Agile Creativity – Principle #4: Daily Collaboration

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr)

Now the fourth Principle of Agile Software, which we’ll be re-purposing for creative work, is simple until you think about it for two seconds. It states.

Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.

Easy, right? First, let’s tweak this a bit for creatives

Customers and creatives must work together daily throughout the project.

Still simple, but I’m pretty sure you’ve been in situations where you couldn’t get someone to talk. Or respond to email. You probably wondered if they were OK. Maybe the Fourth principle is harder than it looks . .

At the same time, despite your disbelief, you probably see the value in this. If you and whoever you’re doing work for are in communication, you work better, get feedback better, and so on. Work becomes easier, faster, and friendlier.

It’s just that this sounds like it’d be real hard to implement.

So let’s break this Principle down – and focus on how you make it work – to everyone’s benefit.

Customers And Creatives Must Work Together . . .

This is a bit of a “duh” rule. But pause for a second and ask yourself what working together with the customer *really* means.

This Principle doesn’t say one is in charge and the other isn’t. It’s not about following a plan or not doing it. It’s the idea that you and your customer work together. You’re a team, even if one of you sort of started all of this and is probably paying the bills.

So you want to make sure you and whoever you’re doing creative work for are actually cooperating together to get a result and thinking of yourselves as working together. This is a bit of a radical mindshift (probably for both of you) and you can help encourage it because, well, you’re reading this. Approach working with your creative customers as a team effort, which means:

  • Encourage cooperation (of course).
  • Treat work as succeeding (and failing) together.
  • Develop a team approach, think of yourself as a team, cultivate that.
  • Include customers (when appropriate) in activities, from status reports to team lunches.

By the way, this may have you askin “hey, who is my customer.” We’ll get to that, but let’s finish off looking at the Foruth principle.

. . . daily throughout the project

Yes. The Fourth Agile Principle expects you to work with your customer daily throughout the project. The reason for this is obvious – you’re in touch with the people you’re doing work for. Talking to them and communicating with them to get questions answered, get feedback, etc. means two things:

  • You’re better directed towards the goal (even when it changes).
  • It develops good teamwork (which leads to informal improvements).

Yes, you are in contact daily, interacting, daily, and by now you’re probably thinking “how the heck can I do that?”

Ideally, you’d be in touch with people you’re doing work for all the time; indeed, ideally you’d work with them in person. In actual reality, in an age of conference calls and distributed teams, it’s a lot harder to work with people daily. I find the best way to solve this is – literally – just do your best and be aware of it.

It’s an ideal to aspire you. A few things I’ve found that help are:

  • Chat programs. Just passing an update to someone can help.
  • Email summaries and statuses. Sending quick daily updates helps.
  • Open Hours. Have a time in your schedule where someone can contact you; maybe you even sit in on a conference call or voice chat and anyone can swing by.
  • Talk to some if not all people. If your customer contact involves multiple people, touch base and work with as many of them as you can, even if it can’t be or doesn’t need to be all.
  • Cultivate customer communication. Help the customer develop this communicate-with-team attitude as well.
  • Radiators. Have some kind of chart, status sheet, document dump, working beta, that people can look at and use to get update. It’s passive communication, but it’s something.

I tend to solve the need for regular communication by mixing regular methods (daily updates, radiators) and informal (using chat programs and upates). Combined together, people stay in touch overall, even if individual methods don’t cover everyone.

And yes, trying to convince people daily communication is a good idea may be hard. If you’ve got people who are heads down, who like their privacy, etc. it may be harder. Cultivating this is going to be a bit of work.

Ultimately, I find this part of the Fourth Principle ultimately wraps up with the first part. You work together, you cooperate. As you do so, you’re better able to communicate daily because you’re more of a team.

But there’s a complication . . .

The Fourth Principle’s Complication: Client and Audience

The Fourth principle may sound hard to implement, but it’s an easy one – except but there’s another wrinkle. There’s the customer and then there’s the audience . . .

If you’re doing a logo, it’s easy – the customer asks for a logo. You make it. The customer’s customers, the “audience” may or may not like it, but it’s probably no big deal.

But what if you’re making a tutorial? Someone may ask you to make that tutorial, and you work as a team, but isnt the audience someone you need to keep in mind, because that tutorial is for THEM. The audience is also a bit more of a customer.

Now take this all the way; you’re an author. You have no direct customer or customer team, just a lot of readers, some of which you’re in touch with some of which you aren’t. How do you collaborate with that ?

When working to use the Fourth Principle as guidance, you’ll need to understand just who the customer is and just who the audience is. It might not be easy.

