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Posted on by Steven Savage

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr)

We’ve passed the halfway points! We’re now on the Seventh Principle behind the Agile Manifesto. It looks simple, and in fact is simple, which means I’m going to go on at length about it. Let’s take a look:

Working software is the primary measure of progress.

Yeah, it’s pretty clear isn’t it? I’m very fond of it because the idea is the measure of progress is something that actually works. No maybies, no charges, no plans, no mockups. Something that works is how you measure progress.

But let’s tweak it a bit for creatives, since creative work involves a wide range of stuff from art to presentations to films.

Usable products are the primary measure of progress.

There, not much of a change, but we broadened it out. You measure progress primarily by giving people things that are usable.

Now of course, I’m going to analyze the heck out of it.

You measure progress with something people can use – even if imperfect

Your efforts should focus on giving people something they can use and experience – that’s it.  It’s usable/working/review-able or whatever you want to call it.  That does not mean it is:

  • Complete.
  • Ready for public release.
  • Ready for all of your customers to use.
  • Even that good.

You may deliver work that’s incomplete and lousy, but at least each embarrassingly bad delivery there’s something people can use to give you feedback.  You will improve it over time.

As you may guess this means . . .

Delivering usable product means feedback

Giving people something they can use, no matter how incomplete or half-baked, at least means you’ll get feedback on it. It may not be nice feedback, it may mean a lot more work, it may mean a change of direction. But at least you know what to do next.

So the more often you deliver, the better you do getting people to their destination – because you learn how to better get there.  It’s a lot like navigation – in fact your customer or client may learn about what they really want once they have something they can really experience.

But it’s not just people who give feedback. You and your team give each other feedback. If it’s just you, then YOU give yourself feedback (even if it’s “that was dumb”). You also learn by making something usable as opposed to reaching abstract deadlines and milestones.

There’s nothing like having to make something workable to really learn what you have to do, and what you shouldn’t have done.

Now to do this . . .

This almost always means iterative development – so plan for it

So as you’ve probably guessed from reading so far, this Principle really hearkens to iterative development. You measure progress with usable product, so you’ll be delivering useable product over time – probably improvements of previous deliveries. That’s pretty common in Agile, obviously and we’ve already discussed it.

But this means that anything useable you deliver is something you should plan for and keep in mind. Don’t just work on something, work on it in a way that helps you give actual results as often as possible. This could mean:

  • Constant refinement, like putting a logo through more and more iterations.
  • Delivering in usable parts, like a costume where each piece is complete (and, say, at least display-worthy).
  • Delivering in review-able parts, like a piece of writing where each chapter is something that can be edited.

So you can keep getting work out, do that work in the best way that keeps delivering useable results. Because when you do that . . .

Useable Products Are THE Way to Measure Progress

Delivering usable products is the way to measure progress. There’s the obvious ones of “this customer is happy,” but you can also use this to get a bit more mechanical and procedural.

  • If you have a list of features for something, like perhaps a game, as you deliver them in prototype, you can check them off. Yes, some may be wrong or changed, but you can get a rough idea of progress.
  • If you are aiming for certain numbers, such as a performance score or loading speed or image size, then you can measure them – with workable product.
  • Of course, you get abstract feedback from others, maybe customers or even beta testers and early access users. They might provide other quantifiable forms of feedback, ranging from yes/no responses to answering polls and questions.

From simple lists of features to complex analysis, usable product is not just a way to measure results in general, but gives you a way to get specific results, maybe even complex ones that need some number crunching.  Thinking in deliverables and producing them gives you access to a wealth of data.

Though I wouldn’t overdo it. This is Agile after all, let’s not get complicated.

Rounding Up

Let’s review the Seventh Agile Principle for Creatives:

  • Frequently produce something usable for your audience, no matter how imperfect.
  • Iterative development is the best way to do the above, so organize your work accordingly.
  • Because you are delivering something usable, you’ll get feedback and learn, meaning you can produce a better product.
  • If you need to have deeper analysis, working products are a great way to do it.

It’s another simple principle, but it’s really great advice – progress is producing something.

Sounds like you could overload yourself with trying to constantly get stuff out, right?  Well, let’s move to the Eighth Principle . . .

– Steve

Posted on by Scott Delahunt

No new review today. Trying to get the details I need for the next one, which will return next week.

Meanwhile, enjoy an older post.

Posted on by Steven Savage

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr)

Agile principle #6 is a simple and sweet one about communications.  It needs no embellishment:

The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.

This is obvious.  If you want to get the most done, effectively, talk to a person directly.  I could probably stop here and you and I have easily discussed 70% of the value of this Principle.

Obviously I’m not done – and we’re talking Agile and Agile Creativity, so there’s some subtleties to go into.  So I’d like to discuss this principle in a bit more detail, and focused on creative work.  This probably would be faster if we were face-to-face, so revel in the irony.

Good communication is vital to all work – creativity moreso.

It’s obvious that you get more done productively if you actually go and talk to people, and in-person conversations convey a lot of information effectively.   In-person you can judge gestures, expressions, voice pitch and more.  In-person you sync-up with people better.

When you communicate effectively, you say more, hear more, and can work effectively.  You can adapt better because you’re actually talking to someone directly and saying so much more.  I’ve seen team behavior change and become more productive when face-to-face activities are introduced.

In creative works are challenging to communicate because they involve everything from intuitive interpretation to understanding complex emotions.  This makes face-to-face or similar far more important because there’s just a lot to convey.  So if you have to collaborate creatively, get talking face to face

(As you may guess, I accept we can’t always get face-to-face, which means) . . .

