Posted on by Steven Savage

(This column is posted at 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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