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  • Choosing A Project Management Tool For Game Development

    [08.09.18]
    - Meredith Hall
  •  So you're making a game! Congratulations!

    Now you have to manage how you're going to actually make it!

    Uh oh. Didn't think about this part?

    When you're working as part of a team, if there's two of you, one of you, or two hundred - you need a way to track your progress. Whether you're tracking individual assets, entire projects, team development or all of the above, you'll soon find that without the ability to categorise and control your development, things start to fall between the cracks and often, the game just ends up never getting made.

    This feature highlights a small smattering of some of the most highly recommended project management (PM) tools on the market for game development, with pros and cons sourced from developers on Twitter as well as personal experience, online opinions, reviews and discussions across multiple forums. With so many different programs to choose from, it's important to be able to narrow down to a few options prior to even starting to create those sweet assets for your #NEXTBIGTHING.

    We won't be discussing the methodologies behind these tools (kanban, agile, waterfall etc.) but instead trying to take a top down view of how easy it is to get started in game dev project management, what sort of projects it can suit well, and where the gaps are within these tools. You can skip to a specific tool by using the links below- this is a lengthy one!

    Disclaimer: I don't pretend to know the ins and outs of every single tool used. I highly encourage this as a starting point for further discussion and would love to hear your thoughts on individual tools and will happily update any errors.

    Asana

    Available On: 
    Web, Android, iOS
    Pricing Tiers: 
    Free up to 15 team members 
    Premium version $9.99AUD per member, per month
    Enterprise version P.O.A

    One of the most popular tools used by game developers, Asana has a number of features that make it lightweight and great for game development planning and production. With a team-oriented approach, it allows users to sort tasks in a multitude of different ways, including a calendar viewproject sections, statistics, & attachment sections which can be extremely useful when dealing with team members working across the same assets.

    Asana allows you to assign a task to a user, creating accountability across the team for specific tasks within your project. Entirely cloud-based, you can have consistent discussions without items getting missed. There are a set number of different templates you can use to set up each section, or even send questionnaires to team members if you need clarification on where a project is at. Asana's UI is easy to understand, letting you jump in and get started very quickly.

    If you're an indie team, Asana could be a great fit. With no credit card requirement for a free trial, you can test if it works for you over a sprint (or however you manage your dev cycle) and get some strong feedback from your team. The ability to add multiple tags to items, and link a single story/item/task to more than one project or tag means producers and team leaders can categorise assets, bugs, levels and more in a way that works for the entire team.

    However, Asana provides no clear security features, doesn't allow you to edit comments, and the section split within projects can be average at times. You can also only assign one individual to a task, which if you have more than two artists working on a number of specific assets for example, can mean an awkward and often unnecessary splitting of workload. There are also a huge amount of features on display, which while making the app straightforward, can be overwhelming if your team isn't gung-ho on engaging with digital boards.

    Good For:

    • Solo/small to medium teams working across multiple assets or projects
    • Teams who are more responsive to visual scrums
    • Teams who enjoy more ad-hoc workflows that are more lightweight and flexible
    • Teams who don't want to spend money on their process management

    Probably Not Worth It If:

    • You are a team of two, or a solo developer
    • Your project is relatively small in scale
    • You need strong security features due to your IP

    Monday

    Devices Supported: 
    Web, Desktop, Android, iOS
    Pricing Tiers: 
    Free trial
    Premium version varies in price by user count
    From $34AUD monthly to $1330AUD monthly 
    (5 Users - 200 Users respectively on base premium plan)

    Formerly known as "dapulse.com", Monday is a well-designed and highly flexible PM tool. Allowing for a huge amount of customization as well as quick, jump in templates, Monday allows users to create a PM system as complex or simple as your team may need. Each item is a "pulse" and can belong to both a subsection, board, or multiple boards at once.

    Monday is the first PM tool that's worked really well for our team - being almost entirely visual is a massive plus when most of your assets are being generated by your art team, and Monday allows for easy sharing of files and tracking of progress.

    While a far more expensive option, it does however make up for this pricing by providing a number of different tiers, as well as incredible support options. I have only had to contact Monday once to query an issue and received a response within ten minutes, which is exceptional by support standards - especially with a US based company.

