Work/Life Balance and our projects

Posted on  
October 29, 2013
 by 
Sarah Woodrow

So week 3 and 4 of Chompy Chomp Chomp Party...Our shiny new Nintendo Wii U Dev kit came this week! Which means that it’s the first time we’ve actually had Chompies running on the Wii U. So exciting!

Here is a photo of everything all up and running in the shed.

The past few weeks Woody has stormed through the task list, it’s also the first week we’ve really seen the benefit of the way we’ve been working.

When we started this company, we’d both worked leading projects. We’d worked on personal projects. We'd freelanced. We’d worked on things together. Yet the close tangle of work and life, and the fact that we have our ideals of how we want our company to work in comparison to the previous places that we’ve worked has meant that we’ve had some challenges to overcome.

Even though we’ve done pretty well at delivering our projects quickly if not on time, we're looking to improve all the time.

Some of the problems we’ve had before (and these may sound familiar to a lot of people) are:

  • Not having a clear view of how much work still needs to be done.
  • Our life/work balance going out of the window.
  • Not being able to set realistic deadlines because of the previous two bullets ;)
  • Thinking a deadline will be met and then finding out there’s a ton of stuff to do that we didn’t think of too close to the deadline.
  • Not getting playtesting in early enough.
  • Starting out with a nice plan and it getting messy half way through so we give up on that plan and have to start again.
  • Tasks not being broken down enough and we find out later on that they were much bigger than we thought.

So here's what we're doing differently that seems to be working...

We’re using Teambox.

We tried Trello before but it seemed so hard to change things and it was impossible to remove things from the backlog. We also tried good old fashioned spreadsheets.

Teambox is really good because we can organise tasks into lists and we get a nice gantt chart view of what has been done previously. We’re probably supposed to use it to plan ahead but so far we’ve used it to look at the progress mostly. Teambox also emails me so Woody doesn’t have to tell me every detail everyday when I get home, which takes ages.

I wanted a cloud based solution, as I am not there all the time. I also love the idea of an iphone app so that we don’t have to be in the office or have the laptop to be able to talk about it.

Communication and transparency is the most important thing, even when there are only 2 of us.

We've categorised our backlog.

It’s grouped together by game mode at the moment, it is easy to change and move things about too. We can find things really easily.

We’re including non dev tasks, life, business etc.

We’ve got a task list for all the other things that need to be done when you are running a business. We tag the things differently.

We need to prioritise life things sometimes, having fun or sorting out the boiler and the taxes is just as important as work. Working 16 hours a day is just pointless and it’s easy to lose focus, sometimes just doing something else helps us to be more creative. We just need to keep track of how much time isn't being spent on the project and understand the impact it has and we need the way we plan to be resilient enough to allow for the randomness of these things.

We’re aiming for Minimum Viable Awesome.

Well, we call it Minimum Viable Awesome. "Minimum viable product" sounds unpolished and with games we don’t see that as an option. We need a fixed deadline, and scope creep can't happen. We don't add a new feature until we know the previous ones are polished enough. We try to get the most value out of the already polished features as we can. So if a feature isn’t good enough by the deadline it’ll just get released later, no big deal.

We’re prioritising the unknowns.

If we prioritise things right then we can drop as much off the end of the project as we can for future updates. But early on in a project it can be hard to know what those things will be. Mainly because most of the design hasn’t happened yet. We prioritise finding things out over doing stuff we know about already. This means things like playtesting end up happening sooner by default.

We’ve got smaller goals in mind.

We create a task list based on that goal. At the moment our first goal is “prototyping and playtesting". We want to get everything in place so that we are able to play test some of the different game modes. We just want to get it playtestable. This means, no proper animations, no music, no polish because we don’t need it yet.

We drag the minimum amount of things we need for that from the other task lists.

This is where the Scrum/Agile methodology kicks in. We give them points based on how much effort they would be, “if a #2 would be a line of code saying “this button does this” then how much effort would this task take?”

We’re creating goals as we go, taking out those tasks and chunking it up to fit that goal and then creating our sprints based on that list.

This gives us the knowledge we need most. How long will it be until we have a prototype up and running? If we know Woody normally gets through 60 points in a week and all those tasks add up to 180 we know it will take just over 2 weeks to get there.

We’re doing weekly sprints.

We know how many points Woody got through last week and we drag that many points into a new task list labelled "week (5)" with a deadline of Friday. Woody works on those tasks and if he storms through more points, then he can pick a few more tasks from the “prototyping” task list, just whatever he thinks is important. Spending ages planning is pointless. Stuff changes too much.

So…

We needed something that allows for freedom. We needed something that wouldn’t make our life more difficult than it already is when you're trying to run a whole company with just one and half people. We needed to be able to understand how long things would take and make decisions based on that.We needed something that suited us and how we want to work.

We needed to balance our lives and work and start out how we mean to continue, with all the utopian ideals that we've created this company with. I think we might be there!

It’s been a learning curve! It feels like we're running smoothly with this project and we're on the right track :)