Face-to-face isn’t always possible, so make due

Communicating with people on your team face-to-face sounds great.  It’s also probably impossible at many times due to location, travel, mutual loathing, and what have you.  So what do you do?  You find the closest-way to face-to-face in order to interact.  This could mean:

  • Video conferences (with sharing)
  • Chat programs (of course)
  • Phone conferences.
  • Meeting face-to-face when you can and packing in all the communication you can do.

You do what you can.  This may mean when it comes to creative works, you have to get pretty innovative.  You may do things like sending people videos and following up with online chat, and it may not be face-to-face, but it’ll be as close as you can get.

Is this somehow violating the ideal?  No, because . . .

Face To face is the most efficient and effective method – not the only one.

This Principle is a recommendation and a statement of truth – face to face is the best way to communicate within your team.  It’s not the only one, it’s just the best.  Agile isn’t big on hard rules and structures.

But sometimes the best is not available, so you do what you can.  Don’t fret, don’t beat yourself up over it.  Just do what you can.

A quick thought for solo creatives.

Does this matter to the solo creative?  Actually, hidden within this Principle are two important lessons:

  • You may be solo, but changes are you still are depending on other people for some things.  Delivering supplies.  Providing editorial services.  Etc.  Face-to-face still applies to these “team-like” connections.
  • Are you taking time to really communicate with yourself?  Analyze results, do research, consider where you’re going?  You might not be – learn to pay attention to yourself.

A moment for review

This simple principle is pretty easy to review:

  • Face-to-face is the best way to communicate with your team members.
  • If Face-to-Face isn’t possible, learn the best alternatives.
  • Even when solo, practice good communications techniques and take the time to self-reflect.

Simple one there.  Good, because the next Principle seems simple – but has a lot of depth.  In a way it’s a core to a lot of Agile thought . . .

– Steve

Posted on by Scott Delahunt

Lost in Translation has taken a look at a number of tabletop role-playing games, the most recent being Tails of Equestria. In those reviews, the goal was to see how well the source material was adapted as a game. Today, the goal is to determine what would adapt well as a game.

Tabletop RPGs bring together a group on a regular basis to play, to socialize, and to relax. Existing settings helps reduce set up time. Settings based on existing works allow the players to get a good idea of what sort of play is expected in a game. What makes for a good source to be adapted? The big thing is playability. There needs to be something for the players to do in the game. The goal doesn’t have to be all combat all the time. Investigations, intrigue, and exploration are all viable options. The implication here is that there is more to the setting than what is shown in the original work; that the main characters aren’t the only movers and shakers.

Related to the above, can the players have an effect on the setting of the same importance as the main characters? Sure, only Luke Skywalker can destroy the first Death Star, but can players in a Star Wars setting aid the Rebellion in a way that is just as meaningful? The effect doesn’t have to be achieved in the first session; the goal of an entire Star Wars RPG campaign could be to bring down the Empire in a sector, with the end taking place at the same time as the Battle of Endor. Star Wars: Rogue One could easily be a campaign, getting the plans for the Death Star into the hands of Princess Leia. Without that, the Rebellion would be destroyed.

Next, does the plot of the original work allow for expansion? Some works come down to the actions of one character. A hypothetical The Last Starfighter RPG* has the problem of every starfighter pilot except Alex being killed by a Ko-Dan sneak attack. The movie doesn’t show what happens afterwards, but there isn’t much detail to the setting beyond that needed to drive the plot. Few players want to play Dead Pilot #10. Likewise, a Rumble in the Bronx RPG, based on the Jackie Chan movie, doesn’t work; Jackie’s character is the critical one in the story, and there isn’t a way to expand the cast to allow for player characters. However, a tabletop RPG based on the entire Jackie Chan movie catelogue can and has been done.

The game publisher has another issue unique to the industry. Will the adapted game bring in something that a more generic game can’t? The generic game doesn’t have to be as broad as Steve Jackson Games’ GURPS; there are games that handle just one genre, such as D&D with fantasy. The goal, though, is to have the adaptation represent the original far better than the broader games in the genre. Take Victory Games’ James Bond 007 Role Playing Game as an example. At the time, its competition included TSR’s Top Secret, Flying Buffalo’s Mercenaries, Spies, and Private Eyes, and Hero Games’ Danger International, but the game had the draw of 007 himself. The result was a game with mechanics that could be seen happening on screen without having to be excessively house ruled to be playable, a game that reflected the source well. That’s not to say that a broader game can’t be used to adapt a work. GURPS has had a number of licensed adaptations, including The Prisoner and Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series.

Of course, game publishers can’t just adapt a work at will. The owners of the originals want to be compensated. Thus, the big question, the one that can make or break an adaptation – is the license available and affordable. Game publishing is still a business. If a license costs more than the expected return on investment, then it’s not worth pursuing. Likewise, if a license just isn’t available, like with the Harry Potter series, then no amount of money is enough. The game just won’t exist legally, and few game publishers have the money to afford a lawyer to fend off the inevitable lawsuit that would occur by ignoring the licensing needs.

In short:

  1. Is there something for the players to do?
  2. Can the players have the same impact on the setting as the main characters?
  3. Does the plot of the original work allow for expansion?
  4. Will the adapted game bring in something that a more generic game can’t?
  5. Is the license available?

How does this work? Let’s take Star Trek, which has had a number of RPGs based om it, the most recent being published by Modiphius. The players do have something to do – they can be officers on board a Starfleet vessel exploring new worlds and new civilizations, going boldly where no one has gone before. As Starfleet officers, the players can make discoveries similar to the ones Kirk, Picard, and Janeway have. Star Trek: Voyager showed that there are ships in Starfleet not named Enterprise that also explore the unknown. Each of the Trek RPGs was designed with the setting in mind; while Traveller could be adapted to the setting, the various publishers have made an effort to keep to the feel of the franchise. As for the license, Modiphius is the current holder for the purposes of publishing a tabletop RPG.

