The Creative Process In An Agile Development Environment – 352 Noodles & Doodles Episode 22

Is there a way to shave years off of the trial and error implementing Agile?
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Agile represents a lot of values around organization and workflow, but when we made our shift to agile we wondered how this would affect our designers and our creative process. We’ve found that one of the biggest benefits of the agile process is that our cross-functional teams are far more creative together than the individuals can be on their own.

Transcript below.

Hi, I’m Lincoln Anderson. I’m a designer at 352. 352 is a website development firm, and a couple years ago we decided to make this dramatic shift in our culture towards being more agile. Agile is a kind of a buzzword in our industry. It represents a lot of values and methodologies around how we organize, how we work together and how we build projects. It has a pretty good history in more technical firms — software engineering firms — but as designers, we wondered how is this going to affect us? Is it going to make us better designers, is it appropriate for us? Are we going to encounter certain types of challenges?
And we found: yes, all of the above. It’s been really good for us over the last couple of years, and we’ve picked up a lot of lessons that have helped us become better designers. So I want to share some of those lessons with you today, and hopefully next time you design a project, these will help you.

So the first lesson we learned was that we prefer cross-functional teams over silos. Silos are this concept, that’s pretty common in our industry, where you take all the people with a particular skillset, like all the creative people, and you put all of them on one side of the building and you put the programmers on the other side of the building. And it’s kind of weird if you think about it.

What we’ve discovered is that if you take all those people and you mix them up — you know all the people you know you’ll need for a project. You’re gonna need a couple designers, a couple programmers, maybe a marketing specialist or a QA guy — quality assurance — and you put them on a team and say, “You guys work on this project from beginning to end, whatever you need to do.” It’s a lot better; it’s a lot more fun. You learn from each other and there’s a lot more stuff that doesn’t slip through the cracks.

As a designer it’s a lot more satisfying because you can be designing something, and you can spin your chair around to a programmer and say, “This thing I’m designing — I know it looks cool, but will it work? Is there any technical problem that you see down the line?” And they can help you be a better designer, and they learn about the creative process. It’s just a lot more satisfying and a lot more fun to be on a cross-functional team as opposed to being isolated.

The next lesson that we’ve learned is that we prefer collaboration over these “Big Reveals.” So, there are always times when a designer needs to isolate themselves and polish a design and flesh out the details of it before sharing it with the rest of the team. You need to get your idea down on paper or on the screen so people really understand what you’re thinking.

But the danger with that can be when you are isolating yourself for too long; you’re working on something for hours or days or weeks and you’re not sharing it with anyone else. You don’t have anyone telling you whether you’re on the right track or not, and you end up in this this situation right here where you’re pulling back the curtain and saying, “Check out my masterpiece!” And you missed the mark. Maybe you like it, but no one else really likes it, or some details that the client gave you on the first day have changed since you started working on the project.

So it’s really key that you’re always collaborating. We have standup meetings with our clients every day, and it gives us a chance to give a little update of what we’re working on, ask some questions and make sure that we’re on the right path. That’s really key.

The next lesson that we learned was that we prefer flexibility and future growth over locking down a design. So, if you’re a designer, you’ve experienced designing something and you love it, you get a point where the client loves it. Everyone on the team loves it; this design looks great. And then a couple weeks later, someone comes back and says, “Hey, we need to make a change.” And it’s really frustrating to you, as you can imagine. You thought you were done with this thing and now it’s back to the drawing board, they need to make changes.

So there’s a temptation to lock down the design and say “My design process, after everyone is happy with it, we’re gonna lock it down! I’m gonna lay down the law; you can’t make any changes after this date,” and make a big deal out of it. But the reality is that in life, things change. And you need to be prepared for that.

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