Supervising the development of a video game requires a specialised set of project management assets and production artefacts.
In this article, I will not recommend any specific software. There are indeed tools to help with the creation and maintenance of the project management assets. But at this point, it is more important to understand the reasoning behind the different types of documents. Why they exist, and how to use them.
I will provide suggestions to implement production artefacts with simple office software wherever possible. A project framework built following the guidelines I present would be fully functional. It would cover all the aspects needed to drive a video game development. All that would be missing, compared to specialised tools, is some automation.
If you used project management software before, you will find familiar similarities. Finally, it is important to borrow principles from multiple paradigms to be pragmatic and adapt to the product. As such, this article contains elements of terminology from various methodologies. The jargon is precise, and terms can be researched for additional information if necessary.
So… What do we actually need to manage a video game development?
Planning – Visibility, but also readiness
Planning is about defining goals and directions to determine missions and resources. Different timescales require different solutions.
Short-term planning. Team members and producers need good visibility at all time on the on-going work. Features recently completed, tasks in progress, and upcoming goals.
Suggested format: a collection of Agile feature boards showing, for each team, the objectives and status of the current iteration.
Medium-term planning. Milestone definitions are used to capture the expected outcome for a set of development iterations. Milestones also signal major achievements and indicate appropriate times for contractual reviews, project recalibrations and budget checks.
Suggested format: text documents acting as checklists to describe goals and validate deliveries with the publisher.
Long-term planning. A roadmap is a simple presentation of the ambitions of the product, alongside a timeline. For iterative developments, it is not a plan and should be updated regularly. The roadmap is important to communicate previsions and unify the understanding of all stakeholders.
Suggested format: a chart or spreadsheet document with swim-lanes, showing high-level goals and time.
A generic, non-game specific, product roadmap (copyright Roadmunk)
Problem prevention. A risk list allows proper actions to be taken before issues or blockages happen. Risks are quantified and prioritised using two values: probability of occurring and impact on the project.
Suggested format: a spreadsheet document listing ordered risks, with review dates and mitigation plans.
Planning cheat code: feature boards, milestone definitions, high-level roadmap, and risk lists
Scope – Of breadth and feature organisation
Scope tells us about the extent of the project. It is captured and managed through a collection of specialised documents that can be synchronised for better clarity.
Product scope. A scope statement presents the features and functionalities that define the project. It identifies deliverables and major goals. It also includes success criteria and cost estimates.
Suggested format: a text document describing the characteristics of the product and connecting to the game design document, the roadmap and the milestones.
Project scope. A work-breakdown structure is a classification that reflects the work required to deliver the product. Define elements in terms of outcomes to leave flexibility in the implementation. Optionally, add time and statuses to connect with tracking.
Suggested format: a spreadsheet document showing hierarchical components and their progress states in time.
A hierarchical feature list acting as WBS, coordinated with recorded and predicted progress
Product backlog. In Scrum, it is an ordered list of features worded as user-stories. It overlaps with the work-breakdown structure but presents a different view. It is managed by the product owner and is used during sprint planning.
Suggested format: a column on Agile boards showing the prioritised remaining features.
Project schedule. A classic planning is not a flexible production asset and is not suitable for iterative developments. Yet it can be interesting to coordinate external services, such as outsourcing of content, booking of voice actors, motion capture sessions, etc.
Suggested format. Optional. A traditional Gantt chart to visualise exogenous schedulable elements.
Scope cheat code: goals with success criteria, work-breakdown structure, backlog and external schedule
Tracking – Reporting via quantification and monitoring
Observing and overseeing progress is essential for project audits and regular recalibrations. Tracking relies on metrics and measurements to build a reliable model and expose previsions.
Feature quantification. To track progress, we must size the functionalities using an appropriate metric. As discussed in previous articles, the valuations process abstracts perceived complexities into relative numbers. To build a reliable predictive model, the quantification must be uniform across the entire project.
Suggested format: planning poker Agile estimation process, with project-specific scales.
Progress speed. The velocity measures the amount of work a team gets done in a single iteration. It tracks the units used for quantification, e.g. story points, business values or feature scores. The velocity helps calibrate future developments and predict completion dates.
Suggested format: a spreadsheet document with burn down charts to visualise progress.
A burndown chart tracking features points over time to predict completion
Progress reports. There is a lot going on in big projects. Progress reports are an efficient way to abstract the information. They present only what is important to higher levels of management and publishers. They also are a communication channel to escalate problems.
Proposed format: text documents with colour-coded progress and issues, discussed in regular meetings.
Validation. Test plans are essential to guarantee that all features are properly reviewed. But also to ensure that new additions do not break or weaken previous developments. They are mostly used by QA during build validation and regression testing.
Suggested formats: detailed checklists with testing instructions and clear pass/fail criteria.
Tracking cheat code: valuation process, team velocity, progress reports, and validation test plans
People – Game development, a party-based adventure
Team members play an essential role in the development of the product. They make it happen. Maximise productivity with adequate structure and efficient communication.
Team capacity. A staffing plan shows the available workforce to calibrate the effort. It helps adjust the team size through ramp-up and ramp-down phases during production. Granularity should go down to days, or even half-days, to track holidays and sickness. Optionally, connect to payroll for budgeting.
Suggested format: a spreadsheet document presenting availability of team members over time.
A staffing plan spreadsheet with holidays and new hires
Team structure. A team chart is important to visualise the organisation of the people and identify communication channels. It should be cross-referenced with role titles and job descriptions to define areas of responsibility.
Suggested format: a chart diagram showing the team structure and the role of each member.
Communication. Project participants exchange information all the time. Different types of communication require different tools: ephemeral like instant messaging, deferred like emails, persistent like knowledge databases. Also consider automation to coordinate meetings and manage the booking of company resources: conference rooms, presentation equipment, etc.
Suggested format: a collection of tools and processes to support all types of communication.
Knowledge. Except for atypical projects, team members have different levels of experience and seniority. Organising transfer and sharing of knowledge to be efficient is important to help individuals grow their abilities and develop their expertise.
Suggested format: a collection of processes to arrange training programmes, mentoring supervision and peer reviews.
People cheat code: staffing plan, team structure chart, communication tools, and knowledge transfer
All production assets summarised in one handy sheet. Add it to your collection!
Now that we have covered the different production assets required to manage a video game project, and explored their motivations, we will next be able to look into existing software and tools recommendations to support automation.