to keep a good working relationship with the outsourcer, you need to make sure that the outsourcer is consistently fed tasks. What I found worked relatively well was making sure the next set of tasks/next contract was being discussed around the midpoint of the current task/contract. You do not need to have a new contract signed by the midpoint, but you should have the next task/contract done by the three-quarters point. Finalizing it at this time reinforces the deadline of the previous task/contract (because the new one will be dependent on it) and gives enough time to the outsourcing company to make a commitment to your studio.

 
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