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
- graphic designers
- game designers
- web/app developers
- game developers
- local playtesters
- blind playtesters
- video editors
- Kickstarter page proofreaders
- Kickstarter backers
- Facebook fans/Twitter followers
- rules proofreaders/translators
- international production partners
- freight shippers
- fulfillment centers
- replacement part helpers
- 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?