Rounding Up

Let’s review the Fourth Agile Principle for Creatives:

  • Delivering useable work focuses your efforts on what to deliver and how to deliver.
  • By delivering work as early as possible, you get feedback on the work you’ve done, which improves the results and communications.
  • Delivering work frequently creates feedback, communication, trust, and transparency.
  • Frequent delivery of useable work requires you to develop the best way to deliver, improving how you operate.
  • The shorter the timeframe the better, as it increases all the advantages of delivering useable work.
  • Frequent delivery of work provides direction, guidance, communication, and builds trust – areas that creative work needs, but that are also very challenging.

One simple Principle that packs a lot of benefits – and a lot of challenges – in. Worth taking to heart, just be ready for the actions it’ll take to make it real.

But, you’re someone that probably wants to improve and grow – as does everyone on your team. Let’s look at that in the Fifth Agile Principle.

– Steve

Steve’s Update 2/27/2018

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr)

Here’s my latest update – and a lot to discuss!

So what have I done the last week?

  • A Bridge To The Quiet Planet: The final edit before pre-reading is in progress.
  • Writing: The fourth Agile column is coming soon – and more to come, of course
  • Personal Agile Guide: This is launched and out!  So if you subscribe to my newsletter, you get a copy!
  • Seventh Sanctum: My next project is going well – it’s a page on which I’ll keep a “registry” of other cool generators from other sites.  I’ve got it working, it’s just stocking it with links, so I am gonna need a little time.  Give it a few weeks.
  • Unpacking: Ok this wasn’t what I promised YOU, but I did get a lot done.

What am I going to do this week:

  • A Bridge To The Quiet Planet: Editing continues.  Probably won’t have much to say.
  • Writing: On to Agile Principle #5 of course, and I’m hoping to do other columns.
  • Seventh Sanctum: Stocking that new registry, of course.


  • The commute is sorting out.  It’ll take a little longer to get it in order, but it’s pretty good.
  • This coming month I am going to try to do the rewrite of my resume guide as well as my regular work.  Wish me luck!

– Steve

Civic Geek: The Kids Are Damned Right

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr)

So let’s talk the Parkland shooting and March For Our Lives.  We’re watching teens band together and inspire others to band with them, to take on our country’s gun laws to stop the school shootings that have destroyed so many lives.

These kids are getting attacked, being called fakes and part of a conspiracy.  They’re being called opportunists.  They’re being called impolite.  They’re being mocked.

They keep going.  More and more are banding with them.

So let me drop my usual civil discussions and rant a bit about these kids.

These kids are not naive about this issue.  They know the score.  They hear about people their age being shot.  They see the news, the guards.  They know – and they know none of the solutions work.

They know what people say and they’ don’t care.  They’re young enough to have not been indoctrinated into our automatic pundocracy and political catchphrases.

They’re not ignorant.  They’re wired, online, paying attention.  Welcome to generation internet.

They’re connected.  They’ve been raised on social media and they’re using it.

No, you can’t intimidate them because they see the state of the world. They know the client is burning and the economy isn’t working for most people.  They know they can’t trust the President.  They know their future is imperiled, and they’re fighting back.

No, they don’t respect their elected officials.  Their elected officials screwed up.

No, they don’t respect the President.  Because they know the President is a sell-out, probably mentally ill, and he damn we’ll doesn’t show respect to anyone else.

No, they’re not polite because politeness doesn’t stop a bullet from a guy who shouldn’t have a gun.

All those dystopias we raised them on?  Turned out they were for real.  They’re fighting back.

And no, they don’t give a damn about the people mocking them and critiquing them and coming up with conspiracy theories.  Because they’re not talking to them, they know they’re lost.

Start learning from them.  They can teach us what we need to know – and what we forgot.


– Steve

Agile Creativity – Principle #3: Frequent Useable Delivery

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr)

All right now let’s get to what the Third Agile Principle and what it means for creatives, and continue our journey to apply the Agile Manifest to creative work.

I’m sorry, Third Principle of Agile Software. In fact, it’s kinda software-heavy Principle, which means for creatives we’ve got to rethink it a bit. Let’s take a look:

Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.

This is pretty clear: deliver actual stuff often. It’s just it assumes that you’re delivering software and that you deliver within a given timeframe. As a creative, you’re probably not delivering software, and we know all to well some creative works need delivery in compressed timeframes.

Let’s not constrain ourselves and think of the third principle this way:

Deliver useable work frequently, with a preference to the shorter timescale.

Pretty clear? Let’s break it down and see what it means from you. This one is *dense.*

Deliver Useable Work . . .

Whatever you give to a client, customer, etc. should be something usable. It may be rough, it may be incomplete, it may be rather bad. But you deliver something they can use, even if upon using it they think “this needs a lot of improvement.”

So why are you doing this for them – and perhaps to them?

