The Best Project Planning Tools

The best tools for project planning are: pencil and some paper. Okay, almost the best. Quite good at least. In some cases.

I’ve been doing years of project work and I believe some things like (parts of game design, preliminary project plan, graphics concept art etc.) are best done in paper. It might sound bit strange… but pencil & paper have some very good benefits:

  • They are available all the time – you don’t have to turn on your computer and wait for the programs load.
  • They are available anywhere – you don’t have to design in front of your computer… you can be out in a forest and draw lines. (I prefer sofa)
  • It won’t crash. I have never seen an memory error while planning on paper
  • It’s darn a cheap! Pencil & paper doesn’t cost anything compared to almost any professional tool (of course there are very good free tools available, but still – they are very cheap)
  • It’s flexible: drawing something in pencil is much easier than using mouse and trying to use freehand tool (even those ‘draw boards’ aren’t so good in my opinion)
  • It’s all in one package: whether you do budget, project plan, or concept art – you can use the same tool (pencil & paper) for all of those.

Use pencil & paper in design – and put finished paperwork on computer when needed.

Juuso Hietalahti


  1. There is a difference between graphic design and project planning. I think you comingled the two issues in your post.

    Paper and pencil are great for superficial planning efforts, but larger projects need a more sophisticated system to manage effectively.

  2. Very good point! Those mobile phones can be handy sometimes, and I also use them for something. The main problem is that they carry a risk of “low battery”, “crash”, and in my opinion THEY are slow (if you have pen & paper ready by your side it’s much faster to draw a triangle with notes than by using mobile phone… ;). Of course if you have left the building… then it’s different case.

  3. one of the useful tools i use is the dictaphone on my mobile
    phone … most of the ideas come when im walking or talking
    about topic with people around me and than paper / pan is not
    FAST enough method of taking records … this is especialy true
    if you have 3 persons brainstorming some concept and generating
    like 10 ideas or variantions per minute ;o)

  4. It would be cool if there were whiteboards which can send their content to a laser printer ;)
    If anyone wants to get rich and famous, invent it immediately :D

  5. You can always take photographs of the whiteboard plans if you need to preserve or distribute it.

  6. I agree, the pencil-and-paper method is nearly the best. I personally preffer the great-big-whiteboard-on-the-wall method. Sure, you can’t save your work or take it with you, but it’s just soooo much more satisfying. It’s also nice if you have the core information on one, so you can just look up and stare right at it.

  7. @Jack: No need to apologize. Your question is very good – and will be answered. (In fact… I’m writing this ‘how to produce game’ stuff up as we develop our new game.

  8. @Jake: Your way of working sounds quite familiar to me – and same goes with you Cap. And yes, I said “pencil”, but not only because I can rub stuff – but also because I prefer pencil to pen (I can draw thinner lines with pencil :)

  9. my apologies for posting here but didn’t know where else to leave a note for you: i am interested in learning game dev process from the bottom up. for example, before you can put a plan together, what are all the pieces of development that need to be considered in the plan. how do they tie in together and in what sequence. can you help? thanks, J

  10. I use paper and pencil for anything – drawing out my idea’s, sketching class diagrams before programming, laying down level layouts, level schedules and model concepts…
    Funny thing is, my sketches serve as a sort of memory stack as well. Every new drawing comes on top of the old ones, so whenever I read through the whole staple it’s like a developers diary. And after the stack gets too high, I sort the lower ones and store them in a map, or throw away the (now) useless ones.

    Scanning in some concepts also helps for spicing up documentation. I find docs with images much easier to search through. There’s all sorts of landmarks dotted throughout them and every decent level-designer knows landmarks are important for navigation. ;)

    Indeed, no single computer program can ever counter all these benefits. :)

  11. I use pen and paper to make mini plans of work sometimes, and find it handy to make a quick note when the PC is off. Most of the time I find pen/paper useful is when coding a routine or makeing changes and I suddenly think oooh I’d better check that or do this in a minute, I make a quick note and then come back to it a bit later. It’s like a solid short term memory. Mostly though I use the PC for To Do lists. I do enverything in Word (use to use Notepad but word allows for better formatting) and it’s fine. Dont’ really need project management software as I constantly review and update my lists. Sometimes I transfer key sections to a spreadsheet and attach time estimates to see how long a certain phase of the project will take.

    Did you say “pencil” as it infers you can rub it out and write/draw again?

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