First-time team leader seeking managerial advice

For my newest project, I happened to find myself leading a team of 5 (including me). This is not something I have experience with, so we are facing organization/communication hiccups that I am looking to solve.

Backstory

Between the 5 of us, we have

  • 3 programmers
  • 2 modelers
  • 2 artists
  • 1 animator
  • 1 musician

We are making the game entirely in one team create server. We are using ClickUp to keep track of features and communicating through Discord. Holding team meetings is difficult because we all live in different time zones and either work, go to school, or both.

Problems

  1. People are having trouble finding things to do. I purposefully didn’t assign tasks because I wanted them to choose themselves, but that doesn’t seem to be working.
  2. The progress of a feature is unknown by others at any given point. This is exacerbated by the lack of team meetings.
  3. Lack of motivation!! We are currently on a “break” because I had to focus on exams for a week and apparently if I don’t work then nobody else will.
  4. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. We’re just working willy-nilly, so some sort of structure would be helpful. I’ve heard of scrum, agile, and sprints. Should we be doing any of those?

My ideas

  • I want to set a 2-hour window every night where I will be available on voice chat for people to join and work if they’re available. A former boss did this and I quite liked having company while working.
  • Lots of sub-tasks for every feature on ClickUp to keep better track of progress.
  • Mandatory script documentation

Conclusion

I know I just threw a lot of words at you. I would appreciate any feedback regarding the specific problems/ideas above, but general managerial advice would be great too. What are some things you do with your team that work well?

One question I have when reading through this; is the project leaning more towards “couple of friends helping you making your game”, “developers being hired to help you”, or is everyone somewhat equally involved in the game, its direction, and the revenue split?

The way you describe tasks being handled (Not much getting done unless you specifically assign tasks, you not knowing how you’re organizing it) as well as the entire team being “on a break” because you are focusing on exams, makes this sound like a game a group of friends is throwing together, ‘just for fun’.

The reason why I’m asking, is because the answer would also directly influence how your ideas could be worked out or how realistic they are. If you are hiring developers, you should absolutely make sure that they know what to work on and plan time for meetings, 1-on-1 availability, etc. In return those developers would need to ensure that they carry out the work they are being paid for. But if there is no (up front) payment, or if the entire project is handled very laid-back (which I assume is the case from you being absent due to exams), I’m not surprised by the lack of initiative or lack of motivation from others.

3 Likes

The team dynamic is that we’ve all been good friends for years under the guise of a development studio without actually making anything. We were friends first and developers second, so it was always assumed that we’d get to the game thing eventually. Then, a few weeks ago, somebody proposed an idea that we all liked, so we’re finally trying to make a game. And as the owner of the server and group, I suppose I naturally came into the role of team lead.

It was originally an equally split game among friends and I was helping to keep us organized by checking in on who’s working on what. That’s been the extent of my leadership – I defer all questions about game direction to other people.

All of us focus on school and work with game development being done on the side. In that sense, I think that it’s laid-back by definition?

I’m gonna tackle the problems you listed one by one.

  1. It’s cool that you’re trying to let people work on what they want to, but it’s also important to make sure people have tasks so they feel like they have agency. I’d recommend consulting your team members and getting to know their strengths/weaknesses, and what they prefer to work on. If they don’t choose a task on their own, use what you know about them to choose one that’s best suited for them. This is roughly the approach we use on my team - for example, not everyone on our team is proficient with Roact, so we try not to assign them to Roact-heavy tasks.

  2. This is what ClickUp is for. Make sure your team knows how to keep the cards they’re working on updated with info (they should be commenting with progress updates, adding notes to descriptions, and creating checklists and checking off items) so others can come in to check up on the progress of a specific feature.

  3. In my experience, people are motivated by tangible progress - being able to see new features get finished and incorporated into the game makes the project feel more alive, so I’d suggest finding a way to make your team more aware of additions when they’re made.

  4. The flow of information should be one of your top priorities as a manager - there’s a common theme among most of these problems, and that’s a need for better communication. The simplest solution is to just convince team members to chat in the discord server while they work, but meetings are a more tangible approach. The reason teams typically hold “sync” meetings is because it makes it as easy as possible for people to talk to one another when they might be less likely to go out of their way to send a DM to another team member for information or set up their own meeting.

Try to have short but consistent meetings (Ideally twice a week, depending on how often you guys are working) at consistent times so team members can schedule the rest of their lives around them and keep that slot open. Have people give a recap of what they’ve worked on and what they’ve finished since the last meeting. Not everyone will be able to make every meeting, because things happen, but do your best to keep attendance up.

Also, you should absolutely be documenting the game’s codebase - this is a requirement on my team, a programmer has to write documentation for a system before they can incorporate it into the rest of the game. At the very least, you should be thoroughly documenting every module’s API so a team member can quickly figure out how to use a module. Ideally, the inner workings of the module should be explained as well (any features that would be particularly hard to reverse engineer.) You can use something like MkDocs to generate a simple site, or you could even just write documentation at the top of each module if you want to keep things simple.

1 Like

These are super helpful suggestions! I appreciate you taking the time to respond so thoroughly.

I’ve scheduled a meeting with the team tomorrow where I plan to discuss with them

  • More detailed ClickUp tasks as you described
  • Properly documenting code (MkDocs seems a little overkill for our size, so I’m gonna go with writing it at the top)
  • Finding a couple times a week that we’re all free for sync meetings

After that I want to setup 1-on-1s to discuss their strengths so that I can assign tasks accordingly.

Is this as simple as sending an announcement whenever a feature is finished?

Do you recommend taking meeting minutes for those that can’t attend?

Whatever you want to do, really. We actually are only just now trying something like this where we want to start demoing completed features during meetings as opposed to just saying it was finished.

I record all of our meetings and post them unlisted to YouTube, then link them in the Discord server and tag people who missed so they can watch it back later. Keeping minutes might help make it easier for people who missed to catch up to speed, though - that might be worth a try.

1 Like