First, usable work gets you feedback. A (somewhat) useable product, like a logo or document, means people can evaluate how you’re doing and give directions – or confirmation. It may mean they can even put your work into use, which means they get feedback to pass on from other people. For creative works, which have so many variables, early feedback is important as it helps you navigate to completion.

(Shades of Principle #2).

Second, focusing on useable work focuses you on making things people want and need. What is the highest priority to do? What makes something “usable” versus just “better?” Asking these questions means you are more likely to focus on what’s important; developing a new logo that looks right is better than slightly tweaking RGB codes to get the perfect blue half the population can’t tell from most other blues.

Third, this focuses you on delivery. You have to figure how tomake whatever you do actually deliverable and accessible – which can be very revealing. Having to make something that people can use means considering everything from file formats to image sizes to spellchecked documents. You have to ask just what to do first and in what order. This is a great way to reign in your creative ideas and focus on something you can actually give solid form.

These three words are a great way to focus on getting the job done – delivering the right thing so you get feedback. It’d be great to get that early, in fact . . .

EXERCISE: Think of one of your latest creative works. What made it “deliverable” – and how much work did that take over doing the actual work?

 . . . Frequently

If you’re going to actually give people a usable result, be it a comic strip or a piece of a costume, you don’t want to wait a long time for feedback. So when you deliver, whatever you deliver, however pathetic (but functional) it is, deliver it frequently.

Frequent delivery of work means the people you’re doing it for give you feedback more often. With more feedback, the next delivery becomes better (and perhaps faster). Frequent delivery means a dialogue, and enhances communications. In fact, frequent delivery can help lower barriers (psychological and institutional) as people get used to communicating and find new ways to do it.

This is very important in creative work as, with so many variables, communications helps direct your efforts.

With this frequent delivery, people also build trust. When a creative provides results to a client, even if incomplete, they’re taking the lid off of their process and giving people a view of how they work. When a client gives honest feedback that helps, the creative can trust them more. In both cases things are much more open and obvious.

This is very important in creative work as, with so many options and directions, and with work often being personal, mistrust or miscommunication can occur too easily.

Behind the scenes, thinking Frequency also means you restructure your work so you can deliver effectively. This can be challenging and even contradictory, say delivering the later chapter of a book earlier as it’s easier to do or more vital. But when you think frequent delivery, you think about how to deliver better.

“Frequently.” That one word in the Principle covers a whole lot.

EXERCISE: Think of someone you worked for where there was a lot of mistrust. How could more frequent deliver or communications have helped lower that mistrust?

 . . . With A Preference For A Shorter Timescale

Well if you’re delivering all this useable work frequently, getting all that feedback, thinking how to make things deliverable, you also want to do it as often as possible. The shorter the better.

This part of the principle accelerates all of the other benefits:

  • The faster you deliver the more feedback you get.
  • The faster you deliver the more you communicate in general.
  • The faster you deliver the more you optimize your work.
  • The faster you deliver the more transparent you are.
  • The faster you deliver the faster you get any mistakes out of the way (on all sides).

If there’s a challenge, it’s deciding just how frequent you really need to deliver. This is something to figure out between yourself, your client, any co-workers, and harsh reality.

This “more often” can get pretty common. After all you could optimize work to deliver daily or every other day. You might work directly with a client for a time or for an hour each day. If it works and delivers value then give it a try. In creative work, the more feedback the better.

By the way, I reccomend the timescale you use be regular if possible. Having an idea of when you meet, or when someone is editing a document, or when you have to send a file increases predictability.

EXERCISE: How fast do you usually deliver work to a client, and why do you work in that timeframe? Have you tried other timeframes – or any?

A Simple Principle With Many Repercussions

Delivering useable work frequently sounds simple – perhaps one of the simplest ofa the Principles, but it like all Principles it has hidden depths. Frequent delivery of useable work does everything from making you consider your work to enhancing communication. Besides, if you get anything wrong on the work or anything else, you get that fast feedback.

Work with people, clients and co-workers, to get that rapid and effective delivery into your creative works. You’ll be glad you did – or if you aren’t glad, you will be iteratively.

So in review:

  • Delivering useable work focuses your efforts on what to deliver and how to deliver.
  • By delivering work as early as possible, you get feedback on the work you’ve done, which improves the results and communications.
  • Delivering work frequently creates feedback, communication, trust, and transparency.
  • Frequent delivery of useable work requires you to develop the best way to deliver, improving how you operate.
  • The shorter the timeframe the better, as it increasea ll the advantages of delivering useable work.
  • Frequent delivery of work provides direction, guidance, communication, and builds trust – areas that creative work needs, but that are also very challenging.



– Steve

Steve’s Update 2/20/2018

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr)

Here’s my latest update – and a lot to discuss!

So what have I done the last week?