A potential licensed RPG shoould have these questions in mind. Let’s use a hypothetical Reboot RPG, since it’s fresh in memory. Players would have a wide variety of things to do, from fighting viruses to winning games to dealing with or even being software pirates. If in a different system other than Mainframe, the players can have a similar impact to the main cast, the exception being the events in Daemon Rising, where it took a small handful of Mainframers and a friendly virus to stop Daemon. The plot in Reboot, especially once the ongoing one begins in season 2, still allows for players to do their own thing, even during Daemon Rising. The key to the mechanics will be to allow for the range of characters seen in the show; binomes like the Crimson Binome, Binky, and Algernon, sprites like Dot, Bob, and big and little Enzo, and even benign viruses. Devices like the Guardians’ key tools, like Glitch, and the Code Masters’ staff will need to be worked out. As it stands now, a superhero game may be the best “generic” system to emulate the series, but a game that can reflect Reboot specifically would be ideal. The only question is, is the license available to a publisher? That can only be found out by a potential designer.

Licensed tabletop RPGs have a tightrope to walk, They have to be true to the source material while still being playable. If done well, though, the game can introduce a new pastime to fans of the original and introduce gamers to a new work that they might not have heard of before.

* Note that FASA released a wargame based on The Last Starfighter, where one player took the forces of the Ko-Dan Empire and a second played the Star League. One of the scenarios in the game was the final battle from the movie, complete with rules for the Death Blossom.

Posted on by Steven Savage

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr)

So if Agile Principle #4 was kind of heavy, Agile Principle #5 is a bit more philosophical – but also is very thought-provoking. It states:

Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.

This one makes a lot of sense. Make sure you have motivated people, give them what they need, and trust them. It’s a great principle, and having seen the opposite applied, I can assure you it leads to failure when you don’t do this.

But some creatives are solo acts. So let’s add on to this:

Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done. This applies to any size of team, from yourself to a large group.

There. Now it applies to everyone from a hundred people to you alone working on a project. In fact, imagining how this applies just to you helps you understand how it applies to a team. Let’s take a look at this Principle:

Build Projects . . .

It may seem weird to focus on just two words, but the fact this is about projects is important. Projects have defined goals (even if they change) and ends (or potential to end). It’s important to have bounded activities and goals – and not just for direction or signoff.

Having a project focus means you can evaluate progress, know what you want to accomplish, and know when you’re done. That’s vital to retain motivation and interest in these projects. People who feel motivated may loose it if they’re going in loops and don’t know if they’re accomplishing anything.

This is even more important when talking Agile for creatives. Creative projects can go in all sorts of directions, never end, never be broken down. Infinite possibility gives you infinite ways to never complete the work.

Solo Creative Tips:

  • Having defined projects helps you set goals and directions for yourself.
  • Having defined projects keeps you from trying to keep all the information in your head – having notes, spreadsheets, etc. keeps you from having to juggle that in your head.
  • Having defined projects will keep you motivated.
  • Having defined projects lets you share them when needed – say, if you need help.

 . . . around motivated individuals.

Quick, when’s the last time you worked iwth unmotivated individuals? Did you measure it in years, months, days, or minutes? Were you an unmotivated person?

Forget any happy motivational speaker talk, let’s be honest – unmotivated people do awful work. Many, many projects fail or are done halfway because of poor motivation. Many managers and leaders never pay for their awful job at motivating and finding motivated people.

Meanwhile, truly motivated people can achieve a great deal. Motivation is instinctive, and thus it guides and directs, inspires and drives; a truly motivated person brings their entire set of skills and interests and knowledge to a project.

If you want to have a project succeed, you want to find people who are motivated and motivate those there. I will state for the record many, many people are utterly terrible at this.

Motivation is a necessary part of any Agile method as it’s a light, adaptable approach to work. It doesn’t rely on someone directing or provoking work, it relies on feedback, direct communication, and initiative. Un-motivated people give poor feeebdak, ask poorly for feedback, have issues with communicating, and have no initiative. Agile methods of any kind don’t work without some motivation.

That means it’s up to you on any project to encourage motivation in yourself and others – and to find it. This is an entire area you could study up on to improve your work and leadership, by the way.

For creative work, you can guess that this is somehow even more important. Creativity is visceral, and the gut-feel of motivation is necessary to drive creative work – or even to feel creative. Creatives who are unmotivated often have trouble doing work or their best work as they don’t have that visceral drive.

And most work has some creativity in it.

Solo Creative Tips:

  • Understand and evaluate your motivations – honestly.  This helps you appreciate, follow, and continue your motivation.
  • If you aren’t motivated, ask why.  It may be something to address – it may be a sign you’re on the wrong path.
  • It helps to have someone or someones to help you assess your motivations and state of mind in creative work.
  • Learn how to coach and motivate yourself.  Besides, it may be good practice for coaching and motivating others.

Give them the environment and support they need . . .

People need the right environment to succeed of course.  The right technology, the right information, the right lack of noise (or lack of lack of noise).

When it comes to creative works, this is even more important because creative activities require certain technologies, environments, equipment, and more people aren’t always aware of.  That monitor better have damned good color resolution for subtle artistic tweaks, you’ll want to get that bulk membership to a royalty-free photos site for digital work, and if your team works odd hours have the right chat software.  Creative work’s “right environment” may be something not easily apparent.

It helps of course to ask people what they need- and listen.  Which leads to . . .

People also need support.  They need someone to solve problems, address issues, back them up, give them the professional and personal help they need.

