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  • Project Management And Working Remotely

    [04.02.20]
    - Ryan Sumo
  • The current situation with the covid-19 coronavirus has opened up a general conversation about the future of work and working from home.  Squeaky Wheel has been essentially working from home since it started, only meeting twice a month for some face to face interactions and team bonding time.  Because of this, the imposition of the Metro Manila lockdown has not created major changes in how we run our team.

    What I will be sharing here are some specific details about how we run our development team of 5 (I'm not including our CFO who handles all the bank and payroll transactions for us since that would make this too long) while working on Academia : School Simulator.  While some of this may mostly be useful for similar sized teams working in game development, I'm hopeful there are lessons that larger teams or those in different fields can pick up and adapt to their own purposes.

    You Need a Producer

    If there is only one thing you will take away from this is that you need to assign a producer role to someone on your team.  Producers are much maligned in the game industry as people who don't really "do anything" yet manage the people who actually "do the work". 

    When Squeaky Wheel started out we had this mindset. We would set tasks for ourselves and then just work separately throughout the week.  It was a recipe for a lot of wasted effort as we often not working in sync, with designs being made months before they needed to be implemented, and mechanics that were being implemented lacking  design. It created a lot of mental stress for me, and the only reason we managed to keep going was that each individual was working hard as hell, including sometimes on weekends.

    After taking on the role of producer myself, we've managed to make it so that we mostly work in sync and no longer work on weekends because we're much more efficient about how we do things.

    This belies a lot of "invisible labor" by the producer, who must navigate the fine line between knowing what is happening in the team and if we're on schedule versus simply micromanaging everything.  Think of the producer as a director, a symphony conductor, or a basketball coach. Their role is to try to make sure that everyone is in sync for the betterment of the whole team.

    Ideally you would have a full time producer, but if not, one of the team members needs to step up and really embrace this role. 

    Setting Milestones

    While this blog will cover what the week to week management of a team looks like, ultimately none of this works unless you all know what you're aiming for. For Squeaky Wheel, what we've been doing is breaking our development up into milestones.

    Here is what our milestone for "Alpha 4" looks like, which I can share with you since we are nearing the end of this milestone.  I won't go into too much detail about how we arrived at these mechanics and time estimates since that would take up an entire article of its own. 

    But here are the basics of making your own milestone timeline:

    1. Decide what mechanics you want to add to the game (this is its own complicated process unless you have a genius designer/producer that holds all decision making power)

    2. Ask for time estimates for each mechanic (rule of thumb, whatever your team says, assume they are overconfident and add a day or two).

    3. The producer then arranges the milestones into scheduled updates, trying to make sure that there is just enough work to be done for each update.  For our case, since Alpha 4 milestone started, we've been organizing these updates into "themed updates". We try to have at least one key mechanic or a series of related mechanics to anchor the update.

    Then after that, everything goes fine and you just work till you complete the milestone.

    Haha just kidding.

    Throughout development the producer needs to keep an eye on this timeline, checking in at the end of every sprint to see how far along the team is with their work, and if anything needs to be adjusted.  You'll notice that there are quite a few mechanics that have a delayed marker next to them. Depending on the situation, these mechanics have either been delayed for future updates or the team has decided they're no longer necessary. There will also be times, especially if you're in Early Access, that you will realize that certain mechanics must be added that you didn't account for.  That is where it is crucial to have a producer that can discuss these issues with the team and make the necessary changes to the schedule.

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