OK I’ve hinted at it or talked about it but it’s here – my book on Agile Creativity!
This is the result of experimentation, research, discussions, and blogging – a guide to how to use Agile in creative efforts. However this isn’t about specific methods – this is about mindset.
Do you really understand value? How can you get more done by doing less? Are you supporting yourself so things happen – not trying to force them to happen?
I dive into the Agile Software Manifesto and the Principles behind it – and then focus on how to take these ideas and use them for art, writing, and more! Let’s get Agile, get Creative – and get more done with less stress!
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.
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.
There’s two parts to this section.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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!
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Always keep the need to adapt and adjust and self-organize.
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
Self-organizing teams can produce the best results – even if sometime the team is one person.
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 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.
Focusing on simplicity also means clearer communications for three reasons:
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.
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.
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 . .
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.
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:
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.
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.
So let’s get simple with simplicity. Working for simplicity and looking for work not done is essential to agile practice.
To do this:
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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:
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 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.
Because it is so important this means . . .
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 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?
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?
With sponsors covered, let’s get to Developers – which, my guess, covers a lot of my readers.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
There’s something horribly restrictive about creativity. Ever start something and feel trapped? Ever have an imaginative project become a burden? Why?
If you think of it, creativity means that you can do anything. The human mind can imagine things that were are are, never were but could be, and are not but shall be. In a creative act, from an add campaign to a novel, you could do anything.
Modern tools make things even easier. A decent set of CGI tools or self-publishing can bring any work to life.
Yet, why are creative works and acts so often frustrating, feeling like a trap? Why do we worry over writer’s block, argue about subjective artistic choices, or turn creative work into a death march? That’s because the sheer opportunity of creativity and all the options leads us to make bad choices.
When you can do anything, you can find new ways to screw it up.
We all know writer’s and artists with too many ideas in their heads – indeed we may be one. They have all the opportunity in the world – and can’t decide what or how to do it. They are paralyzed by the very power they have to create.
Soon, nothing gets done because they can do anything. One choice is swapped for another, one color for another, and nothing truly finishes. It’s like constantly trying to adjust your thermostat.
(This is similar to the business term, “Paralysis through Analysis.”)
We can be free, only to be lost in a maze of maybes.
Having many ways to create, we also can see many paths to failure. Which is the right option out of an infinity? Which will get the job done? Which will at least keep people from getting angry at us?
Lost in fear, we loose our creative edge – it’s hard to imagine when you’re second-guessing everything. Creativity becomes a constant dodge of imagined failure and anger. At best, we imagine ways around problems we also imagined.
Fear is one of the causes of the Choice of Paralysis as well. Because we’re afraid, we’re endlessly using our imaginations to come up with things we then decide aren’t good enough.
Creatives are good at imagining, and often imagine worst cases.
Communicating creative works is hard. There’s often something visceral, beyond words at the core of what we do. But we must also make it accessible to others – because our audience is often not us.
Yet with so many options, do we choose the one that helps people get it? I’m not talking about over-explaining, I’m talking about using our infinite choices to create a work that is accessible to the audience. It’s all well and good to have a great idea, but not if people can’t enjoy it.
At times, frustrated, we may avoid addressing miscommunication, because we expect to be “misunderstood.” We don’t have to.
At times, aloof, we may figure that we don’t have to work to be accessible, for the journey to understand our creations is part of them, right?
At times, we fear miscommunication – and the Choice of Fear catches us again.
We have infinite options, and sometimes choose the ones that lock people out or can never figure how to talk to them.The Choice Of Restriction
When confronted with many options, some of us don’t choose to wander through creative options, we instead restrict our choices. Plans and plots, review sessions and sign-offs, imagination turned into a checklist. We try to restrict and channel creativity, to avoid both too many opportunities as well as the fear of failure.
In this case we probably stomp all the fun out of it – and make ourselves less creative. It’s hard to look forward to your next work when all you can see is lists and marketing data.
Worse, we often make the Choice of Restriction because it helps us deal with the other bad choices. If we build some elaborate system it’ll solve all our problems! Of course we then imagine a system that destroys the fun of creativity.
We try to control creativity and thus make it harder.
Confronted with many fears, with marketing needs, with needs for a paycheck, many creatives opt to play it safe. Make the same thing over and over. Don’t innovate too much. Recheck everything. Make it like last time.
We take all that potential and make it like te last thing we did. Some creatives are satisfied by this – and the paychecks – but not everyone. Besides “Survivor bias” paints a far rosier picture.
This is often the end result of the Choice Of Restriction. We give up on creativity entirely, and just make it into a machine. We may wonder, at times, why we’re so frustrated, but may lack the imagination to know why.
We can try to stop innovating, just to be safe. It somehow doesn’t feel safe.
So now, facing these paradoxial choices – Paralysis, Fear, Miscommunication, Restriction, Safety, how do we creatives deal with them?
By getting ahead of them. You’re a creative person – you should be able to create ways AROUND these limits. You need to face them head on. Here’s a few things I found, but you’ll need to find your own methods:
Paralysis – Can be addressed by making and reviewing choices, accepting imperfections, and iterative improvement.
Fear – Can be addressed by diving in, producing, facing it. In a few cases personal support or even therapy may help, but don’t let fear rule you.
Miscommunication – Develop empathy with people. Learn to understand them. Also learn that you can’t please everyone – don’t be angry about that, accept it.
Restriction – Can be addressed by making it unnecessary as you’ve build in your own ways of channeling work, but giving yourself space.
Safety – Dealing with Safety requires us to regularly get out of our comfort zones. It doesn’t mean some radical push, it means regularly poking your head out a bit more, trying new things.
For me, using Agile methods have been my methods. Regular reviews help me stay on track. Setting out blocks of time gives me freedom. Staying in touch with my vision gives me guidance and inspiration. It’s worked for me – it may work for you.
But my methods or not, tackle these issues head on.
As a Creative, find your methods, your ways, to deal witht hese issues. They might be my ways, they may be someone elses, they may be yours. But when you address these Choices that make Creativity so paradoxial, then you can truly get amazing things done.
With less stress and less of the wrong kinds of paradoxes.