(If you ever worked with a job without good support, well, you know how well that went.  And why you’re probably not there).

For creative work, support is, much like the environment, something that will take effort to provide because of the many variables of creative work – and creative people.  Listen to people doing the work like writing, art, graphics, and so on to figure what support they need – and provide it.

If you are a creative, learn to listen to and support other creatives on your projects.  Creativity isn’t some magical spigot we turn on and off, and if you know that, you can help others.

By the way, on the subject of helping others, let’s get to helping yourself  . . .

Solo Creative Tips:

  • Be sure you have the right equipment for your creative works.  That may seem obvious, but it’s easy to miss (as I once found using the wrong monitor).
  • Make sure you develop an appropriate creative environment to work in.  Imagine you had to set it up for someone else, and go from there.
  • Support yourself as a creative – taking care of yourself, figuring what helps you be creative better, learning to take breaks, etc.
  • I find that for creatives, having a group of like minded creatives helps you in solo work – they have good advice and insights.  As may you.

. . .and trust them to get the job done.

Once you give people who are motivated the right environment, once you’ve got their back, go ahead and trust them to do the job.  Help, enhance, guide, offer, so what you can to assist.  But trust first (which may be hard when a mistake is made, but often they’re honest).

This is challenging in any situation – we’re taught not to trust people.  One of the most revolutionary things about Agile methods is the emphasis on trust and transparency, which is probably why they can be so disruptive.

Creativity, which is often variable, unpredictable, and personal makes that trust harder to give as it’s harder to understand what’s going on.  If you’re working with creatives, you’ll want to go the extra mile to trust them.  That’s also because . . .

. . . trust is somehow even more vital in creative works.  Because of the many variables there’s personal opinions, trial and error, and the need to experiment.  This means that creative works, in some ways, can go further afield before coming back to the point and may need even more feedback than most works.  Trust is essential for this – and to navigate the more esoteric issues you may encounter.

On a personal level, I think there’s also a kind of mistrust of creatives among people.  Folks may see them as lazy as their job seems enjoyable.  People may think they’re strange because of their work.  Others may assume they’re unreliable because of the many variables in their work.

Most of that is B.S.  But it’s a challenge for people.

Solo Creative Tips:

  • Trust yourself.  This is probably harder than trusting other creative people; we tend to be hard on ourselves.
  • A good way to trust yourself is to keep and review successes in recent works (I do this myself).

The Right People, The Right Environment, The Right You

The Fifth Agile Principle is one of the most wonderfully obvious, no-nonsense ideas that really calls out how easily you can do things wrong.  Get motivated people (or motivate them), give them what they need, stand back and trust them. Stuff gets done.

It bears repeating because, like many Agile Principles, the obvious gets missed.  That’s why we need them.

When it comes to creatives, this principle requires thoughtfulness and discretion because supporting creative works may require extra effort – especially if you’re not a creative type.  It’s one to keep in mind as you help people out.

And if you are a creative, hey – support yourself.  And support others doing creative work.


– Steve

Posted on by Scott Delahunt

The latest buzz about Reboot comes from the trailer for the new Netflix series, Reboot: The Guardian Code. It’s the first major work in the franchise since the cliffhanger end of the fourth season. Let me paraphrase Luke Skywalker from Star Wars: The Last Jedi here.

“Everything in that trailer you just watched is wrong.”

Let’s back up a bit. Reboot was the first fully computer animated series, produced by Mainframe Entertainment in Vancouver, British Columbia. The series aired on ABC in the US for almost two full seasons beginning in 1994 and YTV in Canada for its full run, including the fourth season comprising of two TV movies. The opening credits set up the entire premise of the show – Bob, a Guardian, is in Mainframe to protect the city from viral threats, including Megabyte and Hexadecimal, and from incoming games. Helping him are Dot and Enzo Matrix, Phong, Frisket, and the entire population of Mainframe.

The first two seasons were episodic, thanks to ABC’s requirements. Each episode featured Bob dealing with plots by the series villains. Megabyte’s machinations were of a system conqueror, looking to expand his base using his neo-Viral armies. The would-be viral overlord maintained a veneer of civility over his brutality, much like a mob boss. Hex, though, was random, pure chaos. Of the two, she had the greater power, but because she is random, she doesn’t have the focus to be the threat Megabyte is.

Once ABC was out of the picture, Reboot went to an ongoing story arc*. Beginning with “AndrAIa”, which introduced the young game sprite of the same name, the threat of a Web invasion became the ongoing plot through to the end of the second season, ending with Bob being tossed into the Web and Megabyte trying to turn Mainframe into Megaframe. Season three broke down into four arcs, Enzo becoming a Guardian, Enzo and AndrAIa travelling through the Net by game hopping, Enzo searching for Bob, and Enzo returning to a badly damaged home. The first of the season four TV movies introduced a new villain, Daemon, who was first mentioned in season three’s “The Episode With No Name”. The second of the TV movies had a second Bob appear and ended with Megabyte in control of the Principle Office.

Through the four seasons, several characters outside the leads were introduced – the hacker Mouse, Megabyte’s heavies Hack and Slash, software pirate The Crimson Binome, and perpetual annoyance Mike the TV – all of whom had their own development. Reboot expanded beyond Mainframe and sister city Lost Angles to include the Net, the World Wide Web, and other systems with their own unique looks.

What’s wrong with Reboot: The Guardian Code? There is almost nothing of the original series in it. The Guardians aren’t programs; they’re users sent into the computer. The villain is a hacker, not a virus. Megabyte, the only character from the the original to appear in the trailer, is the hacker’s heavy, not the dangerous system conqueror who took over Mainframe twice. The computer characters don’t look like the sprites or binomes. This isn’t what fans of the original series were waiting for.

