Project Management is a skill I’d never expected to need to seriously learn before this year. In high school, coordinating a team of 4 people is a trial in and of itself. With studios ranging from only a couple people to upwards of 100, managing a project will be an essential skill that I need to work on. With so many small facets of a game development project, managers need to rely on software to track the progress of their teams and the project as a whole. For my most recent project, Triage, I used Hack’n’Plan (beta) to manage the project – here’s my process for using it.
You should be preparing your milestones as early as possible, to give yourself a basic structure for your project’s development. For example, Triage’s Core Playable milestone was after 3 weeks and became out initial milestone, with the final ship date being the second. By setting up milestones as early as possible, your Backlog plans will be centred around them, letting you plan for the next milestone instead for the end of the project. It’s always essential to treat these as though these are separate ship dates, preparing your game to the best of your ability if it shipped then.
Most tasks you do rely on a task before it to be complete. Hack’n’Plan lets you set up dependencies for your tasks so that a task cannot be started if its predecessor isn’t already. Dependencies double to let you visualise your project’s development over time, preparing you for situations where you have to delay your work because you’re waiting on someone else’s work to be done first. If your dependencies aren’t set up correctly, you run the risk of encountering bottlenecks, situations where your team doesn’t have any work to do, or encountering problems where people break each other’s work by causing a Version Control conflict, all of which happened during Triage’s development.
Expected Completion Times
Every task in Hack’n’Plan has an estimated completion time that you declare before and after the task is complete. By having your team estimate their completion times, and declaring their actual completion times, you can visualise their accuracy over time (and encourage them to be more generous). The key for establishing completion timing systems is that you can give a team-member “hours” of work instead of having them work on tasks towards a goal. For example, I can give everyone 10 hours of work per week, consisting of several hourly tasks, which they can divide themselves into their desired workload. I never did this with any of my projects, but I’ve learned that giving equal amounts of work to everybody means that everyone has a job to do and I can expect the same level of work from my team, instead of piling tasks onto one person and bottlenecking the project.
When starting a working session, I move the current task into the “in progress” column, while noting the time I started. As I work on the task, I keep track of the time it takes, versus my projected completion time. Hack’n’Plan will keep track of your estimates versus your actual completion time and help you visualise your estimates. When your feature/task is done but requires testing, move it into the “testing” column and begin testing, then move it into “Completed”. your overall time estimate should include the time it takes to develop and test, before being completed. Everything that you move into the “Completed” section should be run through with your project manager during your standup meetings. I never did standup meetings for any of my projects, and it meant that I had to figure out for myself how my team was progressing (often in the worst possible scenario
Hack’n’Plan isn’t perfect, and there are a number of issues I have with the program that would make managing projects easier
Few Visualisation Methods
Hack’n’Plan’s only analytical method is to see the estimated task time versus the actual completion time for each “board”. While helpful for visualising for seeing problems in task completion, I have no way to visualise the trajectory of my project before starting work on it. I would much prefer that setting up dependencies created a Gantt chart for me to see each piece of the puzzle. With a Gantt chart, I can more quickly and easily see what everybody is working on week-to-week, and see which people have little or no work. I can see which tasks may bottleneck development, and ensure that all of the tasks are suitable for the milestones.
No Mobile App/Mobile Notifications
Hack’n’Plan is web-based, and as such doesn’t provide a comfortable native experience on mobile like Trello does. This means that unless I have the app open on my PC at home or at class, I can’t get notifications for milestones and task completions. Hack’n’Plan does allow for email notifications, but these aren’t native to Android or iOS’ notification system, and it’s hard to action notifications for a web-based client on mobile. No mobile app means I can’t reasonably expect my entire team to have access to the client when out-of-class.
Not a Good Enough Design for Readability
This one’s more of a person preference, but I prefer Trello’s design and visual Aesthetics to Hack’n’Plan’s. At this stage, I can’t colour-code tasks for grouping or readability, there doesn’t seem to be an easy way to tag people to their task completion, and I can’t add my own columns to the Boards (so I can have a “completion pending” menu for standup meetings where they go through their progress and I move it into “completed”).