Sandlot Games Tackles Project Management Challenges
Sandlot Games is the world’s premier developer and publisher of casual and family-friendly games. We asked Sandlot artists, designers, developers, engineers, and producers about their project management challenges, their decision to sign on with LiquidPlanner, and what it’s been like ever since.
At a Glance
Company: Sandlot Games
Business: Developer and publisher of casual computer games
Employees: Around 50
Big-picture goals: Improve development practices, project predictability, and intercontinental collaboration
Project management before LiquidPlanner: MS Project, Excel, Basecamp, Twiki, email, IM, face-to-face meetings
Teams managing projects in LiquidPlanner: Development, IT
Favorite LiquidPlanner feature: A toss-up between the web-based platform and ranged estimates
Best results from using LiquidPlanner to date: The ability to create realistic schedules and keep feature-creep under control
Step 1: Getting Clear on Goals
“We are modernizing the way we develop software.”
Sandlot has quickly risen to success since opening their virtual doors in 2002. They continue to increase game downloads and expand their fan base every year, but limitations in timeline management and design planning were starting to cost them time and money—not to mention the drag on team morale. Sandlot needed the ability to accurately predict project completion dates, control timelines, and efficiently manage feature and design planning to keep the business headed in the right direction. With development teams in Bothell, WA and St. Petersburg, Russia, they also needed a better way to communicate and collaborate across continents.
Step 2: Confronting Project Management Challenges
“I more or less just beat my projects into fitting the timeframe I wanted.”
While Sandlot development teams have sophisticated project tracking and collaboration needs, they have been squeaking by with a less-than streamlined approach to both. Every team, and sometimes every person, managed projects differently, so it was nearly impossible to create and stick to a realistic schedule. And without realistic time estimates for each task, they also had no way of clearly seeing how the work load was divided among individual team members. Finally, with development teams in Washington and Russia, Sandlot needed to improve communication and collaboration across continents.
“Every project was slated to take six months, no matter what. In the end, some took eight, some took fourteen, but none of them took six. . . . It was a veritable house of project management horrors.”
Step 3: Finding the Right Solution
“We wanted something similar to MS Project, but easier to use.”
Sandlot teams were used to doing whatever was needed to get the job done, but producers had a hunch that things could be more efficient all around. They weren’t sure how the solution would come, but they were clear about what was needed. Here’s their hit list:
- Standardize project scheduling between artists, engineers, and producers across projects
- Integrate the collaborative processes of design and implementation with the schedule
- Estimate task duration in a range rather than a single point of time
- Avoid source control conflicts when multiple people are making updates to schedules and tasks lists
- Automatically synchronize new and existing tasks in the schedule
Step 4: Seeing Results
“With LiquidPlanner, we saw that the design wasn’t going to work early on, rather than three months into the project when it was too late to fix.”
Once the teams settled into LiquidPlanner, it didn’t take long to see results. The best part of all is that whole teams—including artists and designers—are seeing results, not just producers.
Producers appreciate the clarity and predictability of LiquidPlanner’s project schedules. They are more accurately predicting and hitting deadlines, which makes the marketing department happy.
Things have improved from the designer’s perspective as well. Before LiquidPlanner, design planning was inefficient and feature creep was all too common. Artists would often spend many hours on design only to have features cut late in the game when the development schedule ran tight. And on other occasions, when the CEO would come knocking with requests for last-minute feature additions, producers had no clear way of telling him just how those changes would impact the schedule so feature lists would grow. The result: stretched schedules, missed deadlines, and plenty of frustration all around.
But on a recent new project with LiquidPlanner, the designer saw that his design was too big to fit the projected timeline on day one, not months down the road when time, energy, and money were already spent.
“Before, I would design the Taj Mahal and end up building a nice three-car garage house, but with wasted time and effort on features that we cut for time’s sake. With LiquidPlanner, we know how big the project is in advance and can cut features immediately so no time or effort is wasted.”
Producers are also happy about their new-found leverage regarding those last-minute feature requests. In just minutes they can add a new feature and its required tasks to LiquidPlanner and see the schedule shift before their eyes. If the new features stay, other features, or the deadline, have to give. It’s so clear and fluid, you might even say it’s liquid.
For more information on Sandlot Games, visit their website at www.sandlotgames.com