Category: Productivity

 

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 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 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

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