It’s so easy, when you’re the only person developing your game, to just start creating things without having an idea of future milestones. I’m super guilty of it too, but it’s so important to have a roadmap. It gives you an idea of how long things will take, when you can anticipate hitting certain milestones, and exactly what you need to work on next to finish your game without taking years to do so.
Here’s how I handle project management for my upcoming game, Visual Out.
I tend to develop a concept of my production timeline on paper, list-style, by using a quarterly project management sheet I made in Microsoft Word. It’s very simple to create – it has three columns: year, quarter, and month.
I use it to detail milestones, and in the month columns I’ll detail sprints – two week groups of work. As a solo developer I use sprints to knock out a particular piece of the game in its entirety (for instance, a sector of the map). I can also use this sheet to mark upcoming expos.
This is obviously very rudimentary, and isn’t meant to do more than facilitate ideas for the creation of a more concrete timeline.
I use Trello for brainstorming and as a specific milestone calendar. My project management sheet will tell me what quarter or month a milestone occurs, but with Trello I can set a date in its calendar, add to-do lists for each milestone, and label them for easy interpretation. I use Trello to-do lists extensively as milestone tracking.
When I brainstorm ideas, before I commit them to my design document I assign an idea to a card in Trello. This allows me to let the idea sit and develop in my brain, and revisit the idea quickly any time I need to. It’s also a non-committal way of tracking feature ideas. Something on my brainstorming Trello card can be ignored or deleted if it breaks scope.
Taiga is where I do all of my specific task management. Taiga is an open source agile task management system, and while it seems somewhat overkill for a solo developer to use, it’s still an incredibly useful time and task management tool.
If you’re unfamiliar with agile development, it’s a method of developing software that responds fluidly to changing project needs. Tasks are decided a week or two at a time, instead of months out, and places emphasis on delivery of a task rather than the task’s deadline.
Taiga in particular uses a Points system, rather than hours. While you can very easily retrofit the points to act as hours needed to complete a task, Taiga intends the points to be allocated based on the difficulty or priority rather than simply the time it takes. Taiga also allows for integration with various other tools, and has a Custom Fields feature that allows you to create values for anything you may need.
I enjoy using Taiga because it is very easy to see graphically day-by-day where I may be behind, or if I’m reaching beyond my scope, so I can quickly compensate.
Once my user stories and tasks are set in Taiga I can transfer individual tasks into my day planner. I use a paper planner. It may be old-school, but it works better than a program or app for me, since I tend to be very “out of sight, out of mind.” My planner is the first thing I see when I wake up, and it’s not hiding away behind a button or in a folder like an app. I also simply enjoy writing in it, so I’m already motivated to look at it every day.
And that’s all there is to my project management process! It may seem like it’s scattered between a number of different sources and apps, but I think of it more like a pipeline. Ideas filter from paper concepts, to fleshed out ideas, to tasks and to-do lists.
Your project management doesn’t have to be this complex and involve multiple applications, or it could be more complex, as long as it suits your needs, and you’re getting things done in a manageable way. This is just what works for me.