One App To Rule Them All

With my work as the producer at 2ndcity Studios, my goal is to make management of the studio and also running of the game team efficient but also have the functionality we need – tracking tasks, time, sharing files, sharing updates, IM, messaging, shared calendaring, etc, etc.

For the past two years, we have been experimenting with many apps. Personally, I’ve signed up to probably over 30 different cloud based “project management” apps. I gave them a run, to try and ascertain if they would meet the criteria of the team(s).

Part of the reason however that it became so difficult to find the “one app to rule them all” was because our different teams had quite different needs, as well as so many apps seemed to have the wrong focus (for our needs).

Our needs were:

Our admin team didn’t really need much at all – they need general updates, file sharing, shared calendars, and a basic task list manager. This may seem like a blessing at first, but since the game team needed a more complex solution, finding some software that allowed for both proved to be quite a challenge. Either it was too simple for the game team, or it was too complex for the admin team and forced them to work in a way that was overkill for them (eg, kanban or scrum).

In addition, our game team is comprised of two kinds of people – techy types and non-techy types. The techy types intuitively “got” kanban tools with paired work and estimates and all of that stuff. The non-techy types wanted something tactile, visual, “pretty”, and intuitive.

We eventually “settled” on a horrible Frankenstein solution of the following menagerie of cloud apps:

Teambox was the main piece of software – its like the trunk of a tree, or the framing of a house. This is where we communicated (rather than email, whenever possible), shared files, and tracked tasks and milestones. The goal was to reduce Silo’s, so we can all see what is going on in various projects and offer helpful advice whenever possible. (Google Drive):

Google Drive is where we stored all of our files. This is for a few reasons:
Firstly, being in the cloud means they are accessible anywhere – at your house, at a meeting, on the train, on the beach, in another country. It also means they are backed up!
Secondly, it means they can be attached to other apps when they need to be shared, since they live in a central location. So, rather than attaching a document to an email, create a teambox conversation and insert a link to the google file!
Thirdly, Google Drive allows us to collaboratively edit documents on the fly, centralise our comments, and thus reducing the amount of time spent in managing revisions and versions.

Hall is best described as a collection of chat rooms. we only used this in the game team. We expected everyone to be logged into hall when they are at their computers. Hall functioned as a instant messaging service, allowing us to ask and respond to each others questions very quickly. This is especially important as we have distributed team members, who find this tool indispensable.

If you were on the art team, we used Hall to do quick “work in progress” checks on art to make sure we were all on the same page etc, as it allowed you to upload images inline by drag and drop.

Yodiz was where the game team tracked their sprints and tasks, in a Scrum / Kanban style. It contained sprints, releases, milestones, estimates, time logging, sprint planning, etc etc.

Toggl was a web app we used to track our time spent on tasks. The idea was two fold – Firstly, scheduling (so we can ascertain how long certain things take. For example, how long does it take to create a new quest? – Toggl can help us with this), and secondly, for tracking hours spent outside of the studio (for those who liked to work at 2am!)

So, as is hopefully pretty clear from that list, there were many apps! Our teams got pretty confused trying to work out what went where, they got sick of remembering logins for so many apps, and they also missed important information because they were looking in the wrong places.

The trouble was, I just couldn’t find a collaboration tool that met our needs in one single app.

Then I stumbled across StrikeBase. What a find!

Screen Shot 2013-07-14 at 9.46.48 AM

Strikebase has fulfilled all our criteria and more.

Strikebase has various components (called apps) that constitute it.

The social app is akin to a Facebook group. It allows you to post links, status updates, etc, and then for others in the studio to like or comment on these statuses. This enables us to communicate across the studio in an open and collaborative way, and is especially helpful for distributed teams.

The workboard app is basically either a collection of task lists (which is how our admin team uses it – a list for HR, a list for Finance, a list for Property), or it functions as a kanban board (which is how our game team uses it – To Do, Doing, Done). Each task is represented by a card that can (via drag and drop) have a person assigned to it, a file attached to it, and can also have a due date, time/effort estimates, and checklists and labels. If you’ve used Trello before, you will understand this concept.

The calendar app allows shared calendaring, with a 2-way integration with your google calendar.

The messaging app allows for chat, with a desktop client available too, and desktop notifications available for chrome and safari users.

The reports app allows producers and managers like myself to get stats and information on how things are going. Burn down charts, graphs about who is completing the most work, estimates vs actuals, how many cards are in each state (planned, in progress, done) etc.

Google Drive and Dropbox are both fully integrated.

To top it off, the app is fast and responsive, looks really good (with user customization available), and the mobile app is amazing.

What has really impressed me however is the team at Strikebase. They would have to be one of the fastest teams I have ever met. Bugs are fixed within hours, if not minutes of me reporting them (even if I just mention it to them via twitter). New features are implemented regularly. My own feature requests have been added to the app within days.

The team are so helpful, friendly, willing to listen, so keen to make their product awesome it really does put the other guys (mentioned in our menagerie section) to shame. Whilst some of them did respond quickly, helpfully and personably to my contact with them, many did not. Some were quite unhelpful, and made promises on their website that their product couldn’t deliver. Some released an update or a new feature or a bug fix once every 3 or so months. In this market, that’s way too slow. I should note however that many of the apps I listed above, in and of themselves, are great if the single function they deliver is all you are needing. Toggl is an excellent time tracking app, and Hall is an excellent chat room app. We still use google drive. Teambox is okay but starting to feel dated, clunky, and hasn’t really added much new stuff for a long time. As well as their iOS apps are terrible. Yodiz looks promising but is too intense for what we need and too slow.

So to conclude – if you are looking for an intuitive, visual, well made, well priced, highly functional Collab app, I wholeheartedly recommend strikebase!

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with Strikebase in any way and do not receive any commission or financial reward from this post. I merely love their product and want to see them do well

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