Tag Archives: agile

Questioning Your Way To Solidity

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Fiction is a canvas upon which you can do anything, and that’s why its limiting. When you can do anything, you have so many options you become paralyzed.

My friend Serdar talks about this, by comparing it to how many brands of Toothpaste we have:

“Choice paralysis is, as you can guess, a major issue in creative work. Because you have complete control over what you put into a story, that can manifest as being stranded between too many choices, and you end up in a Toothpaste Meltdown, goggling at the screen and drooling into your keys.”

He goes on to analyze how the choices you make are best shaped by what fits the story you want to write, and asking the right questions. This is something I see (to no one’s surprise) in my work using Agile methods.

Agile methods are obsessed with asking “what is valuable for the customer/end user/etc.” The basic idea is find what’s important, rank things in order of the importance, and start from the top. If you’re not sure, then you have to ask more questions about who your audience is, what they want, etc.

That one word, Value, helps say so much.

In my recent work on my novel, A School of Many Futures, I started a massive edit after getting editoral, prereader, and my own feedback. What helped me was asking what chapters, scenes, etc. did anything for the audience. The result shocked me.

  • Two chapters merged into one, moving the plot along.
  • Several scenes were thus combined, making them richer and snappier.
  • An entire sub-subplot and mini-character arc emerged from the above deeply enriching the overall story.
  • A cat who appears perhaps twice, became a useful way to exposit (hey, people talk to cats).

All because I asked what matters to the audience. What had value, to them.

This doesn’t mean I shirked on worldbuilding – this is me. It just meant that I found a way to tell the story, in the world, that worked better for the reader. I violated none of my obsessively detailed continuity, I merely found which option told the story best.

So next time you’re stuck with the “toothpaste conundrum” in your writing, ask what your audience wants and write it down. Then sort these ideas in order of what is important to them. Start from the top and go through your list.

Even if the audience is just you, you might be surprised at what you really want . . .

Steven Savage

Fly My Chaos Monkeys, Fly!

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

I recently attended a talk by Si Alhir on Agility and Antifragility. I’ve discussed Agile many times, but Antifragility is a concept I deal with less. Antifragility is about being more resilient and adaptive, and can be a trait of a person, group, or organization. Si’s presentation was very relevant to our current lives and led me to some thoughts.

In Si’s concept, a way to become Antifragile is seeking and creating deliberate challenge. By being challenged, a person or institution becomes more resilient. Both you and I have had experiences of pushing ourselves, but within a framework of safety.

Most people I know who are resilient and creative challenge themselves. Being able to push oneself to grow – but not be harmed or overburdened – is a skill. It is also an ill-defined and ill-taught skill to judge by the overstressed people I’ve known.

But there is a helpful metaphor to challenge us (sorry) to see this Antifragility differently.

This idea of “Antifragility via challenge” made me think of the Chaos Monkey of Netflix fame. This software would randomly create problems on their network, allowing them to find flaws and build workarounds. The company had forged a challenge to their complex systems to keep them on their streaming toes.

Giving something a name is effective, so now I can ask the question, “what Chaos Monkeys do I need?” I can also ask you, my reader, the same thing – what challenges would help you?

I invite you to ask if you need a Chaos Monkey or two in your life. Your Disorder Primate may be pushing yourself to write at a different time. Your Mayhem Chimpanzee may be deciding to focus intensely on one subject more than you do. You may find you’ve already unleashed plenty of Havoc Baboons instinctively.

I also invite you to ask if you need any more Bedlam Simians right now. We have a Pandemic that is more of a Chaos Kong than anything else. It may be time to tell your personal Chaos Monkeys to go settle down for a while as they’re not required. The disaster of the moment is keeping us all very busy, thanks.

Every Chaos Monkey has its time.

Steven Savage

The Importance Of Not Doing

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Do you have a schedule and plans? Daily plans? Weekly plans? Do you do them – them decide “well, I’ve got a bit more time” and go farther? Do you then realize . . . maybe you’re overdoing it?

Then do you try to not overdo it and still fail, going beyond your plans to do even more and burning out?

I had a realization about this recently as I was trying to keep up my daily schedule. I use schedules to keep myself focused during the Pandemic, and they’ve helped me “anchor” myself in these strange times. But I noticed on a day I was getting everything done, I asked what more could I do.

Then I caught myself. Why did I want to do more? Why couldn’t I stop?

Then I realized something. Schedules are not just ways to ensure things get done – they’re ways of setting limits so you don’t burn out. Part of the reason you have a schedule is to tell you what not to do or when to stop.

And of course, this ties into two parts of the Agile Manifesto. If you didn’t think I was going to tie this to Agile, you must be new here. Welcome aboard.

Anyway, in the Agile Manifesto, the tenth Agile Principle states “Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.” I always liked this as it was a good reminder to avoid unneeded tasks and technology. But recently I realized this applies to your schedules and plans – there’s a time to stop and not do things.

This also ties into the eighth Agile Principle: “Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.

Good, sustainable work is at a pace you can keep up. This means not just being sustainable, but asking if you need to do something, removing things from your plans or not putting them in. Make a schedule that works for you, and remember that there is a time to not do something. Sure you may do it later, but you don’t have to do it now.

In fact, celebrate the fact you set limits! That should be one of your goals. Being able to not do something effectively is a success – you have time to rest, recuperate, and come up with the next neat thing to do . . .

Steven Savage