Kickstarter Lesson #173: The Hidden Job of Every Kickstarter Creator

29 January 2016

A few week ago I had the pleasure of joining game designer Jay Little’s class via Skype. They’re working through the process of publishing a game, and they had some questions for me.

One of the questions Jay prepped me with in advance was about teamwork: “How many people are involved? How do you communicate and coordinate their efforts? How do you work with them to ensure quality and coordination?”

I work alone in my home office for about 80 hours a week, so my first instinct was that it doesn’t really feel like I work with a team. But as I started to take note of each different type of person with whom I collaborate, I was surprised to realize what my job really is: I’m a project manager.

I thought I’d share this with other Kickstarter creators–particularly those in the game category–because, like me, you may not realize that this is who you really are. Or, at least, who you’ll need to become. Here are all the different types of people you’ll probably need to coordinate:

  • business partners
  • investors/advisers
  • artists
  • graphic designers
  • game designers
  • lawyers
  • accountants
  • web/app developers
  • game developers
  • manufacturers
  • local playtesters
  • blind playtesters
  • video editors
  • Kickstarter page proofreaders
  • advertisers
  • Kickstarter backers
  • Facebook fans/Twitter followers
  • rules proofreaders/translators
  • international production partners
  • freight shippers
  • fulfillment centers
  • distributors/retailers
  • replacement part helpers
  • bloggers/podcasters/reviewers
  • conventions/convention volunteers

Granted, not all of those people are working for you. Some are volunteers; others are customers and clients. But they all requires some level of coordination.

How do keep track of all of those different people? Well, there are lots of different methods, and I look forward to hearing your perspectives in the comments. Here’s what I use:

  • Outlook: I use Gmail, but I sync it through Microsoft Outlook on my PC. I’ve found this makes it much easier for me to sort e-mails into different folders and subfolders–I like the interface. This is where the vast majority of my organization takes place.
  • Basecamp: Basecamp is a project management web app. It lets you add specific people to specific projects, assign them tasks, and lets them keep you updated. The nice thing about Basecamp is that it’s really easy to refer back to a checklist on a future date, whereas certain things can be tougher to track down via e-mail. For example, whenever I have little notes to my graphic designer about words to change in future versions of rulebooks, I put it on Basecamp so I have a checklist to refer to when I proofread the revised proofs.
  • phpBB private forum: Sometimes I want to have a private conversation with a bunch of people, like during a blind playtest. I’ve found that a private forum is perfect for this. phpBB may not be the prettiest app in the world, but it gets the job done.
  • Google Spreadsheets: I’ve found that creating and sharing a Google Spreadsheet is one of the easiest way to keep track of people for a specific task. For example, I have spreadsheets for our translators and proofreaders. I could keep their information in Excel, but I’ve found that sometimes it’s helpful to let your volunteers know who the other volunteers are. They might end up helping each other out on certain projects.

Jay’s last question was about oversight and quality. My methods will vary from those of other project managers, but here’s how I work:

  • I try really hard to communicate clear expectations and deadlines up front. I try, but I make the mistake all the time of not giving a clear deadline even if have a rough idea by when I want the task completed. When that time comes and the task isn’t completed, I get annoyed that the person hasn’t met a deadline I never told them about in the first place. Everyone is happier when expectations and deadlines are expressed up front.
  • I only have meetings when something needs to be discussed and can’t be discussed over e-mail. Alan (business partner) and I have a weekly meeting, but if we don’t have anything to discuss or playtest, we cancel it. We don’t meet for the sake of meeting. I’ve found that the vast majority of meetings are the most effective if they simply don’t happen. People often use meetings to report information, but that’s much better done over e-mail. Even with discussions when some back-and-forth is needed, I prefer e-mail because I can refer back to the conversation later. You might be surprised by how much work you can get done if you stop meeting to talk about the work you should be doing.
  • I try to sample small before going big. Whenever I work with someone new, I try to feel out what it’s going to be like to work with them. Sometimes this means I try to get a sample of their work, or I give them a small task before expanding to something big. Throughout this process I pay careful attention to how quickly and effectively they reply to e-mails.
  • I try to consolidate communication when possible. What’s easier for you to keep track of: Ten e-mails, each consisting of one different instruction each; or, one e-mail with a list of ten instructions? For most people, the latter is preferred.
  • When I request work, I compensate. People in the game community are incredibly generous with their time and talent. Look at any thread on BoardGameGeek and you’ll find tons of people answering questions that the publisher could answer instead (hey, sometimes we sleep!) That’s awesome, but that’s also very different than when I actively seek help with something, like the aforementioned proofreading and translating. When I ask someone to spend a significant amount of time doing something important and helpful, I feel it’s my duty to compensate them, usually through an enhancement to their Kickstarter pledge. Also, whenever an invoice is involved (e.g., from a freelancer), I pay promptly.
  • I don’t hire unless I have to. When I hire someone, my intention is to employ them as long as they want to be employed. So I only want to hire people if I have a consistent need for the skills and services they offer. This was the case with Morten. But I don’t need an in-house lawyer. I don’t need a full-time web developer. These are jobs I can contract out on an as-needed basis. I’ve heard many cautionary tales about companies–all types of businesses–that expanded their personnel too quickly, resulting in overhead that revenue can’t keep up with.