  • A Bridge To The Quiet Planet: I got done with the arc I wanted to edit and am actually ahead of the game!  So we’re in great shape.
  • Writing: The blogging is going well, and the Agile Creativity series will see a focus on Principle 3 . . . probably awhile after this post!
  • Personal Agile Guide: I did some additional editing, so more to come . . .
  • Seventh Sanctum: I got some behind-the-scenes work done to optimize the site for browsers.
  • Unpacking: Ok this wasn’t what I promised YOU, but I did get a lot done.

What am I going to do this week:

  • A Bridge To The Quiet Planet: I may start on the final-edit-before-prereaders.  That’s debatable.
  • Writing: Continue my columns, and cover Agile Principle #4.
  • Personal Agile Guide: I plan to format it this week, with a (hopeful) drop this weekend.
  • Miscellaneous: I hope to do some Sanctum work (FINALLY) if I can keep not being interrupted my stuff.


  • Still sorting out the commute.  It’s a real poster.  I could ride the train which takes longer but has wifi.  I can drive which doesn’t take too much longer than my old commute, but puts me at the mercy of traffic.

– Steve

The Work That Reinforces Also Weakens

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr)


My friend Serdar has a fascinating response to my column on the Agile Manifesto for creatives.  Focusing on my calling out overdocumentation, he sums things up amazingly well:

Back when I started working on Flight Of The Vajra, that mammoth space opera epic thing o’ mine, I wasn’t in the habit of assiduously documenting the contents of my stories for reference. If I couldn’t fit the whole thing in my head, my thinking went, it was my fault. Then I discovered Dostoevsky’s work notebooks and decided to stop being silly and start keeping track of everything. And thus was born my use of a wiki as a receptacle for all things related to a given project — characters, plotting, storyline, locations, red herrings, MacGuffins, veeblefetzers*, etc.

The trap with such things, as I quickly found out, is that you can spend so much time planning and documenting the project that it becomes tempting to use that as a substitute for writing it. In which case you’re not dealing in fiction anymore, but something more akin to tabletop RPG modules.

(Emphasis Mine)

I’ve played a lot of RPGs and games.  I love worldbooks and guides.  I enjoy fan wikis.  However, reading Serdar’s comments made me realize that it’s possible to take documentation concepts from one form of media and apply it to another inappropriately.

RPG books, character sheets, wikis, etc. can teach us great documentation skills, as well as different forms of documentation.  However, if one is not careful, one can take the methods and skills from one form of media and try to apply them to another where they don’t do any good and may harm the work.

Case in point, Serdar’s example of overdetailing something so much that you’re not writing, say a book, but a module about the book’s world – which may keep you from writing the damn book.

This is a danger that creatives face, and I think it’s a more modern creation – we have so many documentation methods and tools at our disposal, we may over-use them or use then inappropriately.  We end up wasting time with unneeded documentation and documentation forms that keep us from writing the story or creating the comic or coding the game.

A good creative has to be selective in what they document and how they do it.  By all means get diverse experience, try different methods, indulge your skills – but pick what works. Don’t go overboard with documentation you don’t need.

This is extremely hard for me to admit as a worldbuilding fanatic, but you can overdo documentation or do it wrong.

Let me leave you with a metaphor a co-worker used (which in term he derived from a Scrum training event) – optimal miscommunication.  You don’t have to say everything to say enough, and it’s better to leave things out to help you communicate what’s important.

Or as I put it, better to have 80% of what you need documented and it’s all useful, than have 120% of everything documented and then have to figure out which of the extra 20% you don’t need.

– Steve

Agile Creativity – Principle #2: Embracing Change

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr)

And we’re back to applying the Twelve Principles of Agile Software of the agile Manifesto – originally meant for software – to creative works. Let’s take a look at the second principle, which embraces what usually drives us up a wall. That, for those of you with a long list of wall-driving, is change.

The Second Principle is:

Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.

This is a principle I entirely agree with and am often terrible at implementing. This is because I’m often used to change being for bad reasons – and I’m sure you have similar experiences. It’s often hard to embrace change because it’s dumb.

However this embracing and leveraging of change is core to Agile, and that is what makes Agile so powerful. So let’s see what this principle can tell us about embracing change, even if we currently hate it.

You Embrace Change For the Customer’s Competitive Advantage

In Agile you embrace change for a reason, and that reason is to provide Value of some kind.  “Value” is really the reason for all Agile practices and principles, and using change is no different.

Note that the second principle doesn’t just say “embrace change because it’s change.” It doesn’t say you have to accept every change. You embrace change for specific goals – and as far as I’m concerned if the change doesn’t help the customer, there’s no reason to accept a bit of it.

