Heijunka Board for Game Developers

Use case

Customer story

Industry: Game development

Use case: Heijunka board

Favorite feature: Lead & Cycle Time

Heijunka board is a board structure often used for game developers in sequential development process. It's characteristics are parallel execution of work and predictable way of execution therefore no workers starve for work in the current flow of tasks.


For example, let's take a look at creating new levels for a game. Each level will have to undergo same production path and will be passed onto different departments throughout its creation process. This process can be represented by a previously mentioned Heijunka Board.

Firstmost, you will have to ask yourself a question what actions and processes the level, or any other repetitive task in your case, will have to go through. A simple visualization will be the first step into creating a Heijunka Board.

Let's stay with the example of a level creation. The simplified process would look as follows

Script → Concept → Level Design → Hi-Res Art → Audio Design → Tuning Pass → Done

Now, why is it better than simple Scrum design board? Most importantly the work will not be delayed as each task will be worked on in its unique step. All departments will be able to work simultaneously and independently therefore it will prevent a situation where one department is waiting to begin their work.

Let's take a closer look how Heijunka process flow can be applied on kanban board.

Heijunka board

The process sequence is simple and the Work in Progress limits depend on performance and task difficulty for each department.

The Lead & Cycle Time diagram available in Analytics tab is your best friend. You will have to closely evaluate the delivery time of each department. Lead & Cycle time will allow you to see how much time it takes for each department to finish their work. Based on that you can apply following attributes: time boxing and leveling workflow.

Time boxing

Set a specific time frame for each level in each stage. This should be done upon evaluating the actual performance and production quality. An equilibrium in quality has to be found in order to not waste precious time on producing results of quality so high that it will not yield any additional benefits, as well as watching closely to not limit the time too much that a poor quality work is delivered.

Time tracking will be extremely useful in this case. You will be able to measure the working time of the task and generate daily or weekly reports. Time boxing will be easier than ever as you will be able to measure the time within Kanban Tool.

Leveling workflow

Each stage has a certain time of completion. Script stream might take 10 hours to be finished, while the following Concept Art may take up to 20 hours. This will slow down the production flow in that particular place as Concept Art will not be able to deliver their results fast enough. The result will be a bottleneck in Concept Art stage where work will accumulate and Level Design department will not receive any work to do causing gaps and pileups. What would be a possible solution to spread the work equally? You might consider assigning additional person to the production stage that is unable to deliver their results in a desired time frame. Additional person will most likely halve the production time thus will remove the bottleneck. You do not want to have your production pipeline delayed further every week. The pileup will eventually reach the point where left side teams will have no work to do while right side teams will be idle awaiting for work to do.

The main goal of the production pipeline is to evaluate an average cycle time for each stage. When a balanced work flow is achieved the production process should flow smoothly. In case of any gaps or pileups it's important to evaluate Lead & Cycle Time graphs to adjust your work flow accordingly. Work in Progress limits should be imposed based on the capabilities of each team.

Cumulative Flow diagram will allow you to gain a bigger scope of a project and raw estimate of the time left till the end of the project.

Cumulative Flow Diagram

„In using this step-by-step process for creating level assets we had taken the cost of producing a single game level from 16 weeks to seven weeks (seven zones times one week per zone). This represents a 56% improvement in the cost of creating a level and required very little new tools or technology to achieve. „ - (c) 2008 Clinton Keith

Summary

In summary, Heijunka boards allow for a faster completion of a task that has to go through different departments before the completion. It allows for more detailed and sequential overview of the work flow that will let every team work simultanously.