The other problem is that the show might be worth watching for its own merits. But being tied to Reboot, fans are already turning away. If The Guardian Code was its own thing, not attached to an existing series, it may have had a chance at a fan following. The potential is there; young adults defending cyberspace from within and without against a deranged hacker, may not be the most original concept but there is a foundation to build on. Characters could develop without expectation. As it stands now, Tamara will now be compared to Dot, Mouse, and AndrAIa, and that is tough competition. With three changes, though, The Guardian Code could be an original work.

  1. Remove the Reboot icon from the Guardians’ costumes. Chances are, it won’t be noticed if no one brings attention to it. From the trailer, it looks like the icon is a badge of office, like a sheriff’s star.
  2. Redesign and rename Megabyte. The Megabyte shown in the trailer is a pale copy, an attack dog instead of a mastermind.
  3. Rename the Guardians. This isn’t as critical as the two above, but they could have been called Defenders, Protectors, or Champions. . Without the other Reboot elements, the use of “Guardian” could be called an homage.

Reboot: The Guardian Code as it appears in the trailer is what /Lost In Translation/ is trying to highlight as something to avoid. There is only superficial connections to the original series, and that will drive fans of the original away.

* It’s said that Reboot went darker once ABC was out of the picture, but the first season episode “The Medusa Bug”, where Hexadecimal introduces a bug that turns all of Mainframe to stone, would fit in with the post-ABC episodes.

Posted on by Steven Savage

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr)

There’s something horribly restrictive about creativity. Ever start something and feel trapped? Ever have an imaginative project become a burden? Why?

If you think of it, creativity means that you can do anything. The human mind can imagine things that were are are, never were but could be, and are not but shall be. In a creative act, from an add campaign to a novel, you could do anything.

Modern tools make things even easier. A decent set of CGI tools or self-publishing can bring any work to life.

Yet, why are creative works and acts so often frustrating, feeling like a trap? Why do we worry over writer’s block, argue about subjective artistic choices, or turn creative work into a death march? That’s because the sheer opportunity of creativity and all the options leads us to make bad choices.

When you can do anything, you can find new ways to screw it up.

The Choice of Paralysis

We all know writer’s and artists with too many ideas in their heads – indeed we may be one. They have all the opportunity in the world – and can’t decide what or how to do it. They are paralyzed by the very power they have to create.

Soon, nothing gets done because they can do anything. One choice is swapped for another, one color for another, and nothing truly finishes. It’s like constantly trying to adjust your thermostat.

(This is similar to the business term, “Paralysis through Analysis.”)

We can be free, only to be lost in a maze of maybes.

The Choice Of Fear

Having many ways to create, we also can see many paths to failure. Which is the right option out of an infinity? Which will get the job done? Which will at least keep people from getting angry at us?

Lost in fear, we loose our creative edge – it’s hard to imagine when you’re second-guessing everything. Creativity becomes a constant dodge of imagined failure and anger. At best, we imagine ways around problems we also imagined.

Fear is one of the causes of the Choice of Paralysis as well. Because we’re afraid, we’re endlessly using our imaginations to come up with things we then decide aren’t good enough.

Creatives are good at imagining, and often imagine worst cases.

The Choice Of Miscommunication

Communicating creative works is hard. There’s often something visceral, beyond words at the core of what we do. But we must also make it accessible to others – because our audience is often not us.

Yet with so many options, do we choose the one that helps people get it? I’m not talking about over-explaining, I’m talking about using our infinite choices to create a work that is accessible to the audience. It’s all well and good to have a great idea, but not if people can’t enjoy it.

At times, frustrated, we may avoid addressing miscommunication, because we expect to be “misunderstood.” We don’t have to.

At times, aloof, we may figure that we don’t have to work to be accessible, for the journey to understand our creations is part of them, right?

At times, we fear miscommunication – and the Choice of Fear catches us again.

We have infinite options, and sometimes choose the ones that lock people out or can never figure how to talk to them.The Choice Of Restriction

When confronted with many options, some of us don’t choose to wander through creative options, we instead restrict our choices. Plans and plots, review sessions and sign-offs, imagination turned into a checklist. We try to restrict and channel creativity, to avoid both too many opportunities as well as the fear of failure.

In this case we probably stomp all the fun out of it – and make ourselves less creative. It’s hard to look forward to your next work when all you can see is lists and marketing data.

Worse, we often make the Choice of Restriction because it helps us deal with the other bad choices. If we build some elaborate system it’ll solve all our problems! Of course we then imagine a system that destroys the fun of creativity.

We try to control creativity and thus make it harder.

The Choice Of Safety

Confronted with many fears, with marketing needs, with needs for a paycheck, many creatives opt to play it safe. Make the same thing over and over. Don’t innovate too much. Recheck everything. Make it like last time.

We take all that potential and make it like te last thing we did. Some creatives are satisfied by this – and the paychecks – but not everyone. Besides “Survivor bias” paints a far rosier picture.

This is often the end result of the Choice Of Restriction. We give up on creativity entirely, and just make it into a machine. We may wonder, at times, why we’re so frustrated, but may lack the imagination to know why.

We can try to stop innovating, just to be safe. It somehow doesn’t feel safe.

Facing the Paradoxes

So now, facing these paradoxial choices – Paralysis, Fear, Miscommunication, Restriction, Safety, how do we creatives deal with them?

By getting ahead of them. You’re a creative person – you should be able to create ways AROUND these limits. You need to face them head on. Here’s a few things I found, but you’ll need to find your own methods:

Paralysis – Can be addressed by making and reviewing choices, accepting imperfections, and iterative improvement.
Fear – Can be addressed by diving in, producing, facing it. In a few cases personal support or even therapy may help, but don’t let fear rule you.