You have to help sort out if a change helps your customer, brings no benefit, or harms them. Then you, the creative person doing the work, has to work with the customer to help them understand your choice – which might be to tell them *the change is a very bad idea.*

Because you are a creative, as you know your work intimately, you can help a customer decide how to react to a change. The result may not be “yeah, let’s do that.”  The results may be “this is the worst idea ever, let me tell you why.”

I think the change we learn to hate is the change where we cause harm or waste time by following them. We want to help people; there’s nothing more annoying than having that be prevented due to a bad change.  But a good change?  We can help with applying that.

EXERCISE: Think about the last project you did that faced some changes. How did you evaluate if they helped the customer? How did you communicate your findings? How could you have done better?

You Welcome Change Even Late In The Project

Even if we can embrace change, it’s annoying to have to do so when it’s late.  You got a lot of work done and now it’s wrong?  You have to restart some things?  Why?

But these late changes may be valuable, and thus worth doing. As annoying as they are, we should embrace them – but how do we do that?

I think there’s two ways to do it.

First, we have to accept that many of our ideas of “done” are often the enemy. We think something is “almost done” and is thus a solid thing, immutable, unchangeable. When a change comes it offends our sensibilities of “done.”

But, if we think of “done” as a point we navigate towards, tacking here and there, we can embrace change. That late change means it becomes “done better.” By accepting “done” isn’t as solid as we’d like, we can find ways for the actual “final” product to be more what the customer wants.

Second, we should make our creative work easily adaptable to change. This allows us to quickly alter them when new requirements come in. A few examples:

  • For a book, make the plot outline easily editable so you can swap things in and out.
  • For a graphic work, you save the image “historically” so you have many versions, and use multiple layers to edit easily and retain old elements.
  • For a training film you keep it broken up in many scenes for quick editing, only incorporating them at the end. You also never throw away a scene just in case.

So to review:

  • Let go of solid ideas of “done” so you can embrace change.
  • Do your work so it’s change-responsive, and can be adapted easily.

EXERCISE: Take one of your projects and ask yourself what are five ways it could have been more change-responsive?

Embrace Change

The whole point of the Second Agile Principle is that embracing the right change, even late, brings advantages. This requires a mind shift because often we’re trained or experience change as bad – we need to learn to outright embrace it.

I find you can get to this mindset with two things: focus on value, and embrace Agile methods and practices.

When you focus on value, you see change differently; it’s a chance to do better. It keeps your “eyes on the prize” and not on worrying over the latest changes or assuming the worst. It also helps you take a more “navigational” approach to developing works, adjusting to getting to the destination, or perhaps a better destination.

When you focus on Agile methods and practices, they give you tools to embrace change. Using them effectively and whole-heartedly helps you deal with change and get the most out of it – that’s what they’re there for.

There’s a lot of psychology in Agile. As you guessed.

The Second Principle Is Often The Hardest

So there’s the Second Agile Principle – embracing change. It’s perhaps the toughest one to embrace, but also one of the most potentially empowering. When we can alter how we approach change, we can find advantages for our customers, and be ready to shift so they get the best value.

It may just be a bit annoying as we change our mindset.

A quick review:

  • Learn to focus on finding the competitive advantage of changes – if any.
  • Re-think what “done” means so you can take advantage of valuable changes.
  • Make sure your work is “change-enabled” so you can alter course quickly, even when it comes late.
  • Learn to see change differently by focusing on value and using the tools available.

Change may be an opportunity; if we learn to see it and use it.

Now with change out of the way, let’s talk more value . . .

– Steve

Steve’s Update 2/12/2018

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr)

Here’s my latest update!  With my move done and that insane January out of the way, I will get back to regular deliverables.

So what have I done the last week(s)?

  • A Bridge To The Quiet Planet: Editing is going faster than I thought, I’m almost to the big arc I have to tweak.  I think it may be done next week, which means I can get this thing pre-readable in March easy!  Maybe mid-March!
  • Writing: The new series on Agile and creativity is ramping up as you’ve seen – prepare for a lot more to come!
  • Personal Agile Guide: I’ve got the cover done!  So I’ll be dropping this one the end of the Month!

What am I going to do this week:

  • A Bridge To The Quiet Planet: More editing of course.  I will hopefully finish most of that arc this week.
  • Writing: More column work of course!  I plan to do one a week – the next one is almost ready.
  • Personal Agile Guide: I want to start formatting it and get it out end of month.


  • The commute is giving me time to write, though as it’s either way early or after work occasionally what I’m in the “mood” to do varies.
  • Now that I’m back on track with all my writing, I want to try to catch up with my Sanctum plans.  After last month’s chaos, it’s a bit hard to get back on top of everything.  Still, I will get to it!
  • Wondering if I need to do these weekly updates.  I kind of like them as they make me focus, but with a month-long sprint? I wonder.

