Category: Creativity

 

Posted on by Steven Savage

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

We’re talking how to solve your creative challenges with a Brainstorm book!

Now that you have a Brainstorm Book and are filling it with ideas, you need to review it. When you review it, you’ll go through the contents, go over your ideas, and figure what to do with them. That means coming up with a review schedule – but also coming up with a way to organize these ideas.

Your Review Schedule

First, set up a time to review your Brainstorm Book. You want to find a schedule that’s going to work best for you and not drive you up a wall. I recommend one of the following two choices:

  1. Do it every 2 weeks regularly.
  2. Do it twice a month on regular times that makes things roughly equal distance. (I recommend the 5th and the 20th).

Now it’s OK to, now and then move the time around a bit, but don’t get too radical. Good, solid, regular review should become a habit so you make the time to do it.

But what do you do? Well, when you review you need to set a few things up in your notes. Let’s get ready for a review.

Preparing for a Brainstorm Book Review

Remember, set this up before your review begins.

When you review a Brainstorm Book, you’ll sort ideas into four separate files. Now that may sound like a lot, but bear with me.
Here’s the four ways I keep ideas.

  • Archives – A collection of files that are things written down that you might refer to one day. One file can be enough, though you may want to divide them into general lists (stories, cooking, etc.)
  • The Incubator – This is my list of things you want to do some day, but aren’t sure when. Keep them in a list in order of importance – and no item can be of equal importance to another.
  • Backlog – Things you are definitely going to do. These should also be listed in order of priority. In many cases you’ll start breaking down work here because you know it well enough.
  • Current Backlog – What you’re committed too now. As an example I plan my work in monthly increments, so it’s a month of things to do.

Yeah, it sounds like a lot, but I keep the Incubator, Backlog, and Monthly backlog in the same spreadsheet.

If you’re familiar with Agile methods, specifically Scrum, some of this may look familiar – that’s because it comes from a mix of my own experience, Scrum, and the Getting Things Done method of David Allen. I sum this up more in the next chapter but to give you an idea:

I use my personal version of Scrum, where I plan work monthly. Every month I determine what I can do (from my regular tasks and Backlog) and then commit to that. Then at the end of the month I re-evaluate.

(You can also get a detailed guide here)

Now you know what you have toset up, let’s talk about how we use the review.

Reviewing Your Brainstorm Book

When you sit down to to a Brainstorm Book review, commit to taking one hour to do it. You may not use all of the time – but sometimes you will. You may also find yourself needing to go over, which is fine, but if it’s a habit you may want to get more efficient.

With that time set aside, do the following:

First you take your Brainstorm book, and go to the latest page that needs revieweed (I mark pages as I review them). You look at the idea or ideas there and decide what to do with each:

  • Ignore It – The idea may not be worth it or isn’t as great in retrospect or you weren’t sure what you wrote down.
  • Archive It – It may be something you want to write down but there’s no place for it. Put it in an Archive file.
  • Incubate It – If it’s an idea that you really see value in, really want to do, then put it in the Incubator. However the Incubator is ranked in order of priority as noted – so you have to put the idea at the right priority. You might reshuffle the entire list (this is why you may need an hour)
  • Backlog It – If an idea is really important, really must-do, put it in your Backlog – and again, put it in order of priority. If the idea is maturing, take some time to flesh it out more – you may break it into parts – another reason you may need that hour.
  • Current Backlog – If an idea is that important, that necessary (or that awesome) put it in your current backlog so you get to it soon.
  • Do it now – If it’s going to take a few minutes, why not just get it over with?

Simple, isn’t it? You look at ideas and determine how important they are, then put them in the proper areas. It’s intended to be simple because we don’t want to overcomplicate this. Next chapter, we’ll talk how to use these gatherings of ideas in more detail.

Why The Review Matters

Now that you’ve started to do your reviews, why are they helpful? Well, first after a review or two you’ll see why they matter, but heres a quick summary:

  • You don’t loose ideas or worry about losing ideas. You record them twice over to make sure you have them.
  • By seeing your inspiration you’ll be able to trust it to help you. Even if there are problems in being inspired, you now can see them, address them – and know when they’ve worked.
  • Analyzing your inspiration helps you understand how you think. You may find ideas repeat, or that certain days are better than others.
  • You can get re-inspired. When you look at your ideas, they don’t just come back to you, new ideas form. This further helps you understand how you think and have confidence in your imagination.
  • Reviewing them like this is the start of deciding what to focus on. By sorting items into different lists (or discarding them) you start prioritizing already.

This prioritization helps you get ready for long-term planning to bring your ideas to life. In fact, that’s the next chapter.

– Steve

Posted on by Steven Savage

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Lately I’ve been talking about how we need to focus on our work to get anything done.  My friend Serdar has been following up on my musings, with discussing selecting work as triage or how we select our work carefully like a DJ.  Each column is a reading-worthy videpoint.

However, I have come to dislike the triage metaphor, and in further discussions with him, came to the realization that we creatives, writers, etc. often look at limiting ourselves as bad.

We don’t want to limit ourselves.  We want to tell every story, explore every nook, paint in colors no one has yet seen.  We want to do it all.  Creativity means a head full of infinity in a mortal frame that has to pick and choose what parts of that endlessness to let into the world.

We make it even harder because we often talk about our need to be selective and to cultivate work in negative ways.  Triage. Limitation.  Pairing ideas down.   Killing your darlings.  We come up with the most negative ways to talk about this, ensuring of course we want to do it less.

Thats the problem.  So let me make a suggestion – as a creative don’t talk about choosing what work to do in the negative, find positive terms.  Yes it’s a psychological trick, but by using negative terms you’ve already been tricked into seeing this as a bad thing.

Think of it as:

  • Focusing on the best choices you create.  You decide on what brings the most benefit and do it.
  • Curating the most important works you can do.  You’re like a librarian or a DJ creating a best-of for people, chosing what they truly need from your infinite repertoire of possibilities.
  • Cultivating a garden of possibilities.  You choose what to “grow” in your works and nurture it to life.
  • Being a steward of ideas.  Perhaps that means not just developing them, but also knowing when to pass ideas on to others.

