It is no secret that digital channels continue to become an ever-increasing part of everyday life and as a result, brands are trying to figure out how to become more digitally savvy so they can play a larger role in people’s lives. Many of those companies have been looking to Facebook as the poster child they want to emulate and so I’ve seen their marketing started to be filled with phrases like ‘agile’, start-up’ and references to the posters that adorn every Facebook office like ‘Move fast and break things’, ‘Done is better than perfect’ and ‘Fail harder’. I then see them adopting an agile methodology to their projects to act more like a start-up and to be more digitally minded.
I think it is great that companies are trying to become more digital and more agile but I see companies misunderstand ‘Move fast and break stuff’ to mean that making a mess is the same as innovation. They don’t understand that you have to move fast and break the right things for this to work. I usually use this analogy to describe the problem – imagine your new agile project like a house. If you bring in all the different disciplines who we are going to use to build the house and tell them just to start building without any blueprints or any planning then it is going to be a mess. None of the walls will line up, things will get built out-of-order, and the design will be a complete mess of different styles that evolve as a house comes together. You moved fast, you broke stuff and you ended up with a house that won’t stand, no one can live in and cost someone a lot of money for nothing.
Here are the two biggest learnings I’ve had using agile to stop from making a mess and keep creativity and craftsmanship from getting trampled so you can get to real innovation.
100 MONKEYS WITH TYPEWRITERS
I will admit that agile is a sexy word that holds the promise and mental image of fast innovation by a bunch of rebels trying to change the world from their garage but like most aspirational dreams the reality of it is something else entirely. Agile was created to be an alternative to the methodical waterfall process everyone has used to create things with for a long time where each discipline works one after another on a project. Agile was meant to allow for quick work on smaller pieces of the project by having everyone working together at once. But in my experience, the first thing that gets overlooked when companies change over to try to be more agile is that they think that you can just throw everyone in a room and have them starting working. I think that’s like putting 100 monkeys in a room with 100 typewriters and thinking you are going to get Shakespeare at the end of the process.
You have to take a step back to understand that the meaning behind “Move fast and break stuff’ isn’t a call for process hedonism but rather a way to approach your problems where it is CRITICAL for you to have a planning process in the beginning of every agile project so there is a plan that the entire team understands and can work with as they start working to break things.
The other thing that I see when teams switch over to agile is the appreciation for design and what does into bringing great design to life can get trampled. This happens because when the team gets into the sprints they are heads down and working away on the deliverables for that sprint so there just isn’t the time you need to be able to think through the end to end experience. I’ve seen a lot of companies learn this fact that hard way and even heard Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg talk about how agile had gotten them into a lot of trouble when they had had to scrap projects after years of work when they realized that moving fast and delivering a bad user experience was not going to work for a global brand. I have found a lot of success by using a ‘design spike’ or ‘Sprint 0’ at the beginning of every project.
THE DESIGN SPIKE / SPRINT 0
A design spike or sprint 0 allows for the information architects and the designers to map out the project and start designing key parts of the experience. The spike last long enough for the IA and design team to get at least 2 or 3 sprints (project segments) ahead of the development team so they have the time to craft the user experience foundation and create a lot amount of work for the development team so they can jump right in and get to work. This is also extremely helpful because when a company is changing over to agile from waterfall because I constantly see the working teams change over or agile but the leadership still wants waterfall methodology reviews which undermine everything in agile. By doing a design spike or sprint 0 it allows you to come up with a vision you can socialize to leadership so they will calm down and let the teams work in the right way.
I think the ultimate proof that companies need to plan out their projects, value the craftsmanship of what they are building and make sure there is enough time to create a great user experience comes one again from Facebook. I was recently talking with an executive from Facebook who told me that the ‘Make fast and break things’ posters had been changed to just ‘Move fast’ and then changed to ‘Slow down and fix your shit’ (seriously – see photo above). While I might have picked different wording for the final incarnation of the sign I think the message is dead on. No global brand or corporation can keep that start-up agility and always break things as it grows into a more serious brand with user who increasingly high expectations of the experience you are going to deliver to them. I say keep the agile approach, keep the hunger to always create something better but make sure you understand how to use it without compromising the user experience or your team.