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!
How Can People Who Self-Organize Get Stuff Done?
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.
So Why Does This Work?
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?
- People use their hands-on knowledge to design, plan, and organize. Like it or not the person up top of the big old command pyramid doesn’t know what’s going on all the time – the people doing the work do. This is doubly true for creative works, that often require intimate knowledge, gut-checks, feedback, and specific knowledge.
- People find the structure that works for them. The people doing the work don’t necessarily know what’s going to work at the start – but being self-organizing they’ll find out. Plus this exploration yields insights they can use elsewhere.
- People who self-organize communicate. This feedback tells people what’s needed, allows for adaption, and builds relationships to further the work.
- People determine needed artifacts. Agile principles and methods aren’t big on giant piles of documentation, but we do need them. When you self-organize you come up with what’s needed to track work, describe it, and record information. This saves time and increases clarity (also saving time).
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.
Where Does This Help Creative Work?
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.
- What you can do in your creative works is allow for self-organizing and be aware of when you’re over-attached to processes and procedures.
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.
- In your creative works, support adaption by helping people (even if it’s just you and your client) change and adapt what works, with your eye on the eventual goal. That focus on value will help keep you from being distracted.
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.
- For creative works, encourage communication among people – and communicate yourself. It helps to be supportive, finding what works for them, not forcing your goals of “how it should be done,” but helping people find what must be done.
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.
- In your creative efforts, support developing a culture by finding what works and noting things that went right. In times the best lessons burrow into peoples habits.
What About Solo Creatives?
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:
- Find what “teams” there are – you and a client, you and an editor, etc.
- Encourage the teams to self-organize. Be open to feedback, listen, communicate, focus on goals.
- When possible, cross teams over. Share that client who wanted your art with a writer that you know. Share an editor with someone else. Build a larger culture among individuals to support each other.
- Even when it’s just you in the end, listen to yourself and your ideas. You’re a multitude – be your own team.
- Self-organize – don’t get too lost in other people’s ideas and advice, even mine. Learn to rely on your own wisdom.
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
- Avoid overstructuring
- Encourage adaption with feedback.
- Encourage communication
- Encourage development of a larger culture – the self-organizing lessons we keep with us.
Self-organizing teams can produce the best results – even if sometime the team is one person.