Meet the Devs: Lynn Ashworth

We have featured interviews with much of our amazing development staff here in the newsletter over the past months, and while the fruits of their labors are the ones gamers will directly interface with at launch, it’s important to note that making video games is a complex business that receives vital contribution from men and women who won’t produce lines of code, stunning art, or deeply immersive lore.

Visionary Realms relies on the efforts of a multitude of people from diverse backgrounds who are masters at other disciplines. This month we are thrilled to introduce you to one of the most important cogs in our well-oiled machine, our amazing Project Manager, Lynn Ashworth.

Lynn plays such a vital role here that we trusted no one else but our Community Dwarf extraordinaire Linda “Brasse” Carlson to sit down with her and learn what it’s like to herd cats, make Gantt charts, and explore the power of frowny face texts that help to keep us on track and on time with all of our development commitments!

What brought you to join the staff at Pantheon? Extra points if any spells were used to pull you in!

A: I had worked with our incredible producer Ben Dean in the past. Our first encounter, aside from passing each other in the halls, was when he found me working at a dev's desk. His first words were, "Are you Lynn, the gamer?" I won't lie, I was thrilled to be known by that moniker and not "the sassy demon" that others knew me as! That first encounter led to us spending a lot of time talking about gaming. After that I started joining online sessions with Ben.

Then Ben "abandoned" me for Visionary Realms, which left me feeling very sad. Some time later, we were chatting and he mentioned that VR was looking for someone who had a keen organizational skill set and also a passion for gaming. When he asked if I would be interested, it took me all of two seconds to say yes, and after an interview with Brad and Chris, I was brought on board! For the last three years, I have brought organization and that sass to everything I do (just ask Brad).

Your title is "Project Manager". How would you describe your role in Pantheon? Is it really like herding cats?

A: I live with two cats; British-born cats who bear a cattitude like none other. It is much easier to deal with our incredible teams than it is to convince those two fur monsters to not attack every piece of furniture I own. So to answer your question, it is much easier than herding cats. At least the teams listen and, I can attest, do not attack furniture.

My role, in part, is to be a team champion. I try to be a positive encouragement, a persistently cheerful presence to the project. It is not an easy role because often it is an unpopular role. You have to bring the formula of project management, the processes, the guides, the support, and structure to teams who are more naturally focused on the doing and less on the methodology. That is always a big challenge, but I learned early on that to be a purist would be counter effective.

In order to bring the development team to adopt the Scrum Methodology, I took into consideration the company culture, beliefs, and the strengths of the team to get them to adopt it in a way that would work best for them. I then applied that way of thinking to the teams who are supporting dev as well.

I had to learn from my own belief system that my way of doing things may not work for everyone and had to be willing to respond to the greater needs of the team, and not how I thought it should work. My greatest achievement was realizing that you gain more from any role if you are willing to do what it takes to help others grow and achieve, and to listen to and apply feedback wherever you can.

What's been the most challenging part of the job thus far?

A: A project of this caliber is complex, with moving parts, people, expectations, risks and issues, deadlines, constraints, and needs that all individually create challenges. My main role, which I suppose is one of my biggest challenges, is to ensure the team is supported and they have what they need to succeed. The challenge is for me to be involved without getting in the way.

Please describe some of the essential tools used in your day to day production management work. Are they changing over time?

A: There has been a great evolution of tools over the last two decades in how we all work. It's remarkable how we can adapt quickly to changing technology.

My most essential tools are, in no real order:

  • My iPhone: It's such a shift that you can get so much done with a phone. When my laptop is off to the side, I have my phone at the ready to respond to messages, emails, send out calendar invites, or review documents. It's madness how much that technology has changed in the last 10 years.

  • MS Azure DevOps: It is a really solid tool that allows the team to work in CMMI, Scrum, or the generic Agile. All teams are using DevOps to build out their product backlogs and plan out their sprints. We went with the tool because it has a lot of add-ons and features that will allow us to expand to other services that most products didn't offer.

  • MS Project: This is only used by me. I use it to create friendlier looking schedules but have created our sprints using the 2016 version features. The reporting capabilities are very good; I am a huge fan of the product. And for anyone who has ever met me, I love Gantt charts. I need to commission a t-shirt that reads "I heart Gantts."

  • MS Visio: I use this to convey a lot of information into a simplified form. It is a powerful tool to create workflows, outline relationships, or create visuals that help convey a lot of heavy information into a more reader friendly format.

