Develop Conference: Want to ape the Portal outfit's studio structure? Holtman tells you how

Valve’s five point guide to ‘bossless management’

Speaking in his opening keynote of the Develop Conference in Brighton today, Valve’s director of business development Jason Holtman has detailed how an especially flat management structure has allowed the studio to evolve.

In what he describes as a ‘bossless’ system, where everyone in the company is apparently equally involved in the decision making process, Holtman suggested five ways your studio can experiment with implementing the structure for itself

Those five tips are:

Focus on physical proximity of staff and mixing disciplines when arranging your studio
Valve mixes its staff – so lawyers sit with engineers and senior staff at neighbouring desks, all on a per-project basis. According to Holtman physical proximity of people and desks based around particular project allows for an understanding of one one another’s challenges and skills, and a sharing of knowledge.

Start small
If you want to try implementing Valve’s totally flat studio structure, try it with a small team and project, as adapting to the process can be challenging and risky

Reward behaviour
Have a process in place to reward staff working in the flat management structure; recognise that they are contributing equally to your company

Be ready to ‘unlearn’
Adapting to the ‘bossless’ system takes much work, and a lot of established practices and ideas need to be ‘unlearned’, said Holtamn. Be prepared for a lot of work in adapting

Let people know you’re trying it

Be open, and let your staff know how and why you are adjusting the studio model, so you and they can get the most from it

Learn from it and share learning between staff

Make sure that the lessons learned from adapting to the process are shared between the entire team and across disciplines

After listing his pieces of advice for studios openminded to adapting their management structure, Holtman went on to suggest that the games development sector has an opportunity to distinguish itself from other more established industries by innovating rather than imitating.

"Unlike maybe other industries – and I admit I’ve only worked in a few – I think that this flatness – of ‘bosslessness’, of local decision making – can work very well, and help them make better things and make staff feel happier."

"If we are the people designing this industry, which we are, then we need to think very carefully about how we do that," Holtman later added, suggesting the development sector as a whole has a responsibility and opportunity to free itself from the troubles of many established business practices.

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