– Steve

Agile Principle #1: Early And Continuous Delivery Of Value

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr)

So for the next few weeks, once a week, I’m going to be looking at the Twelve Agile Principles of Software, the Principles behind the Manifesto, and what they mean for creative works. Though twelve of them sounds pretty hefty, it’s worth examining each They’re dense, pithy pieces of advice that really help you be Agile – adaptable and productive – and are worth studying.

The first Agile Principle states the goal of having all of these principles:

Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.

Now as a creative you might not be delivering software. So let’s tweak this one a bit:

Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable creative works.

There, that’s your goal. Make your customer happy by giving them stuff they value regularly. It’s a simple sentence, but you can spend a long time taking it apart and learning Agile lessons. In fact, that’s just what I’m going to do – because there’s a lot of lessons in here.

Your Goal Is To Deliver Something Valuable.

Your focus as a creative (or anyone doing something really) is to deliver something that brings value to someone. All other means and methods are just tools to do this. Anything that doesn’t do this or gets in the way should be dropped, minimized, or addressed. Anything that helps meet this goal should be considered.

Remember, whatever you deliver when at all possible should be usable, but that doesn’t mean perfect. It may not be complete, like a first chapter. It may have revisions coming, like a logo. But make it usable.

These kinds of deliverables are important as:

  • They allow the customer to evaluate the work and give you feedback. Remember, even if your work is perfect, the customer may find they made some mistakes and need revisions.
  • This feedback lets you quickly deliver improved work.
  • It keeps up constant customer contact.

EXERCISE: Pick a creative kind of work you do – writing, art, etc. What are different ways you can deliver part of that work that still have value for a customer?

You Do It Continuously

Delivery should be something you do continuously and possibly even regularly on specific schedules. This continuous delivery means that you’re also getting feedback as continuously you deliver work. Or you should be at any rate.

Delivering work continuously can be challenging, especially if you’re used to thinking in complete projects. This means that you’ll need to figure out ways to break down work, deliver features incrementally, and find ways to get something to the customer. How you work now isn’t as important as finding a way to work so the customer gets value.

I find this to be very healthy for creatives (and anyone) as it keeps you from getting into static habits about work. Something that shakes you up and makes you think about how to deliver helps you find new ways to do work.

You Do This For a Customer

Your target audience (even if it’s you) has something they value. You make sure they get it in your work – they’re the reason you’re here.

This means:

  • You should communicate with them so you know what they want – what’s valuable.
  • You should talk to them regularly (with continuous delivery) to navigate towards what they need.

EXERCISE: Take a creative work you create. How can you break it down in ways that still give a customer value? For instance art can have various drafts, a book can come in chapter by chapter, etc.

This is your Highest Priority

No other tool, method, etc. is more important than actually getting the customer results they want and need. Now this may mean you have to help them find results. This might mean helping them understand that legal issues like trademark searches are something they want. But this is your highest priority, and all other methods and work centers around this.

EXERCISE: Write down five things you can do right now to focus on the priotiyt of delivering value in your given creative field?

The First Principle Is Important

Yeah, I know that’s one sentence and it becomes paragraphs. The Manifesto and Principles are pretty precisely written, so they pack a lot in. A lot like good Agile.

So let’s review:

  • You Deliver something valuable.
  • You deliver value continuously
  • This is done for a customer who you communicate with.
  • This delivery is the highest priority.

Got it? Good. We got 11 more principles to go, and there’s a lot to learn.

– Steve

Agile Creatives: The Agile Manifesto

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr)

Hello everyone and welcome to my next blog series.  I’m going to be putting this in a few different places because it applies to so many of you – creativity and productivity.

Most of us are in a creative profession – even if we don’t know it.  The problem is that creative professions require productivity, yet are also the hardest to manage because creativity has many unpredictables.  Being able to be creative, deal with unpredictability, and be organized is a challenge, one rarely met effectively.

I meet this challenge by using Agile methods (Scrum in my case), which you can apply to many efforts, including creative ones.  Agile methods are about adaptability, adjustment, responding to change, and efficiency.  Perfect for something creative, as long as you make the effort to apply them.

I’m not going to talk which Agile methods to use. You can try Scrum, Kanban, or whatever works for you.  Instead, I’m going to talk about the mindset you need to be Agile and creative.  I’ll do this by exploring the Agile Manifesto and what it means for creative works like writing, drawing, and more.  Agile is all about adjustment and adaptability, something creatives are supposed to be good at – but we’re often restrained by everything from bad organization to our own assumptions.

I’m going to start with the Agile Manifesto – which happens to be about software.  This isn’t a problem – this means its perfect.  Software is a creative act, bordering on a mixture of high technology and shamanic vision, resulting in hard product through a near-occult process. The Manifesto is a perfect place to start to develop a creative approach.

Now before we begin, let’s take a mercifully quick look at Agile.

