Behind every brand design or web application, there are teams of people who spend a lot of time collaborating. And when people work together, they tend to develop a unique vocabulary. We consider ourselves an agile design and development team — so what’s that to us? How do our clients experience that?
Mainstream Agile (As You Know It)
The buzz word “Agile” in the mainstream usually refers to a vision of agile related to software development methodologies. It’s built around key practices like:
- Sprint Blocks
- Design or Development Stories (sometimes with story points)
- Weekly check-ins
- Kanban or other organization systems
- Retrospectives to help improve
At Wooster Creative, we’re fans of all these practices. In my experience, I’ve seen that creative agencies that do some (or all) of these practices will succeed. If you work on a project and do none of these things, you’ll fall on your face. But as valuable as these individual practices are, I don’t believe that this list of tasks is really the essence of agile work.
To get to that heart of why agile works, you need to dig into why these habits came to be associated with agile in the first place. If you take a trip down memory lane, it’s fun to read the original Agile manifesto that started it all. It pushes for:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- Responding to change over following a plan
Do you see the core idea in those sentences? That belief is:
To create awesome things, focus on the people using the thing and the goals. Stay flexible and open to collaborate. Launch it (& maybe fail) fast, so you can find success faster.
Stand up meetings and a kanban chart are great, but at the end of the day the users will be the ones enjoying (or not enjoying) your product. So if the goal is a really easy-to-use product that users will love, delivering a working product is more important than the specific tool, processes and documentation you’re using to get there.
If you really want your customers to connect with your brand, a key to success is to work with them. Sometimes creating a brand that truly connects with people means you throw out your assumptions and tear up your original plan—if the plan is getting in the way. Focus on the goals. Connect with people… no matter what. THAT is the point. THAT is the end goal.
Goals and People
Now that we have our goal in mind, and lot of agile practices will help us:
- Having short, frequent, informal meetings to make sure we’re all working in the same direction. (For us, this looks like a Monday client meeting to touch base on weekly goals, and Friday status update emails.)
- Breaking up larger goals into smaller chunks helps get things done. (We break up large projects into smaller iterations, so we can show progress and reassess every 20 to 40 hours.)
- Working in sprints, putting work in priority order, and completing highest priority first
- Knowing what branding or software needs to do is naturally helpful, so we create clear user stories to describe what we’re going to build
If all of your people have goals firmly in mind, you can leave them to execute getting your project organized and delivering it
Many agile practices make sense, but they’re not an end in themselves. At Wooster Creative, we take on large and small projects, from daunting e-commerce and financial applications to much more modest branding projects for small but innovative start-ups. For some customers, we have built the whole thing, from first inspiration to launching the final product. Then iterating for several years. At other times, we work sporadically for clients as needed, helping them turn their vision into reality bit-by-bit. On other projects, we work as partners and advisors, reviewing designs or code and offering our expert advice.
It’s Not One-Size-Fits-All
If there is one thing that’s clear from all our experience, doing projects long and short for customers large and small, it is that one size does not fit all:
- Stand ups are great, but they are also silly if it’s just you and your partner working together day-after-day.
- Incremental progress is great, but can you iterate all the way to launch and make a web architecture that won’t crumble or go into a dangerous state if something fails?
User stories are wonderful, but what if you are still trying to figure out what it is you need to build? Need help clarifying your brand vision? What if our job is to train your staff to use their website? Do you need something more like a lesson plan and less like a development story task? Your long-term vision is just as important as a short-term sprint. So don’t get lost in the minutia of one day’s progress (or lack of progress).
The truth is there’s no perfect fit, one-size-fits-all process for all projects. No set of practices that will guarantee success. If we try to build all projects with an identical recipe, we are setting ourselves up to make a bitter discovery: sooner or later the rules don’t work.
A big evidence of this lately the growing popularity of brand intensives lately. These 1-2 day branding sessions allow our low-budget clients to buy our intense focus for a brief period of time, resulting in a valuable brand identity. Previously, we’d turned away clients that had a budget of $2k for branding. (For logo, submark, packaging, and brand colors, that’s not really much.) Enter brand intensives. Now, thanks to adjusting our set of deliverables and creating a simplified product that is affordable for these infant-stage brands, we’re able to give them something of value. It’s been a win for both of us. Having a polished brand identity helps a business get off the ground and survive the early years in business.
How Is Agile an Attitude?
To work agile we need to actually be agile. This means use the word agile in the same way everyone does. Be flexible. Understand the principles of agile development, but be ready to throw away the rule book change lanes when it’s not working exactly for this client or that software project. Be willing to improvise, adapt and grow for the situation. More than anything, working agile means keeping our eyes on the fundamentals or a project: What experience does the user need? What problems are the most important to really fix? What are the true goals? And how are we going to get there?
Agile is a Principle, Not a Rule
At Wooster Creative, we use a lot of methods from the standard agile processes. We’ve divided work into sprints for years and iterated our way through a numerous software projects. We have weekly stand-ups and retrospective review. And we’ve written more user stories than Agatha Christie. But we also know that iterations, retros and stories are a means to an end. When they make sense, we use them. When they don’t we let them go. Agile isn’t a rule book, it’s a set or principles. At Wooster Creative, our focus is on making awesome brands and products users actually want to use. We help you crystalize your goals and set you up with the people and technology who will get you there.