Wednesday March 31st, 2021

How Can Agile Help To Be More Creative?

Have you been told to work in an Agile way? Maybe you even want to do it yourself? Now you have a couple of questions? You are not alone. I, for instance, have been asked recently:

How can Agile help reduce my workload to allow more time for creative work?

In Agile working, every minute (!) we are challenged to ask ourselves what really is important to do. In terms of our longer-term goals and: NOW. In the present moment. That’s exactly what we’ll do. Meaning, of course, that we drop everything unimportant.

“Important” can mean many things. Different people have different views and interests on this. But because Agile is very much influenced by the ideas of lean management, the Agile answer is usually:

What is important is what serves to create ( long-term) value.

Value is created primarily when customers pay money for a product or solution. This means that it is the customers or users who decide on value creation. Only THEN other stakeholders are been taken into account. (Even if, unfortunately, it is often practised the other way round.)

If you’ve been hired to produce creative ideas, it’s because that’s exactly what you’re supposed to do to generate value (=bring in money). If you don’t deliver ideas or don’t have the prerequisites that you can deliver, this (business) goal is in danger. And this: Without any need.

So this is absurd. The fact that such situations are a reality in many many many organisations does not change this.

What is important in the sense of Lean or Agile – that is, in the sense of real value creation, i.e. in order to earn money – is that you have a suitable working environment. Free from everything that hinders you. You need creative space.

I really don’t like “Have to”. In this case, however, it is absolutely necessary that you set up appropriate structures in and with your team – that means also with the leader and the management. Otherwise, you will not be able to do your job to your fullest satisfaction. Neither to your own, nor your company’s, nor – most importantly – your customers’ satisfaction!

Giving yourself appropriate structures can mean many things. Virtually all agile working frameworks, for example, consistently do without meetings that are not absolutely necessary (read: meetings that cost unnecessary (!) time).

Costs of Switching and delay are the number 1 obstacle to success.

Switching costs are, for example, the way from one meeting to the next or the time it takes you to think your way back from one topic to the next. Switching is a luxury we will be able to afford less and less. Because other, non-switching competitors are simply faster and more profitable.

When working Agile, we try to minimise costs of change by avoiding disruption where possible and do only important things of what is pending.

You can only succeed here with the help of your managers and your team!

Prioritising projects and tasks require a trustful interaction between both the business and the expert side. In other words, experts like you and your bosses.

Since we rarely or never get to know or practise this kind of cooperation in school or elsewhere, we don’t know how to do it yet. Also, it is a difficult learning process. Which of course also requires the joint (meaning not solely your) realisation that this is actually quite existentially important at the moment. The right, probably even the only way for sustainable (future) success.

Moreover, it takes a lot of perseverance and common will.

In a Nutshell

In the “Agile engine” you’ll find a distinctive lean mindset. The idea is that everything that is unnecessary, everything that hinders or even prevents the creation of value in the processes, should be continuously removed from the system. In your case, that means everything that prevents you from developing creative ideas for the most part of your time.

In order for us to succeed in this, we absolutely need the shared understanding that it is important (in terms of value creation) to prevent waste of this kind.

And also that this cannot be achieved by one person alone (e.g. you personally). But that we can only do it together. In other words, in a team including managers and – radically! – possibly with colleagues from neighbouring departments or – even more radically! – together with customers and/or even suppliers!

And then we have to learn to do exactly that in joint feedback loops, i.e. – little by little – to reduce the needless labour and open up space for creative work.

Agile routines are designed to do just that. To raise points like the one you mentioned and – together with the team, including the manager – to look for possible solutions. (In your case, in Scrum the sprint retrospective would be the place to raise your problem with the team).

Further Reading