Miscommunication – Develop empathy with people. Learn to understand them. Also learn that you can’t please everyone – don’t be angry about that, accept it.

Restriction – Can be addressed by making it unnecessary as you’ve build in your own ways of channeling work, but giving yourself space.

Safety – Dealing with Safety requires us to regularly get out of our comfort zones. It doesn’t mean some radical push, it means regularly poking your head out a bit more, trying new things.

For me, using Agile methods have been my methods. Regular reviews help me stay on track. Setting out blocks of time gives me freedom. Staying in touch with my vision gives me guidance and inspiration. It’s worked for me – it may work for you.

But my methods or not, tackle these issues head on.

As a Creative, find your methods, your ways, to deal witht hese issues. They might be my ways, they may be someone elses, they may be yours. But when you address these Choices that make Creativity so paradoxial, then you can truly get amazing things done.

With less stress and less of the wrong kinds of paradoxes.

– Steve

Posted on by Steven Savage

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr)

Now the fourth Principle of Agile Software, which we’ll be re-purposing for creative work, is simple until you think about it for two seconds. It states.

Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.

Easy, right? First, let’s tweak this a bit for creatives

Customers and creatives must work together daily throughout the project.

Still simple, but I’m pretty sure you’ve been in situations where you couldn’t get someone to talk. Or respond to email. You probably wondered if they were OK. Maybe the Fourth principle is harder than it looks . .

At the same time, despite your disbelief, you probably see the value in this. If you and whoever you’re doing work for are in communication, you work better, get feedback better, and so on. Work becomes easier, faster, and friendlier.

It’s just that this sounds like it’d be real hard to implement.

So let’s break this Principle down – and focus on how you make it work – to everyone’s benefit.

Customers And Creatives Must Work Together . . .

This is a bit of a “duh” rule. But pause for a second and ask yourself what working together with the customer *really* means.

This Principle doesn’t say one is in charge and the other isn’t. It’s not about following a plan or not doing it. It’s the idea that you and your customer work together. You’re a team, even if one of you sort of started all of this and is probably paying the bills.

So you want to make sure you and whoever you’re doing creative work for are actually cooperating together to get a result and thinking of yourselves as working together. This is a bit of a radical mindshift (probably for both of you) and you can help encourage it because, well, you’re reading this. Approach working with your creative customers as a team effort, which means:

  • Encourage cooperation (of course).
  • Treat work as succeeding (and failing) together.
  • Develop a team approach, think of yourself as a team, cultivate that.
  • Include customers (when appropriate) in activities, from status reports to team lunches.

By the way, this may have you askin “hey, who is my customer.” We’ll get to that, but let’s finish off looking at the Foruth principle.

. . . daily throughout the project

Yes. The Fourth Agile Principle expects you to work with your customer daily throughout the project. The reason for this is obvious – you’re in touch with the people you’re doing work for. Talking to them and communicating with them to get questions answered, get feedback, etc. means two things:

  • You’re better directed towards the goal (even when it changes).
  • It develops good teamwork (which leads to informal improvements).

Yes, you are in contact daily, interacting, daily, and by now you’re probably thinking “how the heck can I do that?”

Ideally, you’d be in touch with people you’re doing work for all the time; indeed, ideally you’d work with them in person. In actual reality, in an age of conference calls and distributed teams, it’s a lot harder to work with people daily. I find the best way to solve this is – literally – just do your best and be aware of it.

It’s an ideal to aspire you. A few things I’ve found that help are:

  • Chat programs. Just passing an update to someone can help.
  • Email summaries and statuses. Sending quick daily updates helps.
  • Open Hours. Have a time in your schedule where someone can contact you; maybe you even sit in on a conference call or voice chat and anyone can swing by.
  • Talk to some if not all people. If your customer contact involves multiple people, touch base and work with as many of them as you can, even if it can’t be or doesn’t need to be all.
  • Cultivate customer communication. Help the customer develop this communicate-with-team attitude as well.
  • Radiators. Have some kind of chart, status sheet, document dump, working beta, that people can look at and use to get update. It’s passive communication, but it’s something.

I tend to solve the need for regular communication by mixing regular methods (daily updates, radiators) and informal (using chat programs and upates). Combined together, people stay in touch overall, even if individual methods don’t cover everyone.

And yes, trying to convince people daily communication is a good idea may be hard. If you’ve got people who are heads down, who like their privacy, etc. it may be harder. Cultivating this is going to be a bit of work.

Ultimately, I find this part of the Fourth Principle ultimately wraps up with the first part. You work together, you cooperate. As you do so, you’re better able to communicate daily because you’re more of a team.

But there’s a complication . . .

The Fourth Principle’s Complication: Client and Audience

The Fourth principle may sound hard to implement, but it’s an easy one – except but there’s another wrinkle. There’s the customer and then there’s the audience . . .

If you’re doing a logo, it’s easy – the customer asks for a logo. You make it. The customer’s customers, the “audience” may or may not like it, but it’s probably no big deal.

But what if you’re making a tutorial? Someone may ask you to make that tutorial, and you work as a team, but isnt the audience someone you need to keep in mind, because that tutorial is for THEM. The audience is also a bit more of a customer.

Now take this all the way; you’re an author. You have no direct customer or customer team, just a lot of readers, some of which you’re in touch with some of which you aren’t. How do you collaborate with that ?

When working to use the Fourth Principle as guidance, you’ll need to understand just who the customer is and just who the audience is. It might not be easy.

