Project Management in Video Games: 3 Lessons Learnt from Managing the Madness
Coordinating, planning, communicating, executing; these are some of the things that Project Managers in Streamline do on the daily. As the ones accountable for the success or failure of all our projects, they have quite the challenge indeed.
Rather than the whys (why choose this path in the first place, why stick it out despite the risks?), I've grown a fascination toward the hows; the inner workings of Project Management for video games after seeing first-hand how they fluidly navigate through an incessant stream of challenges every day – a true testament of grit.
This led me to pick the brains of my fellow PMs as I was curious as to what they considered their most valuable lessons obtained over the course of their careers.
Share, share, share
In theory, this seems like a no-brainer, but sometimes it’s easy to fall into a habit of only disclosing the bare minimum because it’s the path of least resistance – there are always a million other things more urgent than spending time explaining even the simplest of decisions made. However, the payoff for being as transparent and communicative as possible far outweighs the short-term conveniences.
Essentially, a lack of information about a project’s status, plans, and decisions means keeping the team in a black box – it’s scary, especially when the decision affects them directly. Be tactfully open and understanding, the team will reciprocate at the very least with trust - which can prove to be very valuable to the dynamics we are aiming to achieve.
2) Risk Management
Healthy paranoia - it’s a good thing
One of the biggest challenges I see with managing game development projects is that we'd often find ourselves wading through the muck of uncertainty, trying to connect as many dots as possible before finally being able to identify and understand potential risks. This could be due to multiple reasons: inexperience, the lack or glut of information, changes in scope, etc.
The other challenge here at Streamline is the sheer speed at which we operate, and with that, making sure we cover our bases no matter how dull. Document everything, save backups for backups! It’s so easy to put these things on the back-burner to make way for other more pressing matters, but we've learned the hard way that being facilitators and coordinators sandwiched between internal and external parties mean that being diligent is fundamental.
Ultimately, it’s absolutely alright to not know everything there is to know about the projects we manage, but it’s not okay to sit around waiting for clarity, only to realize we’re in trouble when shit hits the fan. We will and should always have Murphy’s Law niggling at the back of our minds: anything that can go wrong will go wrong.
3) Communicating Upwards
Keep your managers in the know
Even the most earnest and seasoned PM would not be able to catch all risks, especially at the grassroots level, which is where having a team that’s ever ready to ring the bell and say "hey guys, we have a problem”, is so important.
Just the same, having almost full control in managing our co-development projects means that our General Managers and sales team rely entirely on us being, at best, pre-emptive with potential snags (risk management right here). Not only can they give us valuable insight based on their knowledge and experiences, but because these guys are the ones who cultivated the relationship in the first place, they can also respond quicker on the higher level – making it a sure-fire way of bringing a derailed project back on track.
To be successful in video game outsourcing means a culmination of months, if not years, of building long-term partnerships at multiple touchpoints. Here, one of the key roles of the Project Manager is to maintain client relationships by facilitating the delivery of high-quality content while managing and fulfilling expectations – really, by being an extension of their team. At the end of the day, everything we do boils down to playing the long game – keeping that in mind will, I think, serve us all well regardless of industry.
Special thanks to Elizabeth, Alex, and Shafeeq!