You’ve got a Brainstorm Book, you put ideas in it, then sorted them into various groups. You have your Archives, Incubator, Backlog, and Current Backlog. So, now what?
First, with the Current Backlog is self-explanatory – you’re doing that now. That’s your “getting things done in the near future” thing – and if you don’t have a system to do that, I have a free book for you.
But let’s talk the rest of the lists.
The Archives are where you put ideas you like, but aren’t sure if you want to do. Of course, what do you do with them since they kinda sit there.
As you add to them in each Review, consider the following:
The rule I use with Archives is “is there any value in keeping this?” When there’s not, get rid of it somehow.
After awhile, you may find these things getting overlarge and need to do a review. Do this every six months, and set a timebox to an hour.
The Incubator is your “want-to-do-but-not-sure-when” box. It’s things you haven’t yet put on your schedule but are sure you’ll probably want to do.
Review the Incubator once a month for an hour – if you want, you can do it as part of one of your regular Brainstorm book reviews. While reviewing it do the following:
As always, keep the Incubator in order of priority – with nothing of equal importance. That forcing-the-issue will really help you keep track of what you want to do and set your priorities.
The Backlog is where you keep your definitely-going-to-do items. Again, in order of importance – however there’s an important difference.
By the time something gets to the Backlog, you’re probably already thinking of how to break it down into pieces of work. If you’re not, you should, because a lot of great ideas take time to do, so you don’t do them all at once.
So remember, as you keep your Backlog and polish it, feel free to start prioritizing the parts of things you want to do. Maybe make the priority also reflect chronological order. Maybe think of what’s the most important stuff you can do first.
EXAMPLE: You really want to write and publish a short story. That can be broken down into several “stories” on their own – writing out the plot, doing the story, editing, etc. By the time that story idea hits the Backlog, you can break it down, in order, and maybe even have an idea of when you want to do things (which also affects order).
Review your Backlog once a month, and whenever you think you should. I usually find I look at it once to three times a month as I get new ideas, or review my Brainstorm Book, or get new feedback. Your Backlog is your roadmap to the future – take it seriously.
When reviewing consider:
Well, this is the list of stuff you’re trying to do right now so you’re probably looking at it daily. I’ll assume you’re fine here.
So you’ll find yourself reviewing your past brainstorms, you’ll most likely find that you’re having new ideas as well. Which is good, but kind of annoying as you’re busy.
This is of course great because, hey, new ideas – plus you see that your imagination is working away. But again, you’re busy.
What I do is take these ideas and put them in my Brainstorm Book so I don’t get distracted, unless the idea is so absolutely stunning it must go in my documents. You have to make the judgement call, but I’d say err on the side of caution and jot it down for later.
You’re now regularly reviewing the documents that are . . . created from your Brainstorm Book reviews. So why do these matter to you?
By now you have a Brainstorm Book system. However, I have a few more ideas for you.
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.
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:
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 . . .
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 . . .
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:
So you can keep getting work out, do that work in the best way that keeps delivering useable results. Because when you do that . . .
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.
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.
Let’s review the Seventh Agile Principle for Creatives:
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 . . .
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.
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) . . .
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:
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 . . .
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.
Does this matter to the solo creative? Actually, hidden within this Principle are two important lessons:
This simple principle is pretty easy to review:
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 . . .
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.