Rounding Up

Let’s review the Fourth Agile Principle for Creatives:

  • Delivering useable work focuses your efforts on what to deliver and how to deliver.
  • By delivering work as early as possible, you get feedback on the work you’ve done, which improves the results and communications.
  • Delivering work frequently creates feedback, communication, trust, and transparency.
  • Frequent delivery of useable work requires you to develop the best way to deliver, improving how you operate.
  • The shorter the timeframe the better, as it increases all the advantages of delivering useable work.
  • Frequent delivery of work provides direction, guidance, communication, and builds trust – areas that creative work needs, but that are also very challenging.

One simple Principle that packs a lot of benefits – and a lot of challenges – in. Worth taking to heart, just be ready for the actions it’ll take to make it real.

But, you’re someone that probably wants to improve and grow – as does everyone on your team. Let’s look at that in the Fifth Agile Principle.

– Steve

Posted on by Scott Delahunt

Last week, during the analysis of the TV adaptation of The Dresden Files, I mentioned that pragmatism will play a factor in how a work gets adapted. There will be times when what the original work envisioned just cannot be translated over to a new medium, whether the cause is budget, technical limitations, or needs of the new medium. Pragmatism does not necessarily affect quality, provided that there’s effort put in to acknowledge not just the change but what was changed. The originals tend to be written works – novels, short stories, even comics – where there isn’t a limitation based on practicality. Words and pictures cost time and energy to create, but can go beyond earthly limitations.

Let’s start with budget, a big factor in making both movies and TV series. No studio has an unlimited source of cash and no movie has made an infinite amount of money. Budgets, through methods that seem like dark sorcery, are drawn up based on expected rates of return. Even then, there’s no guarantee of success. Big budget flops have occurred. Sometimes, the studio is just using the film for other reasons, as in the case of Alien From L.A., where the movie was meant to get money out of a country under international sanctions. Low budget works have to work around the restriction. The ITV Playhouse adaptation of “Casting the Runes” didn’t have the budget to show the demon or the climactic plane crash; instead, the teleplay relies on using the actors’ reactions to hint at what’s happening and getting the viewers’ imaginations to fill in the rest of the details. However, budget isn’t always a limiter in a production. Studios are aware of how much production elements cost and won’t try overextending capabilities.

Where a budget may allow for an effect, technical limitations may be the bigger restriction. The advent of computer graphics in special effects has reduced the difficulty of staging effects. However, CGI isn’t a cure-all. Practical effects and props are still more cost effective than computer generated objects and easier for actors to interact with. In books, literary or comic, if a creator wants a character to own something specific, there is nothing to prevent the object from existing in the work. A custom piece of jewellery, an unusual and impractical weapon, or, as seen in The Dresden Files, a battered Volkswagen Beetle can easily be added. On screen, it’s not as easy. Jewellery can be approximated, but an exact likeness may not be possible because of the materials used. On TV, Harry Dresden’s Blue Beetle was replaced with a war surplus Jeep; the latter being more readily available than the now collector piece VW Beetle. The key when working around technical limitations is to remember why the original object was chosen. The adapted piece of jewellery should reflect the heritage the original has, from age to design. With the TV version of Dresden, the Jeep was of similar vintage as the Beetle, old enough that its mechanics were simple enough to not be affected by Harry’s tech bane nature.

The needs of the new medium may cause changes that don’t make sense otherwise. Television and film are visual media, often not having a narrator. Even when there is a narrator, the insights provided are for what’s not shown, such as a character’s thoughts. In contrast, written works use words to paint scenes for the reader; the narrative carries the story. Whether the point of view is first person or third, the reader gets to see what the author wants to show. Film and TV default to third person, specifically, the cameras. Even DOOM, based on the first person video game, only had a short scene from that point of view. Audiences want to see the actors. And while writers can show what characters are thinking and feeling directly, on screen, the actors have to do the heavy lifting. In the Dresden books, Bob is a spirit in a skull with some limited ability to take over a cat’s body for short joyrides. On TV, though, a skull doesn’t do that much, and Bob would be, effectively, a disembodied voice. Giving Bob a body, though, allows the actors to play off each other, adding to the depth of the scene. Human actors are also far more convincing than cat actors, who may become difficult to work with when naptime hits.

Another restriction placed on an adaptation by the needs of the new medium is time. Books don’t have time limits; readers read at their own pace. As long as the reader enjoys the work, there isn’t a problem. Television and movies, though, do have time limits. With TV, a work has to fit a thirty- or sixty-minute time slot as a series or a two-hour slot if a mini-series of movie of the week, plus leave time for advertising within the slot. Theatrical films have a minimum running time of around eighty to ninety minutes, any shorter and audiences won’t bother, and seldom run longer than two and a half hours. Longer films have happened, but tend to be ones that will draw an audience because of the running time. The film adapations of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the first and shortest of the Potter novels, still had to lose scenes to fit the allowed time, which also took into account the young age of the likely audience. Even when spread across a full television season, details can be lost because there’s just not enough time to show everything in a novel.

Comic books run into similar. Unlike written novels, comics are a visual medium, but one with its own language. Comics are a series of panels, each one contributing to the story. Readers know how to fill in the details from one panel to another. Artists can compress time by showing a clock in two separate panels having a later time in the second. They can slow down time by repeating an image with minor changes between panels. Individual issues of a run may not fill the time of even a thirty-minute TV slot, but multi-part stories can work for feature film. The aesthetics of a comic book is difficult to pull off; Deadpool being a rare exception. A well done adaptation from a comic can be done well, but the studio involved cannot be lulled by the fact that comics and film are both visual. They have separate tropes, sometimes similar but not always.

Getting an adaptation perfect may not always be possible. The change in medium necessitates changes to the work. It’s in the how the change is done that will make the difference to an audience.