So I challenge you as a creator to look at your need to focus and find the most postivie way to look at it that is still rational.  Find a way to see the good in it, and you’ll be able to focus better and more effectively.  In doing so, your need to make choices will be much easier.

You don’t need triage when the DJ has you dancing to the best tunes already.

– Steve

Posted on by Steven Savage

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Last time I discussed the many creative challenges we face – and how I solve it with a Brainstorm Book.

At it’s simplest the idea of the Brainstorm Book is that you have something you write ideas in, and then extract them at a later time. I’ve got specific methods and ways of doing this that make it extremely effective.

But before we get to those methods let’s get to the Book

Finding Your Brainstorm Book

For your Brainstorm Book, find one that is a reasonable size, that you can easily carry around in your pack/pocket/purse, and that you can attach, clip, or stick a pen in. You want something you can get to at a moment’s notice and start writing.

Usually, I go for books that are about 4” x 6” – they fit into anything but art still large enough to write in. You may find that other sizes and features fit you. However, for the first time don’t go waiting, go get a Brainstorm Book now.

You can always get a new one when this one is filled up – and it will be.

Note I only say one Brainstorm Book. In general, I avoid carrying more than one Brainstorm Book at a time so I have only the one book to go to. You may find that more than one is needed, but start with the one – I will discuss these cases later.

Let’s keep it simple.

Using The Brainstorm Book

So you’ve got this thing, now what do you do with it?

Keep the Brainstorm Book with you at all times if possible – and make sure a pen or other writing instrument is with you as well. If you have trouble doing this, find ways to keep it close -or think about a smaller book.

The reason you keep the Brainstorm Book with you is that as soon as you have a worthwhile idea, you do the following.

  1. Put a date at the top of the page – so you know when you had an idea.
  2. Jot the idea down immediately in the Brainstorm book. If you have several ideas it’s fine to put them on the same page if it’s the same date.
  3. You don’t have to flesh the idea out in detail. The goal is not to explore it but to record enough information for you to reconstruct the idea in your head.
  4. If you can’t write it down, take a note elsewhere, send yourself an email by phone, what ever you can do. Just get it back in the book as soon as is reasonable.

This is simple – you’re recording your ideas. But it raises two questions – what is worthwhile and what is enough information.

Deciding If An Idea Is Worthwhile

How do you know that the inspiration that just waltzed into your brain is worth putting into your Brainstorm Book? On some days we might be writing in our Brainstorm Book for hours, and we have stuff to do.

First and foremost, when in doubt, write it down – especially when starting out. Get the ideas out of your head because you’ll review them later. The habit of writing down ideas is important.

Secondly, most of the time you’ll just know an idea is good. You’ll feel something line in in your head, with your goals, with what you like. Some ideas just feel right – those should be written down.

Third, pause for a moment and ask if there’s any value to the idea – to yourself or others. An idea may need to be analyzed more before it’s value is apparent, or you’re not sure, or someone else may like it. If there’s something useful there, even if you’re unsure, record it.

In time, recording inspirations is something you’ll get better at. It’s a skill you develop.

But while recording them, we also ask just how much detail is needed.

Proper Level Of Detail In The Brainstorm Book

Next, you decide to record an idea – but how much do you write down? Some of us can get an idea and go on for ages with it. Some of us have.

I record the right amount of information I need to reconstruct the idea in my head – essentially to re-inspire me. That inspiration didn’t vanish when you wrote it down and went back to other things. That idea is still in your mind, you just find what words and phrases help bring it back into your mind.

Most essential wild ideas can be recorded in a sentence or two. “Color code our department workflow by skillset” and “Steampunk dragon fighters of the Old West” may be all you need to write down. Again, you’ll find what works for you personally – and on an individual basis for each idea.

If more detail is needed – or is present in your mind – go ahead and record what seems reasonable. However, there’s really no border between thinking over an idea and developing an idea. You can, easily, find yourself lost in your latest inpiration, creating pages of thoughs.

You need to make the call how far you have to go and should go – and how valuable the idea is. However I like to separate the “detailed fleshing out” from the “writing down the idea” so I can get back to whatever I was doing and not be distracted. Such an attitude also helps us get better at reconstructing deas.

Why The Brainstorm Book Matters

If you do this for a few weeks, you’ll probably notice some if not all of the following happening to you:

  • You worry less about not being inspired because you see your inspiration at work each time that book is opened.
  • You get more inspired because as you write ideas down – and see past ideas – more ideas come to mind.
  • You’ll worry less about losing ideas – because you’re writing them down.
  • You focus on what ideas are worth it early on – allowing you to find more inspirations or avoid distraction.
  • Because ideas are being recorded, you can get back to other things you were doing.
  • You gain a better understanding of how to record information so you can recall ideas later.
  • Just having this book helps removes many of the fears that plague creative people as noted earlier.

But it’s not just recording things. Next we’ll talk about how to review it.

– Steve

Posted on by Steven Savage

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Hello everyone, and welcome to my new column series. It’s a followup to an old series I did on how to use a brainstorm book. I’ve decided I need to rewrite to include my later insights, improve the writing, and explore it further.  If all goes well I might turn it into a book.

But let’s get to what’s important – the Challenges of Creativity.  These are why you need some method anyway.

Creative Challenges That Plague Us

Creativity is something we all rely on. For some of us, such as writers and graphic artists, it may be the core part of our careers. For others, it may be part of what we do, like creating presentations or infographics. Even if creative work isn’t part of our career it may well be part of our hobbies, recreations, and goals.

To be creative, as so many of us need to be, we need inspirations. We need those lighting-bolt ideas that come out of the blue, or slowly—incubated dreams that suddenly come to life. Inspiration is where the connections come together so we can make new things.

The problem is that creativity brings in a lot of challenges – a lot to fear.