There you have it, the hidden job of every Kickstarter creator: project management. Is that something that excites you? What are some tools and methods you recommend?

28 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #173: The Hidden Job of Every Kickstarter Creator

  1. Great article Jamie. I’m in the middle of prepping up for our first Kickstarter project and can totally relate to what you said.

    The use of project management apps are a must for everyone! When I started working on the pre campaign for our game a lot of the duties were written out on paper and some of them were just floating around in my head. I must admit that at times I was on the verge of panicking on how much things had to be done and processes that had to be coordinated. But all that changed once I started using a project management app. Everything became more clearer, more organized and the pressure instantly subsided. I guess the brain likes a visual representation of the things lying ahead.

    BTW, my weapon of choice is Trello. It’s a free web based app that has ton of options and is great for collaboration.

  2. Thank you for sharing the inner workings of your company. I’m looking at how we compare and contrast within our own company. I don’t know how your communication with Amazon is but that is one of my trouble spots from time to time. I guess that counts as your retailer or fulfillment center communications. Anyways, thanks again as I always enjoy reading your posts.

  3. Jaime, I’ve been a PM as well (software industry), which depending on your industry may be called a Development Director (gaming industry) or even a Producer (in the film industry).

    You are the person who executes (or drives the team to execute) sometimes at 20K feet on the greater plan, and sometimes gets down in the mud to execute. I don’t think I ever understood this role best until I began to play it in each industry that I’ve worked in. The parallels are very clear, and just like you outlined above, there are universal skills and tools that are needed for each PM, DD, or Producer to execute the grand plan well.

    On your note about tools, in software development, we often use JIRA (a project management tool for agile development. At EA we used Hansoft (super powerful) to manage AAA game development. At TROBO (a small company) we also use Asana just to keep our company backlog in order, but it’s not super powerful. In film, a common PM tool is Movie Magic. (There are surprisingly HUGE amounts of things to track in a movie production.)

    Tools aside, the one thing I’ve come to realize over the years is that performing just a little bit of most of the key roles in your organization gives you tremendous insight into the journey and needs of your team mates. I’ve fairly diverse, so I’m able to converse with MOST of my team mates about their needs (and hopefully anticipate them). In film school we worked all the positions, because that gave us the insight needed to produce a film better. In game development, knowing the technical challenges of an artist and of an engineer makes it easier to make a better pipeline for converting all the art assets into something the game can use. At TROBO we have tons of learning curves, our latest being Marketing. (Jeremy and I aren’t marketers by any stretch of the imagination.) What I have come to learn in this past couple years is that although something may look straightforward on the outside, there is ALWAYS some level expertise I will never achieve, and that an expert in that field will do wonders where I can only muddle through. So all this is to say, when you think you can do it yourself, it is better (when you can afford it) to do enough to know the basics and find someone who is better at it than you. THEN facilitate and get out of the way. That is the best thing a PM can do.

    Great article, BTW. :]
    Chris

  4. Thanks very much for this perspective, Jamey, and especially for the resources. As Past Go has been growing and evolving, I have found myself recently thinking about this reality: that I am in a managerial role. This article validates and supports much of what I’ve been thinking, especially the part about not growing too fast. This has been the mentality that has helped me grow comfortable and unafraid: “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” As a business owner, I’m realizing that if you think about too much expansion and too much productivity too fast, you’ll rapidly get overwhelmed and crushed.

    Also, I praise you for your remarks against “meeting just for the sake of meeting.” Egads if only my administrative staff at my school would realize this, we could get so much more teaching done.

  5. Geoffrey: I completely agree about growth, and I like the Rome quote. :) I want to grow my business slowly and intentionally, and I don’t want to treat permanent employees as though they’re seasonal employees. I’m sure very few companies hire people with the foresight that they’ll probably have to lay them off, but I just want to be really careful about hiring decisions.

