(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr)
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 Promote Sustainable Development.
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.
- Creatives are often in areas and industries that promote death marches and rushes.
- Even if we’re not in #1 we often do it to ourselves.
- The unpredictability of creative work may lead us to pace ourselves erratically anyway – and accept it as normal.
- Because of these issues we don’t try to find a way to work better.
- All this stress outright kills creativity – and the goodwill that’s needed for it. It’s a testimony to many creatives that they’ve sustained in the face of so many things.
Because it is so important this means . . .
We Need to Consciously Work On Sustainability
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 And Sustainability
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?
- Sponsors need to understand what pace Developers can work at and support it – perhaps even push back on those pressuring them.
- Sponsors need to work with Developers and be available so they can both assist developers, but also stay aware of their pace and sustainability.
- Sponsors need to listen to Developers; the developers know what they’re doing. In creative work, this is exceptionally important because of the little intricacies and intimacies.
- Sponsors need to understand User expectations – not just what is wanted, but what can be handled. it might sound great to shovel out a ton of stuff (such as game patches), but this may limit feedback and communication. Users can only handle so much.
- Sponsors should listen to Users and get feedback, finding ways to encourage sustainable development. This may also mean understanding User perspectives – and what they want and you want may differ.
- Sometimes the Sponsor is the User – and you’ll need to figure out how you feel in both roles.
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?
- Sponsors often come to Developers far too late in creative processes – I’ve seen it a number of times. Sponsors should engage Developers in creative works as early as possible and learn their pace.
- Sponsors overload Developers. This often fails, leads to bad blood, and the “there’s more where that came from” attitude I see a bit too often in creative fields makes enemies.
- Sponsors don’t pay attention to Users or assume on what they want. They often get it wrong.
- Sponsors assume they know how the creative process works. Often they’re wrong because even if they are a creative, each creative is different.
With sponsors covered, let’s get to Developers – which, my guess, covers a lot of my readers.
Developers And Sustainability
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.
- Give Sponsors feedback and information to help them pace themselves and pace working with you. The more pre-emptively you give them an idea of what’s sustainable, the quicker they’ll get it.
- Help Sponsors reach a sustainable pace – they don’t do the work, they may not know what it is. You might save them from burnout and being overly pressured – or help them find they can do more.
- Help Sponsors understand your work and what you’re doing so they can work with you sustainably.
- If needed, bridge the gap between them and the user on what’s sustainable.
- You’re also probably the one most focused on using Agile methods, so help them understand them – including the Eight Principle.
- Understand Users have a limit to what they can process and work with that. Their pace may be slower than yours, so you need to slow down, or faster, and you need to find a reasonable delivery. That may need to be communicated to Sponsors – and in creative work the pace may vary a lot.
- Users may not understand their own limits; be aware of the.
- Remember to work feedback from the Users of your creative work into your plans and pacing. Feedback can consume a lot of time.
- Learn to understand how the users think and communicate. Help bridge gaps with the Sponsors.
- Users might not get the creative efforts you put in – find ways to subtly make them aware (it helps set expectations)
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.
- Sustainability also incorporates probable interruptions – vacation, illness, training, etc.
- Yes, there will always be rushes. Minimize them, adapt, work them into expectations.
- Don’t assume because you know how the creative process works that you’re superior – don’t get arrogant. That can lead to over-confidence and/or poor communication with Sponsors and Users.
- Also remember how unpredictable creative work can be – communicate that but also work to minimize it.
Users and Sustainability
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 find Users are often very abstract from Sponsors, from idolizing them to being suspicious of them, to ignoring them. Instead, be aware of them and who they are – and their motivations.
- Understand sponsors have their own limits. Learn to be a responsible User in your demands and interests.
- Find ways to engage Sponsors realistically – if they actually engage you, be grateful (I find a lot of Sponsors aren’t to great at this).
- Be aware that the pipeline between Sponsors, Developers, and you has a lot of bumps.
- Respect the Developers time and understand that they are often not only the limitation on delivery, they’e also the ones doing a lot of work.
- Engage constructively with Developers. In fact, the more you engage with them, the better you understand sustainability, and the more you can help them with feedback.
- if you’re really engaged with Developers, learn how they work on their creative projects. It’ll help you appreciate them – and you may learn some things.
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.
Moving On- Sustainably
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:
- Good Agile involves sustainability.
- This sustainability requires all sides to be involved and committed.
- Each of those involved in an Agile project – creative or otherwise – has a role to play.
- Sustainability is more challenging in creative projects due to a variety of factors.