We fear a lack of inspiration. We are terrified that our new ideas and innovations will just dry up. Without those creative sparks, we can’t do what we want to do – and the fear of losing them makes it worst.

We might fear too much innovation. Ideas come thick and fast, new possibilities intrude on our thoughts as we’re dealing with past inspirations. We get overloaded trying to keep up with what we might do – it almost makes a lack of inspiration welcome.

We fear losing ideas. No matter how many we have, too many or too few, we need to keep track of them to cultivate them and develop them. How we track them and evaluate them becomes critical to our creative work.

We fear not knowing how to focus. We have our dreams and ideas, we want to develop them – but which do we focus on? What creative work comes next?

We fear not knowing how to plan long term. It’s a problem to focus short term, but how do we arrange all these ideas for long-term? Will some never come to fruition? Should others be moved up in priority?

We fear being blocked. What do we do next? Why did this great idea suddenly stop energizing us? Perhaps the greatest fear creative people have is when things just stop in our heads.

If you sit back and think about it, creative work can be very stressful. Thinking over what can go wrong can paralyze us and make our creative efforts even harder to do. There’s an irony in that.

. . . maybe I shouldn’t have brought it up.

However, even if I’ve suddenly destroyed your confidence, I do have a solution I’ll be discussing in the upcoming blog posts – what I call a Brainstorm Book method.

The Brainstorm Book – A Quick Overview

The Brainstorm Book Method is actually three things.

  • First, it’s a physical thing – a book you record ideas in. You use this book to capture ideas.
  • Second, it’s a system – a way to use those ideas to maximize your creativity and prioritize them. You review the book at certain intervals, capturing and prioritizing ideas regularly.
  • Third, it’s a philosophy – a way to think about creativity. This helps you innovate and make your own methods or tweak my methods to fit you.

I’ll be exploring this method over the weeks to come – to help you out with your creative work and maybe put some of those fears to rest.

Remember, this is not just for artists or writers. This is for anyone that needs to imagine, dream, and creative – which is really anyone. From home cooks innovating new recipies to someone trying to figure out better memo systems on the job, we all create.

So, next column, let’s talk about your Brainstorm Book.  Er, the physical one.

– Steve

Posted on by Steven Savage

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

And here we are, the last Agile principle. Appropriately, it’s about review

At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

It’s another piece of simplicity – the team regularly reviews on how to become more effective then adjusts. It’s one of those things that should have gone without saying, which is why a bunch of people had to say it.

This is one that doesn’t have to be changed or altered for creative teams. But let’s take a look at what it means for creatives by breaking it down.

At regular intervals . . .

Reviewing is done at regular intervals – happening every x days or y weeks, or z months. Not “whenever” or “when we have time.” Reguarly.  This is important.

First, this regularity means that the review is guaranteed – you know it’s coming and when so you can prepare for it. If you’ve got a hectic or unpredictable schedule, this provides an anchor so you’re ready.

Secondly, this regular review means you hold it no matter what. There’s no saying “we didn’t learn anything” or ‘we can’t improve.” It’s a great way to break people’s habits and challenge any assumptions there’s “nothing to learn.” – and can get things out into the open and stimulate conversation. In creative works this is vital, since the unpredictable nature of the work may mean lessons are not immediately obvious – besides we know creative folks can build who ideas that they know something and be wrong (I’ve certainly done that).

Third, it gets people into an improvement mindset. In my experience the more you do these reviews, the more you learn, but also the more people improve outside of the reviews. Self-review and self-improvement is a skillset, and doing this develops it. There’s nothing like turning an imaginative team loose on self-improvement.

Fourth, it encourages applying lessons that can be used. In creative works, projects may differ wildly, so a regular review will in general lead to developing improvements that apply well into the future. Yes, short temporary changes may come up and be made, but in time you’ll improve longer and longer term as repeating issues come up and new insights get put into long-term practice.

Fifth, people don’t have to worry about missing opportunities or remembering everything they want to improve. Their work, especially creative works, may be seen differently in retrospect or with a marketing change. A person may have a hundred ideas but only remember five. Regular reviews mean you’ll be able to get back to forgotten ideas later or incorporate new views of old work. You can relax – you’re less likely to miss something.

. . . the team reflects on how to become more effective . . .

There’s two parts to this section.

The Team

The team is who does these regular reviews so they can improve – not just as individuals but a team. Now we have to ask who is the team?

To me the team is usually the folks doing the work – in the case of creatives those doing said work and their support team. But does that include consultants? The client? Beta testers? The legal team?   Asking this question is probably going to lead to unexpected and important answers:

By the way, no I can’t give you an obvious answer. But I can say in creative teams that it gets a bit hairy because that’s a place “things come together.” So your “team” may not just be people doing what you think is the work, but:

  • The legal team reviewing copyrights.
  • Proofreaders for documents who provide “testing.”
  • Marketers testing your ideas.
  • Support teams who provide software, hardware, maintenance on things like cameras, etc.
  • Administrative teams scheduling events.

Ask who the team is. The answer may surprise you.

Being More Effective:

Reflecting on being more effective sounds great, but there’s  an issue.  What does it mean for your team to be “more effective.”

It’s not an obvious question, which is why the importance is in how we answer it! How do you measure effectiveness so you know you’re getting better.

I often solve this by asking the team how they want to measure effectiveness and then going around until we have an agreement and a way to do it. For many it’s a simple general gut check of “did we get the work done and signed off on” but you may find a few additional factors come in. You may also find that it changes over time.

The best way, of course, is to focus on Value – did you deliver what people valued. But the way there, that may take some consideration, analysis, and arguments.

In creative teams, where metrics may be hard to come by and subjectivity is an issue, this question is very important. It may help to ask now and then just what effectiveness is and how you measure it.

. . . then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

Ah, yes the end goal of these regular reviews with the team – you review how you did and then figure how to tune and adjust what you do accordingly. In short, you decide how to improve your behavior, approach, actions, tools, and methods. you hold these reviews and then create *takeaways.*

I can’t emphasize this enough. Make sure that these reviews lead to concrete goals for the team that you can measure, and tasks for the team or individuals so you can say “it’s done.” I’ve seen people who do reviews insist everything be something that can be tracked as simple as a piece of work – and I have to say it’s effective.

