In trying to make sense of the world this week I’ve stumbled across a really interesting fable about managing projects. One which is extremly well known in the field of software development but I’ve not seen it in the communications business:
A Pig and a Chicken are walking down the road. The Chicken says, “Hey Pig, I was thinking we should open a restaurant!”. Pig replies, “Hm, maybe, what would we call it?”. The Chicken responds, “How about ‘ham-n-eggs’?”.
The Pig thinks for a moment and says, “No thanks. I’d be committed, but you’d only be involved!”
It comes from the world of SCRUM development where 15 minute meetings are held daily to answer the 3 basic questions:
- What have you done since yesterday?
- What are you planning to do today?
- Any impediments/stumbling blocks?
There are several key roles in this process. The development team, the scrum master & the product owner. All of these roles are ‘chickens’ where as executive management/end stakeholders/investors are – in rather unflattering terms – defined as ‘pigs’.
The development team is responsible for delivering the work at the end of each phase (called a sprint). In agency terms this feels like the workgroup.
The product owner represents the voice of the customer. Kind of feels like the planner to me.
The scrum master facilitates the daily scrum meetings (time boxed at 15 minutes) & acts as a Servant Leader. This description hit me like a train. The main role is to remove obstacles for the team & ensure ‘the wheels are greased’. It’s a watchful protector role. And kind of feels like the remastered account handler to me. A quite brilliant colleague of mine likens this to Danny Ocean & the crew.
If you’re a client then the account handler has a duty to enthuse you in the creative process, deliver the goods on time/budget & ensure that you feel like a real partner in the agency. If you’re with a creative team then you have to turn client speak into a creative brief together with the planner, keeping the team on path/on strategy/on time & removing the obstacles. Even when the odds are against the project you’re accountable for pushing things to their fullest. Often without thanks. But that’s okay. Somehow keeping the team enthusiastic when it’s 7pm, with a deadline tomorrow & the work has just been shot down internally. It’s a balancing act. And in an industry full of empty suits the remastered account handler needs to manage all these softer values & help create the inspirational conditions where magic can happen. It’s about setting a framework for finding failure. Faster.
We’ve been talking a lot lately about a work process that is iterative & organic. And I wondered that in an environment where idea is king whether the SCRUM process had some useful learnings for the communication business? The start up phase needs high energy & some of the building techniques mentioned here.
Sure we need to keep open & fluid & keep that chaotic energy feeding ideas with an ‘AND YES’
approach. In this phase it’s worth remembering the words of a great man who says – ‘be like water my friend’:
But once we have a deluge of ideas in the group it pays well to focus. This stage is all about curation. And we need to be brutally ruthless about saying NO:
Saying NO and having focus helps you do one thing & do it well. Take Evernote for example. Their vision is to replace your brain. Seriously. They want you to remember everything. Take the dollar shave guy we talked about here. He knows exactly what the play is & addresses a simple pain point with a clear (and visionary) offer. Focusing gives you clarity but you have to kill your darlings & fail fast to get to the really good stuff.
So even if you have brilliant idea making sessions. And brilliant team curation it can still be really hard to know what you’re looking for in the chaos. I think Jay Z puts it well in the below film at around the 6minute mark. In all the chaos you’re looking for the truth. Hova & Warren Buffett throw down some knowledge on this here:
With great conditions for ideation & brutality of curation one thing is certain. Great stuff will be born.
It strikes me that an agency scrum or ‘the idea making bubble phase’ can be a lot like the refraction of light through a prism.
There are often many different perspectives & lots of different ways to see the same thing. Take these examples:
Exit music: original.
Exit music: with Romeo & Juliet story
Exit music: Jazz version
None of these are the same. But in an abstract way they kind of are. It’s the prism at play – once the client problem is defined the remastered account handler has a duty to ensure the team are viewing the problem from lots of different perspectives. Challenging the planner to ask those difficult questions. Asking the creative team to consider different ways in on the brief. Creating a little conflict where we fight about the work with ourselves & fight for it together with the client. I think the last example above is particularly good. A great team/process should be like playing jazz together. We all know our instruments & we know the tune that needs to be played. But it’s okay to go off the page. To say ‘we don’t know yet’ when asked about next steps by the client. To shake the kaleidoscope and see what comes out. This is where we get the pure refraction of ideas. It’s improvisational, freeform, experimental & exhilirating.
How we play the tune together should always aim to be different & disruptive.
Orson Welles was a master at this. In all media.
He reframed theatre at 20 with Voodoo Macbeth:
Terrified America on radio at 23 with a production of War of the Worlds:
And landed an unique film deal with total creative control at 24. Inventing modern cinema techniques with Citizen Kane:
That’s truly disruptive storytelling. He figured out that the best way to predict the future was to make it.
Now – the remastered account handler has a responsibility to ensure the conditions for ideation & curation are perfect.
But remember that they are distinct phases.
And they need different tools, techniques & a different type of discipline in each phase to be truly great.
When it happens we all know that the complicated can become awesomely simple. That different perspectives should be brought to the table. That being T shaped & colloborative leads to shared awesomeness with idea making. And that we might – just might – find the truth in amongst the chaos.
Then – and only then – do we stand a chance of making the future.