  • Skype: We use this tool as part of a larger communications matrix. It has provided us with an outlet for quick messaging, calls, and screen sharing so that we have our channels, our daily communications, with one another. These channels all have high traffic; you feel engaged and involved in real time which is essential to how we work.

  • Discord: I don't use it often outside of gaming. Many of the staff use it for external use, for gaming, or to chat with Fantheons.

  • Google Suite: Email, calendar, and repository. I like the product, it is effective in tracking our documents, our events, our documented decisions, and communications.

  • Workplace: The most recent addition to our arsenal. While I am not generally a fan of Facebook, this tool of theirs has been really useful. We use Workplace primarily to post our daily Scrums (also known as stand-ups). It has also allowed us to create a private social presence where we can share updates about our lives, events, and general chatter that doesn't always relate to the game itself. We have specialized groups within it as well. For example, we have a health group where we share personal journeys, milestones, and recipes. Oh so many recipes. It's a place to encourage each other, support each other, and ”celebrate with cake”!

One thing we have learned is to be particular about what tools we use and understand the full purpose of the tool. You can find yourself adding more and more tools for the sake of using select features. There is always a challenge to stop and think before implementing yet another tool. Our development team have a long list of tools they must use for their roles, so we are wary about adding another tool if we don't need to.

The games industry is known for "crunch time". As the Project Manager, how are you working to avoid it in Pantheon?

A: In my experience, leads, the PM, and the teams themselves all dread the idea of crunch time. To counter this, we have put many measures in place to help reduce the likelihood of crunch time. They are not foolproof, which is why part of the process is to view crunch time as a risk, which then requires a mitigation plan.

We work to ensure that our projects that help contribute to the wider Pantheon project are planned well. Our product backlogs are well defined, estimation is tracked closely to ensure that we understand our velocity, which in turn will help us plan how many sprints we will need to get the deliverables completed.

A big part of the mitigation is to ensure that the development team understand the full scope of the projects, understand the dependencies their action items have on the work of others. We have daily stand-ups to track priorities, progress and roadblocks, and raise the flag for further action if need be. At the end of it all, every project runs the risk of crunch time, so we are cognizant of it and are working diligently to ensure that it does not fall on our team.

Pantheon is innovating on a number of game systems—what's your favorite of these?

A: Crafting and harvesting!!!!! I am not what you would call creative, nor handy. Yet, when it comes to games that have crafting and harvesting, I feel it's an outlet where I can be creative and make things, and also that it brings a sense of usefulness to me and my guild. I feel like I am contributing to the greater experience of the game. I feel rewarded for the hard work of gathering resources, learning the recipes, and seeing the end result benefit in a positive way. I am not the best in combat, I get lost frequently, I have no sense of direction (sadly, even in real life). But I can craft to my heart's content, which I hope offsets all of the other things!

LIGHTNING ROUND of silly and not so silly questions:

What is your favorite zone in Pantheon so far?

A: Thronefast—it was one of our first zones to fully come to life, and I loved exploring it, wandering off to see the scenery, and dying many times as a result.

What class and race will you play at launch?

A: I've been drawn to Paladins since I dipped a toe into D&D. I didn’t play it for any length of time, but I felt so connected to playing as a Paladin because of being a crusader—and playing for the “good side”—resonates deep within me. I already have a Paladin in Pantheon.

Name a few favorite online games from your past.

A: I played WoW for some time. It was a good game to familiarize myself more in MMORPGs. I enjoyed playing with my friends. I felt it provided a good learning curve and was fun. But I am also looking forward to the challenge of Pantheon, even if that means having my corpse litter every zone I explore!

I really love Elder Scrolls Online (and, really, all the Bethesda games). It had a greater level of challenge, deeper, more challenging gameplay, and most importantly, a wonderful player community.

It's the huge world, the stories, and the community that I am looking forward to in Pantheon as well.

Have you taken the Myer Briggs test? If so, care to share your results?

A: I am ENTJ, and the last time I took the test, it suggested a career path of "field marshall," which seems to fit in well with what I do for a living! As far as the introvert/extrovert divide, I really straddle it depending on my energy level and mood.

If you had ONE piece of advice to offer to people who are considering joining the game industry, what would it be?

A: Whatever is in your mind about how games are made and how the industry works, it's not that. It's a job, with the same expectations and guidelines of any other job. Bring some humility, prepare to listen to constructive feedback, learn and grow from it—everything you do can have a huge impact on your team. In gaming, while it is a job, you do get to be part of an incredible creative process with tangible results, and the value in that is immeasurable.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Lynn!