Make sure your team comes up with concrete suggestions that you can move on. In fact, when I do this I review them reguarly, often during other meetings and definitely at the start of the next review.

This is needed in creative works because of the many variables, obvious, but also for another reason. Creative works, with their infinite options, also provide us many ways to improve. Having solid choices is a nice way to narrow things down to workable selections.

Having definite choices also keeps people from overloading themselves. After all, you can’t improve if all you’re doing for a few weeks is doing things better – so you have no time to DO the things you want to do better.

A final important note – improvements for individuals should be called out by the individuals themselves. The team’s goals are to improve as a team, and blame-slinging (even if true) is pretty disruptive at these meetings. I found a way to make this easier is to see if people have any personal improvement goals they want to call out to encourage personal improvement – but note the team has to support these people.

Note: If your team has too many improvements to make, have them force-rank them in order and pick what they think they can do in the next time period. That helps them prioritize (and deprioritize) and focus.

Do I Do This As A Solo Creative?

Yes.  You should do your own reviews even if it’s just you.  Even if you don’t review with a client.  Even if it’s just personal work. Sit down and go over what you did, how you’re doing and how to improve.

Remember, never assume there’s no way to get better . . .  even if you’re awesome on your own.

Roundup At The End

So there it is, the Twelfth Agile principle – go and review sutff regularly with the right people and make concrete improvements.

I find these reviews are almost comforting in any practice. In creative practices you’ll always be focused on going forwards, on lessons learned, on getting better. it adds a structure where needed – while also breaking you out of any assumptions or mental straightjackets.

Besides, creative people asked to “make something better” can often take off when given a chance . . .

A few quick roundups:

  • A regular review puts people into an improvement mindset, reduces the chance and fear of missing opportunities, and makes it predictable.
  • The team should be involved – but you have to ask who “the team” really is.
  • Reviews should focus on being effective, but you need to determine how “effective” is defined.
  • Concrete goals should be the end result of the review so you can move forward.

And that’s it folks!  The Twelve Agile Principles for creatives.  Now you’ll be pleased to know this isn’t the end – I’m using this as raw material for a book. So in a few months get ready for something even more awesome . . . and probably better edited.

– Steve

Posted on by Steven Savage

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

We’re almost there, my iterative (ha) effort to review the principles behind the Agile Manifesto – for creatives. We’re on the eleventh principle.

The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.

For people not familiar with IT, the only area of this that may seem odd is the word “architecture,” the structure of IT systems and the like. So let’s tweak this just a bit for creatives

The best structures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.

There we go. So what can we learn from this principle?

The idea is basically this: that teams who-self-organize create the best designs, the clearest requirements, and the best way to get stuff done. This sounds great, but I find a few people worry about it; how can people who self-organize get stuff done?

That’d be a great title for a section.  Let’s do that!

How Can People Who Self-Organize Get Stuff Done?

First, the entirety of Agile thinking and Agile methods is about self-organizing. The principles reflect this constantly, from communicating among people to reflecting and analyzing ideas and results. All of this helps cultivate self-organization.

(Also, most teams self-organize anyway, because no one can constantly be there monitoring their every move, though people try.  So it’s more realistic.)

Secondly, I take the word “teams” in the broadest sense – this is everyone involved in the process, from the actual creative to the person requesting the work to the people giving feedback.  I mean everyone involved – we’re all part of the team, even the folks ordering the work or the users testing the software as part of a beta program.

I find this approach helps because when you think of teams as broadly as possible (which you should), there’s more collaboration and communication, more trust, and far less us-versus-them. You get a lot more done as you’re automatically involving more people . . .

. . . and you cultivate self-organization with training, with being a good role model, with pitching Agile methods, and of course by using the principles of Agile and the methods to get your own stuff done.

So Why Does This Work?

OK so your team self-organizes and gets how to work together.  Or they’re close enough that they self-organize anyway.  But why does it actually work?

  1. People use their hands-on knowledge to design, plan, and organize. Like it or not the person up top of the big old command pyramid doesn’t know what’s going on all the time – the people doing the work do. This is doubly true for creative works, that often require intimate knowledge, gut-checks, feedback, and specific knowledge.
  2. People find the structure that works for them. The people doing the work don’t necessarily know what’s going to work at the start – but being self-organizing they’ll find out. Plus this exploration yields insights they can use elsewhere.
  3. People who self-organize communicate. This feedback tells people what’s needed, allows for adaption, and builds relationships to further the work.
  4. People determine needed artifacts. Agile principles and methods aren’t big on giant piles of documentation, but we do need them. When you self-organize you come up with what’s needed to track work, describe it, and record information. This saves time and increases clarity (also saving time).

Just remember, to make this work you have to make sure people are allowed to self-organized, encouraged, and trained or otherwise supported in doing so.

Where Does This Help Creative Work?

I’ve hinted at just how this affects creative work, but let’s get down to it – why does self-organizing support creative work – and how can you support it?

It Avoids Overstructure: Starting a creative effort with lots of unnecessary structures in place will kill creative work which needs a level of freedom and feedback and experiment. Allowing teams to self-organize helps avoid this.

  • What you can do in your creative works is allow for self-organizing and be aware of when you’re over-attached to processes and procedures.

It Allows For Adaption: Creative work is hard to automate, even though many of us have tried (me included), and it needs room for adaption. Allowing for self-organizing teams allows for that adaptability upfront – people can find what works for them.

  • In your creative works, support adaption by helping people (even if it’s just you and your client) change and adapt what works, with your eye on the eventual goal. That focus on value will help keep you from being distracted.

It Allows For Communication: Creative works are communicative work (even if sometimes the goal is to confuse, such as in a challenging game). To support communicative work people have to communicate and thus self-organizing teams support that – but also force it. When there’s no checklist being ordered and people are encouraged to communicate, you get more actual talking.

