What I Wish I Knew About Project Management Before Managing a Project

Recently I finished work on an in-class project Triage – a top-down patient management game where you’re under the clock to manage a flurry of friday-night patients. Part of the role involved managing a team of 6 people to ensure that everything got done promptly, and the project overall was complete. The project didn’t get completed timely and is only ostensibly finished. Many things went wrong in the process of taking this project to completion, and luckily my hindsight is 20/20. It’s time to talk about what went wrong.

I didn’t plan early enough

This one is a regular thing, team or individual. The pressure to work hard isn’t there at first, and it’s too easy to waste time experimenting with ideas instead of actually working on one. Getting a plan together should have been the first and most critical thing I did. By not setting up a goal and plan straight away, our milestones in the future slipped, since we didn’t know exactly what needed to be done at what time, it was a case where things needed to be done at some stage.

The other part of the equation was that I didn’t enforce my expectations for every milestone. Aside from setting goals in advance, I didn’t adequately define the scope of what needed to be done and by when. People had an idea of what was due at each milestone, but since I didn’t properly outline these deliverables, we regularly didn’t deliver what I expected to be done.

The best way to plan early is just to plan early. Next time, the millisecond we get a brief, I need to sit down with my team and nail out all of the details as soon as possible and prepare a basic timeline to ensure that the future was crystal clear for everyone. Inputting deliverables on the agreed project management platform will help too, by setting expectation which they don’t need to rely on me to know. Next project, I can hopefully rely 100% on my team to deliver the expected deliverables at the expected time

I need to find a way to visualise my team’s progress more easily

Like I said above, early preparation allows for stronger goals and better deliverables. Part of the issue with managing my time is that I can get lost in a sea of Trello or Hack’n’Plan cards – there has to be a better way to see where everyone should be at.

Microsoft Project is a widely used project management solution – which I believe is stronger than Hack’n’Plan and Trello. In my extremely limited use of the program, I can visualise my goals and deliverables in a Gantt chart, which means I can see what someone is doing, and how long they have before delivering it. Disappointingly, MS Project is expensive, and there isn’t any competitive software, so what am I to do? There are a few free solutions available online, and since Trello and Hack’n’plan don’t provide this form of visualisation, I may have to supplement our project management externally. My hope is that I can use a Gantt chart in future to provide a better way to anticipate the progress of my teammates instead of crawling through Card City

I need to use software that everyone can use easily

For Triage’s development, we used Hack’n’Plan, a project management web app that is designed for game developers. While in beta, it provides the essentials for project management, if used correctly. My main issue with Hack’n’Plan was that it was missing features that I consider critical to timely event planning. Hack’n’Plan does not have a mobile app, which means that I have to be in front of an internet-enabled computer to manage the app and I cannot receive notifications directly from it on my phone. Trello, on the other hand, has apps for all major platforms and the web, and I can receive notifications for anything from someone moving a card or archiving it.

Further, since Trello does provide apps for all platforms, I am able to encourage all of my teammates to install the app on their devices to stay in the loop on their and their teammate’s progress. If everybody on my team is able to reliably use a single app that is conveniently within reach at all hours, I can rely on my team to make good on their goals.

I should be more present and reliable

This one is tricky. At various stages of the project, I wasn’t available when I received messages from other teammates. As the lead designer for Triage, it’s very critical that I be as available as is reasonable when people need help or have questions about the games.  

The solution here might be counter-intuitive. If I set very specific hours for which people can talk to me, I think it would ensure that they get a timely response. Late-night messages often go unanswered, and complicated messages while I’m not in front of a computer might take longer to respond to.

The secondary solution is to provide as detailed a Game Design Document as possible. Using a TDD and an Art Bible in conjunction will help make the technical and artistic communication much smoother and less reliant on myself or a colleague.

Don’t create the entire backlog yourself, use your teammates to set their own goals

This one speaks for itself. When setting up the Hack’n’Plan, I created a backlog of features for Programmers, Artists and Design to spread across the full spectrum of responsibilities. As the designer and project manager, I thought that this was purely my responsibility. I quickly discovered that I cannot anticipate the time required to implement features for the programmers, I didn’t think to add time for testing features, and overall I provided an incomplete backlog of work. I realise now that I shouldn’t be the one to outline the specifics of the workflow when I’m not the one doing the work. The correct balance is to describe the deadlines for certain features, and have everyone select the work that they want to do and prepare their own backlog of tasks that I can use to keep track of them. Simultaneously, people are more likely to complete tasks that they assign themselves, and I can keep track of the work that my teammates do. Two birds and all that?

Be pushy about your goals

This one is another situation where moderation is key. During many projects I’ve worked on, I tend to be hands-off and expect others to complete their goals at the appropriate times. Obviously, this is a recurring issue that I haven’t resolved. Throughout Triage’s development, deadlines were missed, and timeliness was an issue. Aside from completing more detailed and elaborate project documentation, I should really be checking in on people myself. If someone is having problems with their assigned tasks, I can reschedule to work around their issues to make the timeline work more smoothly. With fewer roadblocks, I’ll know what to expect every time we work together and hit a milestone.

I’m still acquiring the skills to manage even a small team. Practice makes perfect, and I hope that by acknowledging my mistakes and planning for a better future I will ensure that I become a stronger leader when more than just my grades are at stake.

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