A Mercifully Quick Look At Agile

  1. Agile methods are highly adaptable forms of productivity.
  2. Agile methods avoid large-scale plans – that often go awry – and focus on adaptability, review, and improvement.  I sometimes call this “micro-planning”
  3. Agile methods have existed for decades, and seem to have originated in store stocking and manufacturing.
  4. They became more codified in the 90’s.
  5. The Agile Manifesto and the 12 Agile Principles of 2001 expressed Agile as a Philosophy.
  6. Thanks to the Agile Manifesto, Agile took off as it could be seen as a mindset.
  7. I really, really like the Agile Manifesto and find its a good guide to adaptable productivity.

Now, onward.

The Agile Manifesto In Review

Let’s take a look at the good o’l Agile Manifesto.

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

Working software over comprehensive documentation

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.

Here’s the core of good Agile.  Work with people over a bunch of tools and methods and meetings.  Deliver stuff that works over detailed breakdowns.  Work with people directly as opposed to arcane agreements.  Respond to change instead of following a plan that doesn’t work five minutes after you finish making it.

It’s a lot of common sense, and like common sense it took someone to write it down to make it clear  It’s good advice anywhere, though it’s pitched for software, as are many books and guides on Agile and Agile methods.

So let’s take a look at the manifesto and think about what it means for creative work.

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

You’ve got to create something.  You need to understand what people want.  The people asking you do to this need to understand what they want.  You also need to work with them to communicate, have meetings, reviews, use certain pieces of software (or get people to use them).  Sometimes this conflicts as people use different processes or argue one tool over another.

What do you do?  You focus on working with people directly as possible.  You may have meetings and statuses and use specific software, but that’s not as important as making sure you’re actually working with people directly.

For creative people this is exceptionally important because creative work is a highly individual experience.  A person has a vision they need expressed – and you must understand it.  There are near-infinite options in creative works, from a color scheme to a dialogue choice, and working with a client or an actor or an artist requires dialogue to “get it right”  A creative work can become anything – so talking to the people involved helps it become a right thing.

Because creative efforts involve so many options, you’ll need to focus on interactions with people over formality or a given choice of tool.  Sure a regular meeting schedule is nice, but you may need to make that early-morning change.  You may use one graphics program while someone else use another – so you need to find a universal file format.  These things may matter, but not as much as interacting with people.

Sure you may need to use specific methods and tools.  You’ll figure those out.  But the first thing is talking to people.

As an Agile Creative:

  • Work with people as directly as possible.
  • Interact with them regularly.
  • Processes, plans, methods, are secondary to the goal of interacting with people – and should support interaction.
  • Tools, software, and so on are secondary to the goal of working with people – and should support this collaboration.

EXAMPLE: You’re writing a short story for a specific online magazine – and two people have to give you feedback on it.  You figure the best way to do that is to put it on a public document share (that you do use), and chat with them on a web chat (which you’ve never used but they use).  Everyone has the chat program on their phones so you can get feedback as you work any time.

Working software over comprehensive documentation

Let’s step away from the word “software” and think of “usable results” here.  Creating something usable is your goal because that work – even a rough draft – stands on its own.  That’s a lot more valuable than a detailed description or ten pages of noes explaining what you did.

(Note sometimes your product is documentation.  In this case it’s not needing documentation of documentation.)

Sure you may need documentation, but you want to get to a result because it speaks for itself. A rough draft gets you feedback.  A wearable if safety-pin laden costume can be tried on.  Getting something done matters, even if you know it’s a draft or will need feedback to improve.

What’s less valuable is trying to document all of this.  Sure, you might need to do some documentation, but don’t make it the most important thing.  Do you need a giant list of possible color swatches?  Do you need twenty pages of outlines explaining five pages of story?  Do you need a Powerpoint to explain another Powerpoint?  Do you need all this extraneous stuff?

Probably not.  You need enough to do your job so you can make something.  Produce something that speaks for itself so you can get your hands dirty, learn, and get feedback.  Besides people relate better to something solid.

In fact, with creative works, which often have infinite potential, comprehensive documentation is a trap.  You can never be complete.  You don’t have time to document fifty ways to do a training video when you need one.

There is value in documentation, of course, but ask yourself this – what’s the value?  If you spend an hour writing up a proposal that saves you fifteen minutes, but if you don’t write it you spend thirty minutes experimenting to get it right, did you save time?

As an Agile Creative:

  • Focus on delivering the product.
  • The product is where feedback comes from, so a flawed product is better than comprehensive documentation.
  • Documentation has it’s place, but the product is first.
  • There are many substitutes for documentation that are more efficient and effective, such as direct interaction.

