Taking a leaf from the games industry for Social BPM: the 'Cabal Process' at Valve

I read a recent article in Edge Magazine about Valve and their success with Half-Life 2. Apart from being a complete geek and gamer, the pieces in the article that sparked my interest were the fact that Valve don’t apply job descriptions internally and they created the “Cabal process” for redesigning the original Half-Life concept.

Now strange as it seems, the Wiki definition of Cabal is far more sinister than how Valve put it to work. In fact, over ten years ago, while we were all fuddling about drawing process maps to the nth degree here we have the Gaming Industry version of Social BPM and Collaborative Process Discovery in action in 1999 !

“The first few months of the Cabal process were somewhat nerve wracking for those outside the process. It wasn’t clear that egos could be suppressed enough to get anything done, or that a vision of the game filtered through a large number of people would be anything other than bland. As it turned out, the opposite was true; the people involved were tired of working in isolation and were energized by the collaborative process, and the resulting designs had a consistent level of polish and depth that hadn’t been seen before.

Internally, once the success of the Cabal process was obvious, mini-Cabals were formed to come up with answers to a variety of design problems. These mini-Cabals would typically include people most effected by the decision, as well as try to include people completely outside the problem being addressed in order to keep a fresh perspective on things. We also kept membership in the initial Cabal somewhat flexible and we quickly started to rotate people through the process every month or so, always including a few people from the last time, and always making sure we had a cross section of the company. This helped to prevent burn out, and ensured that everyone involved in the process had experience using the results of Cabal decisions.”

What was interesting was that when they created the Cabal Process they threw out job descriptions because they found them too constraining (and couldn’t hire externally the people they required because of them).

“Instead, we would create our own ideal by combining the strengths of a cross section of the company, putting them together in a group we called the “Cabal.”

This concept supports my own ideas about losing traditional hierarchical structures in an organisation and using community models instead.

Read the full article, whether you’re a gamer or not, because it’s an eye opening parallel. But more importantly it’s been proven to work and shows that we are in fact latecomers to the Social scene.

The Cabal: Valve’s Design Process


5 responses to “Taking a leaf from the games industry for Social BPM: the 'Cabal Process' at Valve

  1. Great article. I’ve been thinking about this for a few weeks and how best to describe how I think process execution should work. This is close to where I am in my head at the moment. There needs to be a radical change in thinking to make process execution work well and long term. The current view of the world doesn’t cut it for me, its too rigid and too "rules" driven. Life doesn’t work that way. People don’t work best that way. The thing is, I think that radical change in thinking has happened, just business and the industry needs to catch up :-)Mike

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