    However, there can be difficulty in accessing archived boards, following certain longer discussion threads, and some of the functions that seem obvious to include on a base level (private boards) are reserved for the more expensive plans. Also, you'll find yourself frequently confusing your team when you call it Monday, so might be worth coming up with another name (we call it Board McGee, because we're adults in game dev.)

    Monday took me merely moments to set up - it allows you to import from a number of different documents and websites including Trello, making shifting to it relatively easy in comparison to the hours of setting up some tools require. Similar to Asana, you can assign tasks to individuals, however Monday allows you to assign to multiple people at once - making handover far easier as members know what tasks they will need to jump on to once the initial process is complete. Being able to set priority on tasks can also help teams keep their focus on what assets need completing first, ensuring you move more quickly on specific levels. Monday is also highly security focused - there are a number of encryption procedures in place and with the level of consumer support, I'm sure you could enhance and tighten these where needed depending on your IP.

    One of the best things about Monday is the fact that it is easy to create both high-level and detail oriented collaborative work spaces. We can create timelines for the entire project, for specific levels, or even for specific assets - but organise them in a way that makes them easy to understand no matter what a members role is. Keeping people forward focused in games can be difficult, so encouraging them to see and interact with the bigger picture is made easy with Monday, and can reduce time spent on meetings and GDD/LDDs. As a producer, it's also important for me to know the extent to which people are engaging with the PM process - so being able to have daily updates on who is adding pulses, what boards are trending, what updates are receiving a lot of feedback can help me streamline how to adjust and shift our process to make this easier for the team.

    Good For:

    • Medium to large teams working across multiple assets or projects
    • Teams who want to reduce time spent on set-up
    • Teams working across larger, more long-term projects
    • Teams who respond to visual material
    • Teams who want to be able to customize to an extreme level
    • Teams who need high-level, quick support for changing and managing scrums

    Probably Not Worth It If:

    • You are a small team/don't have much to spend
    • Your project is small in scale/scope
    • You want to keep parts of the planning for your project away from your team at large

    Trello

    Devices Supported: 
    Web, Desktop, iOS, Android
    Pricing Tiers: 
    Free up to 15 team members 
    Premium version $9.99AUD per member, per month
    Enterprise version P.O.A

    Trello is another PM favourite, and often one of the first you'll hear suggested when people ask about game development tracking. I use Trello for some very specific purposes (namely, keeping track of business cards & managing interactions post-events which I'll be writing about soon), but I find it lacking when it comes to PM in terms of how I best consume information. YMMV, however, but here are some of my thoughts!

    If you're a fan of Kanban, Trello is probably a good PM tool for you. If you have no idea what Kanban is, but everything in your office has a post-it note and a place, you'll probably like it too. It allows you to create cards for tasks, add information, and easily shift them through the workflow process.

    If you're a small team, or you have a small number of different teams to work across, something like Trello could be perfect. It has a free version that allows you to access almost all of its features and a relatively small learning curve. It means you can get teams in and working almost straight away, and explains why it's a good favourite for many indie teams. You set up your cards, get working, and you're good to go with a generally full overview of your project.

    My biggest issue with Trello is how easily cluttered it can become, and how painful it can be to navigate. From a production perspective, I like to start at high-level then move into nitty-gritty, but Trello often puts everything front and centre at once without you spending some time to split it all. When you have a huge amount of assets, before you know it, you're scrolling down for twenty minutes and across for fifteen, and it just doesn't feel like a clean way to approach. I'm sure there are fixes, but I've found other tools do it better.

    It can also be time consuming to set up, as if you want to add details to specific cards, you need to click into each individual one and spend a lot of time to get it where you need it to be. Plus, unless you have someone on top of things managing the way information is stored and tracked, things can get messy quickly. Without prompting for archival or someone making sure things are getting moved when they need to be, you can find your board cluttered before you know it.

    Trello is also relatively light on features, has no major avenues for reporting (if you're managing budgets, timelines and so forth) with your project, so if you find your game is a great success and you move onto something bigger, it may no longer fit your needs.

    Good For:

    • Small to medium teams working across one small to large project
    • Teams who like to see all facets of development laid out for them
    • You don't have a lot to spend but want to work across a full team
    • You don't need a huge amount of features/reporting
    • You have individuals dedicated to managing the board health

    Probably Not Worth It If:

    • You have a large number of assets you need to generate
    • Your project is big in scale or spread across many different teams
    • You want to manage your project health more closely
    • You don't have the time to manage a large number of cards and their placement

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