EXAMPLE: You’re designing a logo for someone.  This involves an incredible range of colors, options, trademark issues, and more.  To make it easier you keep multiple versions of the logo and send out a new copy every day to the person that wants it – with their tweaks.

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

You have to work with people to create something – we’ve covered that earlier.  But we also have to come to agreements about how we do things, what we’re doing, and so on.  Sometimes you just want to stop spelling out the minutiae and talk to someone directly.

That’s what you should do.  Collaborate with people, focusing on working together.  Arguing fine details, negotiating tiny elements for hours, gets in the way of working directly with people and getting results.  It’s also far less adversarial.

This may require you to do a lot of psychology.  Or have someone help you with it.  But it’s a better approach than spending all your time in negotiations – which, like comprehensive documentation, can be overdone.

Additionally, you’ll want to work out ways to collaborate.  Meetings, chat programs, feedback, working together.  Make collaboration possible so it can happen – and the more you do it, the less you’ll need to argue fine points that aren’t meaninfgul.

(By the way if someone you work with is all about the contract and not about collaborating, that’s a warning sign.)

As an Agile Creative:

  • Focus on collaboration early on.
  • Develop methods for collaborating.
  • Help the people you do creative work for take a collaborative mindset.
  • Work to eliminate negative and pathological contract negotiations – while focusing on the important parts.

EXAMPLE: You’re doing a cosplay commission with someone who has very specific needs, wants, and deadlines.  You chat with them regularly and give them updates on likely completion times, and ask questions to help them make decisions.  This lets you get to work up front.

Responding to change over following a plan

Every plan you have is wrong the moment you finish it. It may be incomplete.  It will be interrupted.  The only way for a plan to be right is to not spell it out completely.

Now plans are great – I’m a PMP, I’ve been certified in planning.  But reality gets in the way, so you need to focus on being adaptable over following a plan even when it’s gone stale.  This is one reason Agile methods are so helpful, they focus on adaptability, with just enough planning to keep moving.

This may sound weird to warn people about change in creative activities.  We’d like to think they’re wonderful and spontaneous.  This is wrong because creativity, being so hard to pin down, is often crammed into a box of organization and plans to get control of this wild process.

It usually fails.

Ever gotten livid over a requested edit?  Wanted to argue with someone about how they critiqued your art?  Gotten frustrated at a rewrite of a single paragraph?  You know what I’m talking about; because creatives need some control, they often chafe against giving it up.  You need to learn to give up that control and leverage change.

I find there’s a few lessons to help:

First, realize change is a tool – often change happens due to feedback, discoveries, and more.  It’s up to you to use what happens to learn and to adapt and make your work better.  This can be painful, which leads to . .

Secondly, you have to build change into how you do things; make yourself more change-responsive.  Don’t put into ink what can be done in pencil.  Save versions of your work.  Test out what you’re creating earlier than usual.

Third, learn the right level of planning.  This may differ from project to project, increment to increment.  Find what lets you plan but not overplan.  Plan enough get something out but not so much you can’t change.

Fourth, learn how to get feedback.  This helps you change well, change effectively, and perhaps change earliy enough you don’t have to ditch a lot of work and ideas.

As an Agile Creative:

  • Learn to accept change is inevitable.
  • Develop a “Navigating” mindset.
  • Find ways to leverage change to make your work better.
  • Work in way that let you respond quickly to change.
  • Plan the right amount – not so little you’re lost, or so much you can’t shift gears.
  • Develop ways to get feedback.

EXAMPLE: You’re working on an indie game, a challenging market to be sure.  You break down work by major features and priorities, creating vertical slices of “game” that can be quickly played by beta testers.  This lets you get quick feedback while refining code.

The Agile Manifesto For Agile Creatives

So we’ve just been through the Agile Manifesto for creatives.  Let’s sum up.

  • Focus on interacting with people and getting feedback.
  • Deliver things to get that feedback.
  • Take a collaborative approach.
  • Respond to change – and make sure you can respond to change.

There you have it – a pretty good mindset to adapt so you can be productive.  Again you may want to find a method that helps you, but if you keep these ideas in mind it’ll help you find a method AND make it work.

Now, next up there’s also 12 agile principles.  Yeah, I know it’s a lot, but we’ll explore them bit by bit – for creatives.

A Side Notes On Sides

The manifesto notes that it value the things on the left (individuals and interactions, working software, customer collaboration, responding to change) over things on the right (like having a plan).  This doesn’t mean that things on the right are bad, its jut things on the left are more valuable.

there’s a paradox here – we do need tools and processes, documentation and plans.  But they can get in the way of the things on the right.  How do we solve that?

My solution is that things on the right should be used in such a way that they reinforce the things on the left.  Use planning tools and methods that support change.  use tools that support collaboration.  By having these things that can get out of hand become methods of support, you do better and don’t get distracted.

– Steve