  • For creative works, encourage communication among people – and communicate yourself. It helps to be supportive, finding what works for them, not forcing your goals of “how it should be done,” but helping people find what must be done.

It Creates Habits and Culture: Self-organizing teams build their own structures and methods – and habits. This means that there’s more than just some org chart – there’s good habits and in long-term efforts, a culture that evolves. People who develop their own structures,, methods, and so on will remember and embody what they’ve learned. In time this leads to even more productivity as this is in the bones.

  • In your creative efforts, support developing a culture by finding what works and noting things that went right. In times the best lessons burrow into peoples habits.

What About Solo Creatives?

But what about solo creatives? How does this apply?

Recall that the “team” is everyone as far as I’m concerned – the client, people giving feedback, your roommate offering unsolicited advice. Even if you’re on there own there’s still “teams.”

What you want to do is:

  1. Find what “teams” there are – you and a client, you and an editor, etc.
  2. Encourage the teams to self-organize. Be open to feedback, listen, communicate, focus on goals.
  3. When possible, cross teams over. Share that client who wanted your art with a writer that you know. Share an editor with someone else. Build a larger culture among individuals to support each other.
  4. Even when it’s just you in the end, listen to yourself and your ideas. You’re a multitude – be your own team.
  5. Self-organize – don’t get too lost in other people’s ideas and advice, even mine.  Learn to rely on your own wisdom.

Always keep the need to adapt and adjust and self-organize.

In Closing

The eleventh agile principles notes that self-organizing makes for the best results. This works because people communicate, determine what works, and create what structures and tools are needed to get those results. You can encourage this with

  • Avoid overstructuring
  • Encourage adaption with feedback.
  • Encourage communication
  • Encourage development of a larger culture – the self-organizing lessons we keep with us.

Self-organizing teams can produce the best results – even if sometime the team is one person.

– Steve

Posted on by Steven Savage

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

Now gear up for one of my top Agile Manifesto Principles, the 10th Agile Principle.  Let’s get to it.

Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.

It’s another one of those principles that I can’t really modify or need to tweak to apply to creatives. It’s simple – maximizing work not done is essential to Agile practices. Agile practices are a great way to get work done effectively and sanely. So to deliver things effectively and sanely – maximize work not done.

Of course simple, compact statments like this are the ones where we also need to delve a bit, so let’s just take a look at what the value of simplicity and maximizing work not done means to a creative.

Simplicity Is About Right Value

Simplicity sounds easy to describe – until you actually try to do it. Then I find its a bit hard to phrase it, but you can think about simplicity as not just delivering Value, but the right Value. You focus on what people need delivered – and as little else extraneous as possible. Remember, Agile is a way to deliver Value.

When you focus on delivering the right Value to people, then you avoid distractions, unnecessary work, and the like. You don’t just deliver value – you avoid delivering less valuable and non-valuable work.

Up front this means focusing on simplicity from the start. I find this helps with creative works because, with many options, and at times unclear goals, you have to choose options and clarify them. You may well have to help your client or end user find what they really want – because they may not be too clear.

This also means simplicity is about an investment of time – doing the simple thing might just seem to take more effort up front. As you’ll see, the benefit of this investment pays off.

Simplicity Is About Clear Communication

Focusing on simplicity also means clearer communications for three reasons:

  1. First, you work early to clarify what’s needed (and as noted, you often have to talk this out).  This means that you have to work on and develop clear communications.
  2. Because you’ve worked on simplifying work, you’ve also got less things to discuss to distract you.  Communications are clearer because there’s less to talk about.
  3. You also have less to distract you period.  Simplicity means less chance of error, less rabbit holes to go down.

In creative endeavors, that can mean subtle works, assumptions, and hard-to-communicate idea, this clear communication is valuable indeed.  The efforts that you make earlier (and the work you don’t do) make your life easier.

I find this is a great thing to communicate better with this simple rule; if it’s hard for people to communicate about a project or creative work, if you’re going in circles, it’s time to focus on simplicity.

Simplicity Reduces Waste

Because you’re not doing extra work due to a focus on Simplicity, you’re spending your time better. The work you actually do meets a need – a need you clarified by a focus on simplicity and not complicating things. Everything you do is almost certainly valuable, or at least more likely to be so. Remember the agile emphasis on reducing unnecessary processes and documents?

The focus on simplicity also reduces wasted time.  Simply, you’re doing less and so there’s less chance to do it wrong.

Simplicity Is A Goal

So the benefits of simplicity are clear, but Simplicity doesn’t just happen – it has to be a goal. Your creative works need to focus on the simple, the precise, the effective from the start.

It’s probably easy to get everyone on board with this once they realize the value of simplicity (which is often found by discussing value).  We all want less complexity anyway.

But remember, ultimately simplicity is . .

Maximizing The Amount Of Work Not Done

Yes, your goal is to do less work overall as an Agile Creative.  Lazy?  No.

There’s plenty of work you can be doing, so you focus on doing the right work.  You work on what really matters, in a way you can keep delivering effectively.  There’s all sorts of things you can be doing, focusing on simple, valuable work means you don’t get distracted or do unneded things.

I believe you should celebrate finding something is no longer needed.  When you find something isn’t necessary, when you can ditch parts of a project, when you find something you can cut, good.  I’ve actually complimented people on the job for finding something isn’t needed.

And when it comes to creative projects, remember that creative people love figuring things out.  Turn some of that loose on simplicity . . .

But this all ties to one more thing.

Don’t Just Find Simplicity – Make It

You shouldn’t just seek simplicity – though you should – you should also find ways to make things simpler over time.  Simplicity is something to build in:

  1. Streamline the processes and documents that you use to make them simpler, focusing on value.
  2. Find ways to streamline code that you reuse or templates that you use for art (shades of the 9th Agile Principle)
  3. Improve communications with simplicity, such as combining several meetings into one or having a check-in as opposed to elaborate email conversations.
  4. Drop overcomplicated methods.

