Project management for the first time

By | November 23, 2012

Stuck between process and disorder

“Dilbert” by Scott Adams

Almost a year ago, a bunch of us here at Melon became very keen on the idea to create a content-based series of apps. We went through several ideas about what our app should exactly offer, but ultimately we chose to make an app for greeting cards with a photo hole. Eleven months later, we have 13 published card collections (more coming up), a huge email archive documenting our complex, but certainly inspiring, relationship with 30 freelance designers we worked with, and some really interesting stories. This week’s blog is about some of the mistakes, mishaps and momentous moments we experienced.

What is it we want

What initially got us hooked, was the romantic idea that we could make a brilliantly engaging e-comic app, in which users could add their own photos and make fun personal stories to exchange with friends. However, a few meetings with graphic designers introduced us to the real value of a full creative process. In other words, we realized that ordering custom-made comic books is a very slow and expensive process: the exact antonyms of the process we were looking to establish. Moreover, most illustrators wanted us to provide them with a story line  the decisive factor in shelving the comic book idea. It turned out that coming up with a sensible comic book scenario that develops in 3 scenes (a limit we set for technical reasons) is incredibly difficult. (Respect!)

Overcome by delusion

Good then – we will be making the good old single-scene ecards and allow users to add their photo, preferably to achieve a comic or striking result. We will recruit dozens of talented freelance designers and will create a process so smooth, that it will barely need any supervision.

Then we did our financial planning – we will be publishing two collections a month for Android, iOS (iPhone & iPad) and Windows Phone. By the end of the year, will be famous and rich content-creation gurus. That was in mid-January. We did not publish our first ecard collection until 1 April. What took us two whole months?

1. Specification – defining the full requirements for the app

Answering the small questions, you know: How many cards do we want per collection, in what resolution and format, what themes would we like to cover? The simple process of defining the needed ecard files for each platform took over two weeks of discussions with three dev teams , compiling, reviewing and confirming it all several times, and ultimately still getting a couple of things wrong.

Fun fact: For the iOS app, one ecard template is made up of eight files in four different sizes (WxH) and two file formats (PNG and JPG). That’s right. One set for iPhone and one for the retina display. We sure were excited about the iPad 3.

That is why it is necessary to always stay ahead of any and every development in the industry. It is impossible to predict what will come next, but at least you can be among the first to react and maybe even fix those sudden bugs that often spring out after a major OS update.

So yes, it is best not to start the process before having all the specs written down, confirmed and agreed on by everyone. Because we did. And then, of course, we redid. We had to fix dozens of files because we had gotten one detail wrong. Nevermind, no matter how much you try to get everything covered, chances are that when you are doing something for the very first time, you will mess up a few times. All you can do is work hard not to mess too many times.

And whatever you do, do not over-caffeinate yourself at any point during these happy first months of your project because, boy, is it hard to think when you are worked up over some unexpected problem while your brain cells are doing the twist-and-shout.

(to be continued…)


What is still to come: you will be introduced to the other early-stage project impediments, including, but not limited to: artists gone missing, monstrously huge files in the mail and this author developing a self-proclaimed multiple personality disorder. Most probably.

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