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Managing a Small Team

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If you’ve finally decided to make your own indie game, there are a couple of things you may not have considered about working in, and managing, a small team.

Your team is going to be absolutely vital in making your vision. While there are loads of great benefits to working in a small team, there are a few common oversights that many people make.

Read on to ensure you can get the best out of your team!

Communication

This is a big one. Communication is key within any business, regardless of size and industry. Every team size, every relationship, personal or work related – for all of them, communication is absolutely vital.

A research project found out that during game development, issues with communication came up in teams 35% of the time.

A good example of this can be found with Asheron’s Call, a game developed by Turbine Entertainment and published on Window’s PC’s. Ragaini, the lead designer on Asheron’s Call, noted that there were major issues between Microsoft and Turbine. This was down to several factors (distance and different time zones being part of it) but he specifically mentions communication: “E-mail threads were either ignored or else escalated into tense phone calls, and in some cases the bug tracking database (RAID) was not used effectively. Clearly, everyone would have benefited from more face-to-face time.”

It’s easy to develop a strong sense of communication and community within your team. Hold daily check-ins, schedule weekly team meetings and simply make sure everyone is on the same page (for example, updating someone quickly if they’ve been sick).

Be transparent and communicate objectives clearly and you shouldn’t have to worry about too much falling through the cracks.

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Conflict

Falling under communication slightly is managing conflicts. You will find, no matter how well people get along, that at some point there will be a clash of personality or ideas. Working in a small team can be a little bit like working with a close-knit family, and whilst for the most part everyone will get along well, someone will inevitably annoy a co-worker at some point.

Resolving these conflicts can be tricky because there are fewer individuals to relieve the stresses felt between people. Over time, this can lead to workplaces feeling uncomfortable, which can affect the quality of your project.

The best way to deal with a conflict is to go for the root of a problem. When choosing/hiring people to work on your project, take into consideration work ethics and personality, and try to involve other members of the team in the selection (if appropriate).  The more involved your staff feel, the more they will feel appreciated and valued, and as such are more likely to be devoted to the cause.

You should be aware, however, that no matter how hard you try, conflicts will happen. People are human and mistakes will be made. You should prepare for this by having a plan in mind. As team leader you will have to make sure you listen to all sides of arguments, and then with that information, identify the problem and put forward different solutions.

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Overworked/Overlapping roles

In a small team, you’ll often find that unlike in a bigger company, everyone will be responsible for more than one task. Whilst this isn’t a problem in principle, it’s important to ensure that no one individual becomes burdened with too much responsibility. It would be unreasonable to expect a lead programmer to also be in charge of all the art and level design, as these are three large tasks and would likely lead to burn out.

This can be particularly difficult near deadlines. Often, when it’s crunch time, it leads to an ‘all hands on deck’ approach leaving little time for people to take a breath. Whilst individuals on a large team can slow down or even leave a task for a little while, and not cause a huge impact, the same cannot be said for when working with small teams.

You can avoid this through careful planning and task management. Read on for a list of some software which can help with organisation and delegation of tasks.

Use a Collaborative Task Management Tool

Depending on the complexity and size of your game/project, it could be worth looking into using collaborative task management software. This enables your team a single place where they can communicate, update the state of tasks and share files in real time.

Whilst not essential, it’s a very good idea and can really help organisation and successful project management.

Some good free (or very cheap) choices of this kind of software are Trello, Asana, Flow, Casual and Binfire.

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Be Prepared and Structured

Designing your product and bringing it to life is a massive undertaking. As such, you’ll need to plan appropriately, decide on structures and ensure you’ve got the correct tech lined up. Ensuring this is all in place before you start is essential and will help the project run more smoothly.

We’ll list some of the things you need to consider below. It’s important to remember that no matter how small it might seem in the grand scheme of things, each component is just as important.

  • How are you going to arrange your folders? What will your naming convention be? It may sound silly, but being able to find things quickly and not losing things frequently, will relieve many stresses and save time later.
  • How will you manage version control and backing up?
  • What’s your contingency plan for when things aren’t going right? How will you mitigate any issues?

We cannot stress how essential it is to set up your project as best as you can from the start. Even generating empty files and folders to set up structure can be helpful.

We would also recommend getting some form of version control. We would recommend using either Git or PerForce. PerForce has free demos for you to try (though if you want the full version you’ll need to contact them for a quote) and Git is free.

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Use Resources

So you’re working with your team when you come across a task that none of you are entirely sure you can handle or have the time for. Don’t feel as if this task immediately needs to be completed by you.

There are well trained and highly talented freelancers that you shouldn’t be afraid to recruit. You could use them for something like a marketing campaign or designing the cover of your game. While you could always take on tasks like this yourself, using the specialist skills of someone else will help you and your game reach the best potential.

Acknowledge Good Work/Be Decisive

These two points are easy to overlook but are also two of the easiest to implement off of this entire list. Don’t forget to acknowledge good staff and work. If you only ever give feedback to criticise, your staff will lose morale and confidence. Keep them invested in the project by telling them when they do a good job.

Similarly, a good leader needs to be able to assert their authority and make important decisions for the team. You cannot afford to be indecisive when leading a team, so whilst you should always listen to others input, once you’ve decided what’s best for your business, stick to your guns. Whilst there’s no shame in taking advice, the final decision must always be made by you.

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What do you think of our list?

Did we cover the basics of good management? Do you think there’s anything we’ve missed? What have you encountered during your game development? Let us know!