Just as you work to deliver value, always be on the lookout to deliver simplicity in how you do things.

This allows you to not just help your client, but to constantly uncomplicate your life and your efforts.  Each time you make things simpler, it pays off now and down the road.

Remember This Is Essential

That “Essential” part of the 10th is a final thing to remember.  Simplicity?  Doing less?  That’s essential to agile and agile practices.  All that clarity, all that focus, all those benefits?  The’re indispensable.

So next time you find things getting complicated, remember simplicity.

Rounding Up

So let’s get simple with simplicity.  Working for simplicity and looking for work not done is essential to agile practice.

To do this:

  • Keep simplicity as a goal and develop it.
  • Focus on value to keep things simple.
  • Focus on clear communication
  • Focus on reducing waste.
  • Maximize work not done.

– Steve

Posted on by Steven Savage

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

Now on to the 9th Agile Principle, one of my favorites (it’s hard to pick a favorite), because it makes a great point often forgotten. It also applies to so many situations. Let’s take a look

Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.

Ah just soak that one in. By paying attention to technical excellence and good design, you become even more adaptable, more productive – more Agile. Simple, and elegant, so as you may guess I’m going to analyze the hell out of it. It’s not that it hides any excret complexity – it’s obvious – it’s that there’s a lot of power in this that anyone can use – and Creatives have unique opportunities to take advantage of.

Let’s take this – backwards.

The Goal: Enhancing Agility

Note this Principle spells out that technical excellence and good design are things that one wants to pay attention to – always. That of course seems obvious, because who wouldn’t want to pay attention to doing things right and designing things right? But it states specifically that this enhances agility – that it lets you act, manage, and work agilely.

The benefits of these things aren’t just “hey well done” – they’re that you use Agile methods and apply agile principles better. There’s a benefit beyond the obvious of “doing stuff well.”

So it helps to spell it out. If you want to improve agility, do things right and design them well.

For Creatives, which often deal with unpredictability, ways to enhance agility are always welcome. Creatives are almost always entering unknown territory, have challenges communicating work, and more.  Anything to make work more adaptable, more predictable – more agile – should be welcome. More agility allows you to deliver more value.

So let’s look at just good design and technical excellence help you out – and help you be an agile creative.

Good Design

When you design something well, it’s more than just a “valuable” piece of work. It delivers other benefits that deliver agility. Let’s look at them and how they apply to creative work.

  • Good designs prevents errors since you can get it right the first time. This means you save time since you’ve got less revision – and aspiring to good design focuses you on listening to the client and understanding work so you deliver value. That helps in unpredictable developments, which you probably face a lot.
  • Good designs are repeatable in part or in whole – which saves time in the future. That lets you work faster since you’ve got other things to call on like design templates, reusable code, or helpful checklist. This can help you in creative works because you’ve got some work done already – at least the less predictable or more standard parts.
  • Good design makes your work shareable – because you can communicate it. This makes it easier to review with clients, as well as easier to teach to people. Creative work has its challenges in communication, so good design makes it easier – and good communication means more agility.
  • Good design is just good practice. Making something well-designed in turn helps you just learn to do things better – and that by definition will make work more agile.  Creative work often involves multiple skillsets, so good design helps deal with that.

Technical Excellence

Good design isn’t necessarily the same as technical excellence.  Good Design may be about laying things out and putting things together well, about organizing and making patterns apparent.  Technical excellence is about attention to detail, about doing things right, and about not overdoing things. Again, it has obvious benefits anyway, but  let’s see how it affects Agile Creativity.

  • Technical excellence just means things are done right and done well.  This ensures not having to redo things so you can move on – good for any form of organization, but in agile . .
  • Technical excellence also means that you’ve learned lessons you can repeat and teach.  Since many Agile methodologies focus on review and improvement, when you do it right once, you can do it again.  This is important in creative work since, with so many options in creative works, having repeatable work is helpful.
  • Technical excellence builds confidence in the people you work with and deliver work to.  When people see you do well, they trust you.  Creative works, which have many options and many variants, require trust.

You want to aspire to technical excellence period – but when you work with Agile methods, the benefits are even more pornounced.

When it involves creative work, it’s essential.

The Ninth Principle

The Ninth Agile Principle really is a great reminder that designing things well and doing them right has more benefits than the obvious – it lets you be better at being Agile.  When you’re a creative it has some specific benefits:

  • Good design helps reduce unpredictability, creates repeatable elements, allows work to be easier shared, and is just good practice.
  • Technical excellence reduces doing things over, teaches you repeatable lessons and inspires confidence.

– Steve

Posted on by Steven Savage

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

Now on to the 9th Agile Principle, one of my favorites (it’s hard to pick a favorite), because it makes a great point often forgotten. It also applies to so many situations. Let’s take a look

Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.

Ah just soak that one in. By paying attention to technical excellence and good design, you become even more adaptable, more productive – more Agile. Simple, and elegant, so as you may guess I’m going to analyze the hell out of it. It’s not that it hides any excret complexity – it’s obvious – it’s that there’s a lot of power in this that anyone can use – and Creatives have unique opportunities to take advantage of.

Let’s take this – backwards.

The Goal: Enhancing Agility

Note this Principle spells out that technical excellence and good design are things that one wants to pay attention to – always. That of course seems obvious, because who wouldn’t want to pay attention to doing things right and designing things right? But it states specifically that this enhances agility – that it lets you act, manage, and work agilely.

The benefits of these things aren’t just “hey well done” – they’re that you use Agile methods and apply agile principles better. There’s a benefit beyond the obvious of “doing stuff well.”

So it helps to spell it out. If you want to improve agility, do things right and design them well.

For Creatives, which often deal with unpredictability, ways to enhance agility are always welcome. Creatives are almost always entering unknown territory, have challenges communicating work, and more.  Anything to make work more adaptable, more predictable – more agile – should be welcome. More agility allows you to deliver more value.

So let’s look at just good design and technical excellence help you out – and help you be an agile creative.