Posted on by Steven Savage

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr)

All right now let’s get to what the Third Agile Principle and what it means for creatives, and continue our journey to apply the Agile Manifest to creative work.

I’m sorry, Third Principle of Agile Software. In fact, it’s kinda software-heavy Principle, which means for creatives we’ve got to rethink it a bit. Let’s take a look:

Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.

This is pretty clear: deliver actual stuff often. It’s just it assumes that you’re delivering software and that you deliver within a given timeframe. As a creative, you’re probably not delivering software, and we know all to well some creative works need delivery in compressed timeframes.

Let’s not constrain ourselves and think of the third principle this way:

Deliver useable work frequently, with a preference to the shorter timescale.

Pretty clear? Let’s break it down and see what it means from you. This one is *dense.*

Deliver Useable Work . . .

Whatever you give to a client, customer, etc. should be something usable. It may be rough, it may be incomplete, it may be rather bad. But you deliver something they can use, even if upon using it they think “this needs a lot of improvement.”

So why are you doing this for them – and perhaps to them?

First, usable work gets you feedback. A (somewhat) useable product, like a logo or document, means people can evaluate how you’re doing and give directions – or confirmation. It may mean they can even put your work into use, which means they get feedback to pass on from other people. For creative works, which have so many variables, early feedback is important as it helps you navigate to completion.

(Shades of Principle #2).

Second, focusing on useable work focuses you on making things people want and need. What is the highest priority to do? What makes something “usable” versus just “better?” Asking these questions means you are more likely to focus on what’s important; developing a new logo that looks right is better than slightly tweaking RGB codes to get the perfect blue half the population can’t tell from most other blues.

Third, this focuses you on delivery. You have to figure how tomake whatever you do actually deliverable and accessible – which can be very revealing. Having to make something that people can use means considering everything from file formats to image sizes to spellchecked documents. You have to ask just what to do first and in what order. This is a great way to reign in your creative ideas and focus on something you can actually give solid form.

These three words are a great way to focus on getting the job done – delivering the right thing so you get feedback. It’d be great to get that early, in fact . . .

EXERCISE: Think of one of your latest creative works. What made it “deliverable” – and how much work did that take over doing the actual work?

 . . . Frequently

If you’re going to actually give people a usable result, be it a comic strip or a piece of a costume, you don’t want to wait a long time for feedback. So when you deliver, whatever you deliver, however pathetic (but functional) it is, deliver it frequently.

Frequent delivery of work means the people you’re doing it for give you feedback more often. With more feedback, the next delivery becomes better (and perhaps faster). Frequent delivery means a dialogue, and enhances communications. In fact, frequent delivery can help lower barriers (psychological and institutional) as people get used to communicating and find new ways to do it.

This is very important in creative work as, with so many variables, communications helps direct your efforts.

With this frequent delivery, people also build trust. When a creative provides results to a client, even if incomplete, they’re taking the lid off of their process and giving people a view of how they work. When a client gives honest feedback that helps, the creative can trust them more. In both cases things are much more open and obvious.

This is very important in creative work as, with so many options and directions, and with work often being personal, mistrust or miscommunication can occur too easily.

Behind the scenes, thinking Frequency also means you restructure your work so you can deliver effectively. This can be challenging and even contradictory, say delivering the later chapter of a book earlier as it’s easier to do or more vital. But when you think frequent delivery, you think about how to deliver better.

“Frequently.” That one word in the Principle covers a whole lot.

EXERCISE: Think of someone you worked for where there was a lot of mistrust. How could more frequent deliver or communications have helped lower that mistrust?

 . . . With A Preference For A Shorter Timescale

Well if you’re delivering all this useable work frequently, getting all that feedback, thinking how to make things deliverable, you also want to do it as often as possible. The shorter the better.

This part of the principle accelerates all of the other benefits:

  • The faster you deliver the more feedback you get.
  • The faster you deliver the more you communicate in general.
  • The faster you deliver the more you optimize your work.
  • The faster you deliver the more transparent you are.
  • The faster you deliver the faster you get any mistakes out of the way (on all sides).

If there’s a challenge, it’s deciding just how frequent you really need to deliver. This is something to figure out between yourself, your client, any co-workers, and harsh reality.

This “more often” can get pretty common. After all you could optimize work to deliver daily or every other day. You might work directly with a client for a time or for an hour each day. If it works and delivers value then give it a try. In creative work, the more feedback the better.

By the way, I reccomend the timescale you use be regular if possible. Having an idea of when you meet, or when someone is editing a document, or when you have to send a file increases predictability.

EXERCISE: How fast do you usually deliver work to a client, and why do you work in that timeframe? Have you tried other timeframes – or any?

A Simple Principle With Many Repercussions

Delivering useable work frequently sounds simple – perhaps one of the simplest ofa the Principles, but it like all Principles it has hidden depths. Frequent delivery of useable work does everything from making you consider your work to enhancing communication. Besides, if you get anything wrong on the work or anything else, you get that fast feedback.

Work with people, clients and co-workers, to get that rapid and effective delivery into your creative works. You’ll be glad you did – or if you aren’t glad, you will be iteratively.

So in review:

  • Delivering useable work focuses your efforts on what to deliver and how to deliver.
  • By delivering work as early as possible, you get feedback on the work you’ve done, which improves the results and communications.
  • Delivering work frequently creates feedback, communication, trust, and transparency.
  • Frequent delivery of useable work requires you to develop the best way to deliver, improving how you operate.
  • The shorter the timeframe the better, as it increasea ll the advantages of delivering useable work.
  • Frequent delivery of work provides direction, guidance, communication, and builds trust – areas that creative work needs, but that are also very challenging

– Steve

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