Last night I attended another London Content Strategy meetup session hosted by Jonathan Kahn and Richard Ingram at Google Campus.
The session kicked off with an excellent presentation from freelance agile and Lean user experience architect Sophie Freiermuth (aka @wickedgeekie) and was followed by a series of Gamestorming exercises to address key issues faced by the group when it came to deploying agile at work.
I’ve embedded Sophie’s presentation below and here are my notes…
Sophie Freiermuth: Agile in the workforce
Sophie introduced agile as a process which started ‘in the dev room by developers’. It looks at improving the way we work together, breaking down silos and fostering collaboration. It’s more a philosophy than a strict methodology which is why the application of agile may differ from business to business.
Key to agile is the notion that we need to step away from the traditional ‘Waterfall’ method of production where products are released to the public after long periods of quite insular refinement. Instead, the product is broken down into ‘Minimal Viable Products’ (MVPs) and pushed live in order to get feedback from stakeholders/public sooner in the product lifecycle. Product improvements are therefore ‘iterative’ based on feedback received.
In short, businesses are encouraged to release their products sooner, rather than refining them endlessly according to preconceived notions of what users want.
However, as Sophie highlighted, this does not necessarily mean agile is all about delivering products faster. Quite the contrary, Sophie argued, if a business is going to go agile then they need to allow for productivity slowing down, at least initially. This is a new way of working together, previous structures will break, people will self-organize – it will take time to find ‘velocity’.
Sophie then introduced us to some of the practical tools and methods inspired by agile – such as the use of the Kanban board and even the way project managers physically interact with their teams.
I really loved Sophie’s point that whilst anyone can become expert in their field (acquiring technical knowledge is the easy part), it’s far more difficult to get people to work together effectively. Leading agile teams takes talent, but this also has the potential to cause issues. If project managers are seen to get preferential treatment (i.e. valuing the individual over the team) then the agile process is going to struggle as office politics take over.
That’s why companies should foster a culture of small self-governing teams working independently on specific tasks as part of a collective vision and objective. There may well be ‘ux unicorns’ out there (individuals that can do everything from design, editorial to coding), but the emphasis with agile is very much on team collaboration as the way forward to building better products.
Sophie put it quite bluntly – ‘if you work better alone, stay away from agile’.
After Sophie’s insightful presentation, we then broke out into smaller teams to discuss our own experience of agile and to gamestorm challenges we currently face in our work. In our own team the views on agile were mixed. Although we saw the obvious benefits of agile (better collaboration, emphasis on user-centric content, less office politics) we did stumble around the notion of quality. Several members in our team had experienced agile being used by companies in order to ship products faster in order to move onto other projects sooner. After the product had been released, there was little time to truly ‘iterate’ because of other impending deadlines.
We also discussed how you could iterate editorial. Editors, by the very nature of what they do, are perfectionists – can you really take an agile approach to editorial? Is agile only really relevant to the design element and micro copy? What about actual articles?
It’s an interesting one – how many companies are truly agile? Are they really ‘Wagile’ – incorporating elements of the agile process within their waterfall production schedules.
Another great evening content strategy meetup with lots to ponder…
Do you have any thoughts on the topic above? Please feel free to leave your comments below.