Good Design

When you design something well, it’s more than just a “valuable” piece of work. It delivers other benefits that deliver agility. Let’s look at them and how they apply to creative work.

  • Good designs prevents errors since you can get it right the first time. This means you save time since you’ve got less revision – and aspiring to good design focuses you on listening to the client and understanding work so you deliver value. That helps in unpredictable developments, which you probably face a lot.
  • Good designs are repeatable in part or in whole – which saves time in the future. That lets you work faster since you’ve got other things to call on like design templates, reusable code, or helpful checklist. This can help you in creative works because you’ve got some work done already – at least the less predictable or more standard parts.
  • Good design makes your work shareable – because you can communicate it. This makes it easier to review with clients, as well as easier to teach to people. Creative work has its challenges in communication, so good design makes it easier – and good communication means more agility.
  • Good design is just good practice. Making something well-designed in turn helps you just learn to do things better – and that by definition will make work more agile.  Creative work often involves multiple skillsets, so good design helps deal with that.

Technical Excellence

Good design isn’t necessarily the same as technical excellence.  Good Design may be about laying things out and putting things together well, about organizing and making patterns apparent.  Technical excellence is about attention to detail, about doing things right, and about not overdoing things. Again, it has obvious benefits anyway, but  let’s see how it affects Agile Creativity.

  • Technical excellence just means things are done right and done well.  This ensures not having to redo things so you can move on – good for any form of organization, but in agile . .
  • Technical excellence also means that you’ve learned lessons you can repeat and teach.  Since many Agile methodologies focus on review and improvement, when you do it right once, you can do it again.  This is important in creative work since, with so many options in creative works, having repeatable work is helpful.
  • Technical excellence builds confidence in the people you work with and deliver work to.  When people see you do well, they trust you.  Creative works, which have many options and many variants, require trust.

You want to aspire to technical excellence period – but when you work with Agile methods, the benefits are even more pornounced.

When it involves creative work, it’s essential.

The Ninth Principle

The Ninth Agile Principle really is a great reminder that designing things well and doing them right has more benefits than the obvious – it lets you be better at being Agile.  When you’re a creative it has some specific benefits:

  • Good design helps reduce unpredictability, creates repeatable elements, allows work to be easier shared, and is just good practice.
  • Technical excellence reduces doing things over, teaches you repeatable lessons and inspires confidence.

– Steve

Posted on by Steven Savage

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

Let me say up front this is one of my favorite Agile Principles (#10 is up there too.). It’s obvious, thought-provoking, and in-your face.

Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.

Yes, the Agile Principles state outright that you should find and keep a pace that can be maintained indefinitely, and everyone should have that pace. I’d love to phrase this positively, but let’s face it, it’s a principle about not burning out.

Yes, way back in 2001 the Agile gurus were well aware of the potential for burnout, death marches, and more and made it part of their principles.

Agile Processes Promote Sustainable Development.

Agile processes make sure that development is sustainable – that the inputs, velocity, testing, processes, demands, etc. all are aimed so everyone (and I do mean everyone) involved could keep this up forever.  This of course makes sense – once you find a doable pace you’re able to continue, predictably, over time.  When there is deviation, you can adapt as you’ve got a stable pace going.  When it’s sustainable you can keep delivering value.

This flies in the face of so much we’re taught about work, leisure, and so on. We’re taught to expect death marches. We’re taught to expect rushes. We’re taught to idolize being overworked. This Agile Principle outright states ‘bollocks to that’ and says ‘no.’ Or if we want to put it positively, says ‘yes’ to sustainability.

But I’ve seen so many death marches and overtime pushes I like the “no” part.  But let’s get away from negative/positive, let’s talk about why this matters to creatives.

  1. Creatives are often in areas and industries that promote death marches and rushes.
  2. Even if we’re not in #1 we often do it to ourselves.
  3. The unpredictability of creative work may lead us to pace ourselves erratically anyway – and accept it as normal.
  4. Because of these issues we don’t try to find a way to work better.
  5. All this stress outright kills creativity – and the goodwill that’s needed for it.  It’s a testimony to many creatives that they’ve sustained in the face of so many things.

Because it is so important this means . . .

We Need to Consciously Work On Sustainability

You don’t just say “hey, let’s be sustainable” and it happens.  It’s something you work on – this principle reminds us to commit to it, to make sure we find a pace we can all work at, together.

This principle, despite the fact it’s a call to work appropriately, is also a call to work on sustainability.  You need to take the time and effort to make work sustainable.  You need to educate yourself on principles and processes to make things sustainable.  Hopefully this is the collective “you” – all the sponsors, users, and developers in your creative work.

But it might be the lone “you.”  Sorry, you might be the lone voice of sustainability and have to advocate.  Maybe these columns can help, but let me emphasize that if you’re using Agile, keep reading up on it and researching it.  There’s plenty of knowledge out there.

Note that this Principle means everyone in the project.  It could just be you and one client, it could be a giant team and users/audience.  So let’s talk about how the three different groups – sponsors, developers, users – can promote sustainability on a creative project.

Sponsors And Sustainability

Sponsors are the people asking for the work. It would seem their role is obvious – don’t overload people!  Of course it’s not that obvious.  Each of the three groups have different interactions on creative projects.  So how can Sponsors work with the other groups?

Developers:

  • Sponsors need to understand what pace Developers can work at and support it – perhaps even push back on those pressuring them.
  • Sponsors need to work with Developers and be available so they can both assist developers, but also stay aware of their pace and sustainability.
  • Sponsors need to listen to Developers; the developers know what they’re doing. In creative work, this is exceptionally important because of the little intricacies and intimacies.

Users:

  • Sponsors need to understand User expectations – not just what is wanted, but what can be handled. it might sound great to shovel out a ton of stuff (such as game patches), but this may limit feedback and communication. Users can only handle so much.
  • Sponsors should listen to Users and get feedback, finding ways to encourage sustainable development.  This may also mean understanding User perspectives – and what they want and you want may differ.
  • Sometimes the Sponsor is the User – and you’ll need to figure out how you feel in both roles.