  6. Hey Jamey,

    Another quality post. There are some excellent suggestions here. I have used Basecamp in the past but I recently have started using Trello instead. It is another quality free application.

    Of course depending on the nature of the project something like Google Drive or Dropbox are extremely useful when working on and sharing documents. Google Docs are slowly replacing that but I haven’t gotten into that groove yet.

    Freelancer.com and Fiverr.com are great places for finding freelance help when needed as well.

    I think the important thing to remember is that everyone is different and will need to find what works best for them.

  7. Jamey, thanks for sharing! :)

    For managing tasks, my preference is to use Google Sheets, with each line having a task, owner, and status. That way I can filter by owner or status. I started this in excel, but google sheets is better since everyone has easy access to it.

    In my day job as a Medical Device Project Manger, I also use Microsoft Project to create and manage timelines. With my girlfriend, we use the app WonderList to manage shopping lists and tasks around the home. These are all great tools.

    I’m going to give Basecamp a try for sure.

    Also, I fired Amazon as well. It cost me more money to use someone else, but it was worth every penny! They are such a head-ache!

  8. Ever tried Slack? I find it useful for team collaboration and historical record of topics/conversations, especially if you anticipate growth and adding people… saves the time involved on catching them up on every detail or especially details you forget to call attention to.

  9. Brian: Thanks for sharing those various tools. I’m curious about WonderList–I’ll give that a try.

    Dan: I’ve heard several people recommend Slack recently–thanks for the recommendation!

  10. +1 buddy. You’re 100% spot on with this one. It’s a nice way to look at it.
    When we officially incorporated, my Wife got me a small engraved plaque to put over my desk that says: Gate Keeper Games – President! Haha. It was a cute thing and her way of encouraging me greately, but what it helped to (beyond boost my ego) is to make me realize: Yes, I now run a COMPANY; and that’s more than just me at my desk. It’s both REALLY COOL and a bit overwhelming at times. …back to work…

  11. Basecamp? Asana? Hiring video editors? For my new project (Battlestations Second Edition designed by Jeff Siadek and launching on Tuesday), I spent WAY too much time doing video creating, making animations, writing lore and ad copy, creating a press kit etc. Other people will be willing to help? How do I get them interested when Jeff and I are both shy game designers?

  12. Jeff: Well, no matter what, you’re going to end up doing a lot of work. If your skill-set includes video creation, by all means, you should keep doing that! :) A few people in the comments have mentioned services you can hire for specific tasks. A lot of other people on the list are people you’ll need to contract (lawyers, accountants, etc). But yes, if you build a crowd of people who are passionate about your project, some of them will want to help. Here’s how to do that: https://stonemaiergames.com/10-daily-actions-to-build-your-crowd/

  13. Jamey,

    I have to admit that I do enjoy the work of a project manager ~ to execute a plan in a way which keeps everyone involved and the end-game in sight. Admittedly, however, even though I had performed myriad project management functions in both the Air Force and in my government positions, running a Kickstarter provides you with many “you don’t know what you don’t know” moments. I’ve never had to deal with this type of logistics, including both distribution from the vendors to the Backers; these types of services…artisans, from mold makers and freelance painters; and this type of community ~ gamers are an interesting breed in that sometimes they don’t know what they want, but they’ll know it when they see it.

    Thanks again for the great article and for detailing the many roles with which you find yourself encountering throughout the process.

    Cheers,
    Joe

  14. I came here to recommend Slack but Dan M beat me to it :) It’s definitely one of the best team comms tools out there and for a very good reason (the Jet Propulsion Lab use it!)

    Jamey if you want to try it out I’d be happy to set up your team for you.

  15. Jamey, I want to thank you for the incredible oeuvre of information and insight on this website. I am currently finishing up my first Kickstarter, and your guidance, without ever even knowing it, has been invaluable. It’s actually extremely difficult to get through one article because you link to others which are ALSO incredibly useful.

    In fact, I don’t even know which article led me here! I think was reading the one about moving away from Kickstarter, which is simply amazing, and somehow now I’m here. I plan to contact you directly but felt like I should do my homework and read everything I could of yours beforehand. So, anyway…

    Thank you!!

    Don Eskridge

  16. This is a really good reminder! Thankfully, my current day job as a project manager is going to be good training for down the road when (hopefully) my side business takes off!

  17. […] UPDATE: After the initial batch of comments, it seems that the prevailing thought is that I need to delegate more and work less. While I understand that sentiment, I’m really happy spending 80 hours a week on Stonemaier Games. I love what I do, and I still have time for other activities. Also, I already delegate a ton of stuff. […]

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