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.
OK everyone, Way With Worlds Book 2 review copies are ready! So if you want to review contact me and let me know about your interest, if you have a blog, where you can review (amazon is appreciated), etc.!
Right now it’s looking like it’ll be out the very end of March or early April.
And hello again gang, I want to let you know I’m looking for reviewers for my first book on Creativity, “The Power Of Creative Paths.” It comes out late January/early February, but I want to line up people who want to review it (don’t worry, it’s an eBook and it’s a reasonable size) and review it honestly. If you’re interested contact me right away!
Tie-ins are a difficult area to judge. At what point does a work stop being merchandising and start being a work of its own? I have reviewed some tie-in works, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic because of its impact on the Internet and the Richard Castle Nikki Heat novels because of the meta nature of the books. While I have reviewed movies based on toys – G.I. Joe – The Rise of Cobra and Battleship – I haven’t touched any of the animated works. The cartoons came about after the easing of US Federal Communications Commission regulations restricting toy- and game-based series in the 80s. While several cartoons from the era were memorable, including Transformers and Jem and the Holograms, most were just there for merchandising.
Last month, The LEGO Movie opened. A CGI animated action movie, The LEGO Movie was based on LEGO, the construction bricks created in 1949 and refined in 1958. Given that the company wasn’t directly behind the creation of the movie, I felt that The LEGO Movie was an adaptation.
Since the film is still in theatres, I’ll try to keep the summary as spoiler-free as possible. The plot has Emmett, a Minifig, find the Piece of Resistance that makes him the Special that can stop Lord Business from using his secret weapon to destroy all of the different worlds. Unfortunately, Emmett isn’t all that special, but WyldStyle, who was looking for the Piece of Resistance, is there to help him in the fight against Lord Business. Along the way, Emmett and Wyldstyle get help from Batman to get to Cloud Cuckooland to find the Master Builders in hiding.
The movie uses many a bad pun.
The characters are well aware that they are in a LEGO multiverse and most can build items out of the scenery. The CGI makes it hard to tell whether the settings were built physically out of LEGO bricks or if the animators were just that good. The ground, where it isn’t paved by flat-topped bricks, has the classic LEGO brick struts, including the company’s logo. With adaptations, the little details can make or break the work. The eye for detail in The LEGO Movie is amazing. Emmett’s hair has a molding seam. The 80s Spaceman’s helmet has a crack where the piece always got a crack. The Minifigs, for the most part, come from existing sets past and present. The construction scene as the big musical number starts has a Minifig calling for a 1×2 macaroni piece and getting it, just as people playing with LEGO bricks have since, well, 1958.
The LEGO Movie felt like the writers were playing with LEGO while working on the script. Building of items, like a motorcycle from parts in an alley, referenced the LEGO videogames, where players could do just that. The buildings, the vehicles, the animals, the sets, all could be built given enough bricks. Given that LEGO is a toy meant for creating your own designs, the movie showed possibilities and encouraged imagination.
As an adaptation, The LEGO Movie worked. Emmett lived in a LEGO world and acted knowing he was a LEGO minifig. All the bits came together and screamed “LEGO!” as the movie progressed while still allowing the story to unfold. The story itself could not be told without the LEGO bricks.
Next week, the nature of tie-in media and adaptations.
Over a year ago, I started Lost in Translation to examine the pros and cons of remakes and reboots, to see what worked and what didn’t. With Hollywood becoming more reliant on existing works as sources for blockbusters, knowing what makes for a successful adaptation is becoming critical in how well a project fares at the box office. Just having the rights to a title no longer means that a movie will be successful, if it ever did.
What we’ve seen over the past year is that respect for the original work, the original creators, and the original fans goes a long way towards financial success. Even where there are changes, acknowledging the original work and ensures the fans will come out while still attracting people new to the franchise. The re-imagined Battlestar Galactica is a great example. Many changes were made, from characters to tone, but it gained an audience made from fans of the original and complete newcomers.
Helping the new Galactics‘s success was writing quality. The series wasn’t just good science fiction, it was a good drama. Reviews of The Avengers also point to the strong writing of Joss Whedon. So, just having respect isn’t enough. Studios have to act on the respect. Casting, writing, even advertising needs to be there. The lack of advertising was the main reason John Carter was barely seen in theatres. Disney buried the movie, to the point the title didn’t even refer to the original series of books, John Carter of Mars.
However, during the course of writing this column, a thought occurred to me. “Is it possible to have a work that is a poor adaptation but is still a good or even successful movie on its own?” It’s easy to find bad adaptations that are also bad movies. Street Fighter – The Movie was both, not quite a cult classic. The Dungeons & Dragons movie didn’t even come close to being watchable. Finding a movie that was good in its own right but still a poor adaptation took work. Real Steel fit the bill. There was very little in common between the movie and “Steel”, the short story it was based on; but, the movie held together on its own merit. In this case, though, the relative obscurity of the original story helped; there wasn’t an expectation built in.
That’s not to say that respect and support will guarantee a success. A well done, well adapted, well supported movie can still fail. Serenity, the Firefly movie, falls into this category. The fans did their best to get people out, but the film wasn’t as successful as hoped. At the same time, the environment films are released into has changed greatly over the past decade. Movies have to succeed right out of the gate. Gone are the days where a movie would stay in theatres for several months or even a year. Most get six to eight weeks now, less if the opening weekend isn’t as successful as projected.*
What I’ve also learned over the past year is now spilling over into my own works. On top of making sure that the plot stands on its own, that the characters are interesting, and that I have an ending that is exciting and not overblown, I’m making sure that the format I’m using (prose, episodic webcomic, long-form script) fits the story and that the story can be adapted into other formats. It gets interesting when working out character details when the idea of seeing the story on TV or the concept of having an action figure enters my head. Yet, having something that’s easy to adapt will help ensure a proper transition.
Next time, into the black!
*Note that the film doesn’t need to fail outright. A movie could still make up its budget but still be consider underperforming if the actual revenue is less than the projected. Works that need word of mouth no longer stand a chance to be successful.