In promoting sustainable development, a good Sponsor is realistic, listens, facilitates – and doesn’t overload Developers. I won’t lie – sometimes you become a firewall or a funnel. Be a good one.

Now a few warnings. Where does this usually go wrong in creative works?

  • Sponsors often come to Developers far too late in creative processes – I’ve seen it a number of times. Sponsors should engage Developers in creative works as early as possible and learn their pace.
  • Sponsors overload Developers. This often fails, leads to bad blood, and the “there’s more where that came from” attitude I see a bit too often in creative fields makes enemies.
  • Sponsors don’t pay attention to Users or assume on what they want. They often get it wrong.
  • Sponsors assume they know how the creative process works. Often they’re wrong because even if they are a creative, each creative is different.

With sponsors covered, let’s get to Developers – which, my guess, covers a lot of my readers.

Developers And Sustainability

Developers make the creative work. Also an obvious role, but a Developer’s role is really kind of strange – they’re an expert in making something who often deal with people who aren’t. Thus you’re trying to give people what they want when they don’t know how you do it. Though they probably think they do and it drives you crazy.

Worse, you’re sort of in the middle of the Users and the Sponsors. You spend a lot of time making something for the actual target audience, you do research, so sometimes you end up as a bridge. When the User and Sponsor is the same (say, if you’re doing an art piece for someone directly), they can still seem like two different people and you have to bridge the gaps in someone’s own head.

(Ever have someone argue with themselves about a creative work? Probably.)

Finally, you’re probably the one most aware of any burnout, overload, or unsustainability, and you have to tell people about it. Sometimes those people aren’t happy with you. OK most of the time.

So first up, if you’re a Creative (and you probably are if you’re reading this), get ready to do a lot of psychology for yourself and for others. You do the work others don’t do, see things differently, and are kind of in the middle. However, to make sure your work is sustainable, you have to think about them.

Sponsors:

  • Give Sponsors feedback and information to help them pace themselves and pace working with you. The more pre-emptively you give them an idea of what’s sustainable, the quicker they’ll get it.
  • Help Sponsors reach a sustainable pace – they don’t do the work, they may not know what it is. You might save them from burnout and being overly pressured – or help them find they can do more.
  • Help Sponsors understand your work and what you’re doing so they can work with you sustainably.
  • If needed, bridge the gap between them and the user on what’s sustainable.
  • You’re also probably the one most focused on using Agile methods, so help them understand them – including the Eight Principle.

Users:

  • Understand Users have a limit to what they can process and work with that. Their pace may be slower than yours, so you need to slow down, or faster, and you need to find a reasonable delivery.  That may need to be communicated to Sponsors – and in creative work the pace may vary a lot.
  • Users may not understand their own limits; be aware of the.
  • Remember to work feedback from the Users of your creative work into your plans and pacing. Feedback can consume a lot of time.
  • Learn to understand how the users think and communicate. Help bridge gaps with the Sponsors.
  • Users might not get the creative efforts you put in – find ways to subtly make them aware (it helps set expectations)

A good creative Developer is aware of their process and abilities so they can not only pace themselves, but pace themselves with others, and help others pace themselves. Because you’re where work happens, you’re the most able to understand what’s going on and what can probably be sustained. You just have to make the effort.

Now a few bits of advice for Creative Developers trying to keep a sustainable pace in Creative work.

  • Sustainability also incorporates probable interruptions – vacation, illness, training, etc.
  • Yes, there will always be rushes. Minimize them, adapt, work them into expectations.
  • Don’t assume because you know how the creative process works that you’re superior – don’t get arrogant. That can lead to over-confidence and/or poor communication with Sponsors and Users.
  • Also remember how unpredictable creative work can be – communicate that but also work to minimize it.

Users and Sustainability

It feels weird to even go into this part – this is pitched at Agile Creatives. That definitely covers Developers and may cover Sponsors. But Users? They’re the end consumer of a creative product. They may not be that interested in all this.

I include this however because you, doubtlessly a Creative of some kind, will be communicating with Users (and thus you can figure how they can work with you), and probably are a User at some point (and can work better with others). It’s my small way to bridge the Developer-User gap in Creative work. Whatever side you’re on, you can help the other side work better.

One thing Users forget is that they to have to have a sustainable pace, and it’s easy to think “I can handle anything” delivered to you because you want it. However, getting too much of a good thing is not sustainable – you can’t enjoy it, can’t give feedback, etc. You to, even as a pure consumer, have limits, and pushing those does no favors to the people doing work for you.

Sponsors:

  • I find Users are often very abstract from Sponsors, from idolizing them to being suspicious of them, to ignoring them. Instead, be aware of them and who they are – and their motivations.
  • Understand sponsors have their own limits. Learn to be a responsible User in your demands and interests.
  • Find ways to engage Sponsors realistically – if they actually engage you, be grateful (I find a lot of Sponsors aren’t to great at this).
  • Be aware that the pipeline between Sponsors, Developers, and you has a lot of bumps.

Developers:

  • Respect the Developers time and understand that they are often not only the limitation on delivery, they’e also the ones doing a lot of work.
  • Engage constructively with Developers. In fact, the more you engage with them, the better you understand sustainability, and the more you can help them with feedback.
  • if you’re really engaged with Developers, learn how they work on their creative projects.  It’ll help you appreciate them – and you may learn some things.

I don’t have a lot of other advice for Users promoting Creative Agile to use Sustainability except for this – remember you’re part of the process to.  Working with others means much better stuff on your end.

Moving On- Sustainably

Sustainable development requires everyone’s effort – and commitment.  In a creative project, this is even more of a challenge.  It requires everyone to get on board.

Of course if not everyone is on board, you’ll get to help with that because you’re the one reading this.

So let’s round up what we can learn:

  • Good Agile involves sustainability.
  • This sustainability requires all sides to be involved and committed.
  • Each of those involved in an Agile project – creative or otherwise – has a role to play.
  • Sustainability is more challenging in creative projects due to a variety of factors.

– Steve

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