Game Project Management for an Indie Studio

Visual Guide to Project Management Tools

IT Project Management Indie Studio PM tools post infographic

Evolution of Game Project Management Tools

A decade ago Google Docs, Slides and Sheets were one of the best solutions to manage game development projects in a team. Fortunately, we are living in a fast-paced world, and software development doesn’t keep still, evolving quicker than we can imagine.

Project management software is a type of online collaborative app where everyone working on a project can log in and see what they are supposed to do and when. They also record their progress on those tasks and add relevant details, such as notes about any changes. People who have the right permission level can see what everyone else is doing or will need to do and when. For the person or people managing the project, the app provides a clear overview of the project and its health. Are all the tasks on track to be completed on time? If one of the tasks is late, how does that affect the projected deadlines of other tasks?

Today there are a multitude of project tools with a broad range of in-built features and functions. Project software helps managers control costs and hit deadlines. It helps people deliver the projects they commit to. It even helps them track whether or not they’ve been paid on time and in the right amount. Project software has many high-level bucket features.

However, we adhere to the idea that the best solution for the project manager of the entire project is somewhere in between simplicity and over-complexity.

Evolution of PM tools

Top Dogs of Task and Project tools

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Recently, our team faced the challenge to chose a planning tool to organize our work processes and game project planning more effectively. We used to conduct our workflow and game project planning in Google universe, using Google Docs, Sheets and Shared Drives.

Somehow we realized that old mediums stopped meeting our needs of planning due to minor bugs, overstacking of similar docs and tables, and the lack of interconnection of the doc packs.

However, the document-oriented structure remains of great importance to us.

Project management includes the tools and techniques required to deliver our ideas successfully. Projects are composed of stakeholders, their vision/goal, the resources required to achieve that goal and management processes and tools to make sure you get there. Project management is key to this success. Project management includes the technology, methodology, and resources that enable project completion. Over time, technology and methodology have gotten incredibly sophisticated.

In a variety of choices, we looked through dozens of PM tools and task trackers for carrying out multiple projects from the most popular ones, like Asana and ClickUp and less spread like Quire.io and Proggio. Smartsheet, Zoho, Teamweek, LiquidPlanner, Taskade, 10,000FT Plans, Wrike, Mavenlink, Teamdeck, Hive, Teamgantt, Teamwork, Harvest – it is just a small part of that list.

It took us several days to try all of them to manage game development and some more, and a couple of hours to clean up our email from all possible notifications and digest letters from project and task management services.

Weekly / Monthly Planners

One of the subgroups of management services for game development projects comprises weekly and monthly planners. Effective time management is the goal of every organization, and it is an irrevocable asset. The way an organization manages its time determines how productive and profitable it will be. Effective time management is enhanced in an organization through various planning templates.

When it comes to project management, the tools you use can determine the quality of the results. These days, time has become a valuable thing. For that reason, project managers need to have the right tools to accomplish entire projects fast.

Teamweek seemed to be one of the most efficient for game projects due to its super-user-friendly interface, quite simple task allocation and inbuilt timeline that visualizes all your activities over time.

Weekly Monthly Planners Teamweek

Sheet-based apps and software

Another subgroup of project software encompasses sheet-based apps and services. The most popular among them are Monday.com, Airtable and Smartsheet.

Airtable and Smartsheet are in a similar category of business-based, customizable software. It stores your critical information such as customer data, order data, or project management tasks. Each has its strengths and weaknesses and can help you stay on top of essential business processes.

Airtable is an all-in-one online hybrid database and spreadsheet for managing business data and enhancing team and department collaboration. Smartsheet is a multi-functional customizable spreadsheet for project and work management. Both are considered ‘no-code/low-code’ platforms allowing non-programmers to create a personalized database structure with only a few clicks.

A Table is a predefined interface. So, if you can organize all tasks in the form of a sheet, these apps would be a perfect solution for you. However, our pipeline involves using, sharing and referring to a great amount of visual and textual elements, so the performance of sheet-based apps seemed to be a bit limited for our work processes and game project.

monday com screen

Fully-featured / Agile game development planning tools

Fully featured PM tools

A great bulk of services for task tracking and project management are based on a so-to-say classic approach, namely fully-featured PM tools, configured to support agile and hybrid methodologies. Among these tools, offering all-in-one functionality we tested Asana, Clickup, Mavenlink, Jira in our workflow.

Project management software has its cons too. Picking one system requires an investment, which means you need to carefully consider and determine which system will work for your unique workflows. The system you pick should be just as customizable as you need. You should consider the cost of time and possibly money to train your employees.

Employee adoption of the technology you pick is critical to gain the highest return on your investment in a project software, as well as avoid having employees not use the system out of lack of understanding its user interface and total functionality. You want your project software to speed up processes, not create extra burdens on your team’s time. There are tons of management software tools that can help you out each step of the way. Despite a broad range of features and issues covered with the help of this software we dwelt on none of them for game development planning.

Actually, our workflow doesn’t require using all those features. Moreover, a strictly predefined interface and design establish a specific methodology of organizing workflow, which can hardly be adapted or modified for multiple projects.

Time Tracker apps

Time trackers PM tools

The purpose of time trackers gets obvious from the name. The best time tracking apps allow you to create accurate invoices for clients, see how long different tasks take to complete or help ensure that a flat-rate project doesn’t cost more money to complete than it brings in. Whether you’re tracking time for personal productivity or to streamline your business processes, a time tracking app can simplify the task.

We tested several of them, including Toggle and Harvest, and came to the conclusion that strict time tracking is not the best option for our cooperation. In order to balance our work and organize game development project timelines we usually have daily and weekly plans and allocate tasks accordingly.

Final Contestants

Two PM tools – Coda and Notion – reached the final battle. The Notion is a complete application that offers you to manage your tasks effectively as an individual or also as a team. It has notes, reminders, to-do lists, spreadsheets and a lot more than you can synchronise for managing your tasks. The data and project management application is an excellent tool that can be used by team members to collaborate and work. Coda, on the other hand, is again an application that has functionality similar to Notion. Coda indeed is a cloud-based document editor. Coda provided three major functions, word processing, spreadsheets and database functions. Many subcategories to it shall add to the features of the application.

Both of them are document-oriented, something like Google Docs on steroids. It is exactly what we strive for. The most we liked about these apps is the freedom to organize your workspace as you want, combining Tables, Docs, Charts, To-do lists, images and anything you want/need in one place. You can customize and modify the layout in whatever manner, adding special greetings for colleagues, a countdown to a special corporate event in a calendar, a poll for fellow-workers, etc.

Wrap-up

All in all, it was a valuable experience to learn about and to test all those PM tools for game development. Some of them brought great insights, which we implemented in our daily routine and workflow.

Choosing the right project software can take time, but it’s worth it to get it right before rolling it out to an entire team. Project tools typically have a significant setup cost. Even when they are simple to learn to use and let you import data, it still takes time to fine-tune tools to do what you need it to do and then get everyone on board using it.

When making a decision on which tools to use, it’s important to consider what kind of work your team does, how many people are in the organization, and how you want to run your business. There are a lot of excellent options to fit every budget. With reliable project tools in place, people can collaborate with greater ease on project work.

Having analyzed the options, we finally stopped at Coda due to its good-looking design, clear and intuitive interface, complete freedom of customization and a big amount of ready-to-use templates.

Update! Recently, Coda Team announced about launching Coda 2.0 with free and several paid subscription plans.