Hello and welcome again to Tami’s Teachery!
Tami’s Too-Long Tangential Teachery.
Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls
When last we met, I regaled you with the definition of the Waterfall method of project planning. In this style of planning, most (if not all) of the requirements and details of a project are determined up-front before being handed off to actual development.
I likened this to the Plotting method of writing, wherein an entire novel (for example) is exhaustively planned before writing begins. The theory is that this will help the writer stay on task, minimize revision time, and work out plot bugs before they happen.
To be fair, they aren’t 100% similar. I would say most of the Waterfall projects I’ve been on have gone WAY beyond a basic outline when it comes to pre-planning projects. It would be more akin to handing a writer a heavy outline, character sheets, world building notes, conflict details for every scene, and …
Okay, nevermind. They’re pretty gosh-darned similar.
The Software Development community banded together and mutinously created Agile frameworks. The focus of Agile, in general, is to fail fast.
Bear with me.
Waterfall assumes that everything will go according to plan.
Agile assumes things are going to go awry.
If you begin with the expectation that failure will happen, you should (in theory) be able to respond to that failure in a nimble and (dare I say it) agile fashion.
Agile says “how fast can I get the absolute bare minimum out there?”
Agile takes a giant project and says “What can and should I be working on right now so that I get maximum failure and learning from it?”
Agile focuses on the next few steps toward the big picture.
Agile does NOT mean having no plan whatsoever. Agile does not mean a lack of deadlines or requirements.
But it does mean that those plans and deadlines aren’t fully fleshed out before the project has even begun. It means constantly producing work and being willing to learn from surprises (both good and bad).
Agile != Pantsing
Interestingly enough, although I feel like Waterfall equates fairly well with very heavy outlined Plotting, I don’t feel that Agile is the same as Pantsing.
Pantsing would be more like never really doing any planning whatsoever, while Agile usually has a pretty solid plan in place for the next two weeks, with a constantly evolving list of work stretching out towards the end of the project. The further away the work is from being worked on, the less refined it is.
Pantsing is more like saying “I’m going to build an app game similar to Connect 4” and just sitting down and working on it whenever you have time.
Like many good novels, you can get a good app that way, but a lot of it depends on how much experience and skill you have with writing apps. In my experience, you won’t find many businesses taking the Pantsing approach to product development.
Two Worlds Collide
So yes. Agile, while not perfect, certainly seems to be treading a line between chaos and militant order. And I think there’s something Tami-the-Writer can learn from Tami-the-Programmer.
Stay tuned next time for more thoughts based on the book “Lean UX” and how it can apply to writing.