"Games are unpredictable, how can we stop crunch?" Let me try and break it down for you.
PROJECT MANAGEMENT: A THREAD
You start with the Project Plan, that contains:
- what work must be done
- what order should it be done
- who does it
- when it must be completed
It is extremely hard to estimate the duration of a task at the beginning of a project.
That is why you add a 30-50% buffer ON TOP of how long your team says a task will take.
You also add buffers for:
- Sick days
- National holidays
Don't expect your team to be fully productive for 8 hours per day either.
There will be meetings, calls, and other distractions. So it's best to count on ~6 hours of productivity.
Another document you create right at the start is a Risk Assessment.
- Identify risks that can impact the project
- Analyze the likelihood & prioritize them
- Think of possible actions you can take RIGHT NOW to mitigate that risk
- Evaluate & update this list every month
Risks can include: tech issues, employees leaving or getting sick long-term, things taking longer than expected, etc.
Basically, you plan as if the worst possible disaster will happen.
If it happens: you're prepared.
If it doesn't happen: good, one less thing to worry about.
You also want to have a Feature Cut List.
In it, you define which features could potentially be cut from the game.
- Identify candidates: not connected to other features, not part of core vision, or too risky
- Prioritize them together with the team & publisher
It is likely that during the project, someone will suggest a new feature.
To avoid this turning into feature creep, you:
- research impact if added vs if not added
- prioritize features
- create a change request for approval, describing: reason, impact, alternatives, risks
And despite this, should you find yourself behind schedule, this is what you can do while avoiding crunch:
- increase team (this is risky, people need to be properly onboarded)
- increase scheduled time (aka delay)
- cut features
- reduce quality (less polish & bugfixing)
Yes, 3 out of 4 are unpopular decisions.
You can be sure that cuts, delays and decreasing quality will impact the team's morale.
To avoid crunch, you need to prioritize the wellbeing of your team at every point during the project, and be willing to make those shitty decisions.
We all love video games.
But they are not worth destroying lives for.