Team players

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Ubisoft's office in Shanghai, China

PHOTO COURTESY OF UBISOFT

BY ALMA BAHMAN

As an organization grows, project teams are often separated into silos. Working in disparate departments can make it harder for people to share valuable insights and pass along lessons learned. A common result: declining employee morale and poor project outcomes.

As video game developer and publisher Ubisoft Entertainment expanded around the globe, opening new divisions and acquiring companies, managers at the Paris, France-based organization recognized this risk. Founded in 1986, Ubisoft now has offices and animation studios in more than 25 locations, including San Francisco, California, USA; Singapore; Düsseldorf, Germany; Montreal, Quebec, Canada; and Shanghai, China. (The company created popular games including “Assassin's Creed,” “Far Cry” and “Rayman.”)

Ubisoft's Shanghai studio, established in 1996, is the company's core studio in the Asia Pacific region. But before the organization began building the Shanghai team, it realized it faced a few basic challenges. China's workforce at the time had no shortage of hardworking and creative developers, but it lacked talent with project management and workflow skills. “It was more difficult [back then], but the experiences trained us to establish a company that stimulates dynamic knowledge sharing,” Ubisoft Shanghai Managing Director Corinne Le Roy, who oversaw the launch of the studio, told Tech in Asia in February 2014.

Today, as its project teams develop games in a single studio while the company pursues a global strategy, Ubisoft approaches knowledge transfer on two levels: global and local.

“We organize a lot of cross-functional knowledge sharing sessions that use examples of real-life problems different kinds of developers encounter every day.”

—Yi-Jin Ji, Ubisoft Shanghai, Shanghai, China

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PHOTO BY TIM FRANCO

“When an employee comes back from the annual Game Developers Conference, a training specialist works with him or her to choose highlights of the conference to share with others who didn't attend.”

—Yi-Jin Ji

The organization is committed to providing employees with access to a global, up-to-date database full of learning tools and documentation, regardless of time of day or location. “We have an internal e-learning platform called ULearn where employees can find documents and training materials,” says Yi-Jin Ji, staffing and training director, Ubisoft Shanghai, Shanghai, China. “The database is organized and maintained by a global training team.”

That's just a starting point for team members seeking guidance on a project from another studio or looking to sharpen skills. All employees have access to Ubisoft-hosted interactive online spaces where they can share information and documents across studios. The organization also views common communication platforms such as instant messaging and video conferencing as knowledge transfer tools.

Aiming to facilitate knowledge sharing across Ubisoft's lines of business, the company also offers a knowledge portal called the Production Center, which provides employees with information about the current video game market and hot trends, as well as new development projects within the organization.

Knowledge transfer efforts at Ubisoft go beyond online databases and communication platforms, however. The Academy of Experts, the organization's internal think tank, takes a more proactive approach. Based at Ubisoft headquarters, the academy organizes programs featuring experts from various parts of the company.

The weeklong programs—which can include presentations, workshops, group discussions and prototyping exercises—bring Ubisoft employees from around the world to company headquarters. (The Shanghai studio sends about five employees to academy events each year, for example.) Created on an ad hoc basis to address a variety of topics, such as technical problems encountered in development projects or organizational challenges, they offer participants the chance to discuss best practices and project lessons learned. These interactions increase team member understanding and make it easier for them to apply what they've learned on their next project.

Another way Ubisoft facilitates global knowledge sharing is through the Ubisoft Developers Conference (UDC), held annually in Montreal, Canada. The event brings developers from around the world together to participate in workshops and roundtable discussions, and attend presentations. (Presentations are streamed on an internal Ubisoft website so that teams can watch around the world.) Lasting several days, UDC gives employees the chance to informally discuss technological advances made by the organization's production teams, as well as new industry trends and tools.

LEARN LOCALLY

On a local level, the Ubisoft Shanghai studio holds periodic knowledge sharing events. Groups gather to conduct a project postmortem or hear a presentation about a new technology. For example, artists and game designers can listen to an engineer talk about artificial intelligence to facilitate cross-team understanding.

The studio also holds knowledge sharing events after team members attend international industry conferences. “When an employee comes back from the annual Game Developers Conference, a training specialist works with him or her to choose highlights of the conference to share with others who didn't attend,” Ms. Ji says. “Presenters aren't necessarily senior developers—we believe everyone has something to share.”

Like the academy programs, local knowledge sharing events transfer knowledge to all team members while also helping individuals develop specific skills. In this case, conference attendees can practice presentation skills. Ubisoft Shanghai's knowledge transfer practices are about more than augmenting employees’ respective skills, however. The studio also sees them as bridges between teams that create organizational cohesion.

The studio's training team noticed that most people are interested in what other teams are working on, but they don't fully understand how those other teams function. For example, an animator might be unfamiliar with the constraints and challenges a software engineer might face. To bridge the gap, “we organize a lot of cross-functional knowledge sharing sessions that use examples of real-life problems different kinds of developers encounter every day,” Ms. Ji says.

All of Ubisoft's knowledge transfer practices—online resources and communication platforms, Academy of Experts programs, studio-specific sessions and events—have a healthy byproduct beyond improving teams’ skills and productivity: They also foster engagement. High employee engagement strongly correlates to lower turnover rates, good ROI and a positive corporate culture, according to the 2014 PwC report The Keys to Corporate Responsibility Employee Engagement.

Ubisoft Shanghai has seen that positive dynamic at work through biennial internal surveys, Ms. Ji says. “Our surveys of employees demonstrate that the knowledge sharing opportunities play a very important motivational factor in terms of retention.” PM

“Our surveys of employees demonstrate that the knowledge sharing opportunities play a very important motivational factor in terms of retention.”

—Yi-Jin Ji

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

PM NETWORK JUNE 2015 WWW.PMI.ORG
JUNE 2015 PM NETWORK

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