In my last update, I said that I have - to my surprise - discovered a conference proceeding that's directly related to my project! I did not expect there would be any academic papers relating to digital agencies, but this paper is exactly that. A now defunct Digital Agency in London discusses their experience from trialling Scrum for a small project.
The paper covers exactly the type of scenario that my software project seeks to help with: a very small (possibly single) set of designers and developers working on small projects for small businesses. For this particular trial, there was one developer, one designer and one Information Architect working on the redesign of a relatively small website. So the project in this trial isn't big enough to require a large development team. Interestingly, the developer and designers working on the project were working together in the same team, and more importantly in the same room.
Thinking about my own project, the following points in the paper stuck out:
- The team consisted of designers as well as a developer.
- The team all sat together to make it easy to have regular face-to-face communication.
- In the company's future agile projects, they were not able to have some teams in the same room. Therefore, they encouraged use of instant messaging.
- During the trial, the team were kept in a separate room, and not allowed to be disturbed/side-tracked by issues unrelated to their project.
- In the trial, the designers outnumbered the developer. But surely there would be a point where the designers have ran out of work before the developer does. What can they do then, if they're only allowed to work on that project?
- The creative designer depended on the IA to get their work done, and the developer depended - to a lesser extent - on the creative designer to get their work done. However, in the trial, the two designers worked together.
- At the end of the trial, it was concluded that the IA should have head start before the creative designer and developer start work. But if that is the case, what should they do in the meantime while they wait for the IA.
- Sprints were weekly.
- The creative designer felt pressured to come up with a design within the space of a sprint. They also had to try to split off their design process so that they would only have to produce a design for the features being focused on in the sprint, rather than what they are used to which is creating the design for the entire site all at once.
- There was a project manager who also functioned as a scrum master, who would pop in throughout the day to check on progress and advise.
- Following the trial, they concluded that it was important to make sure sprints included regular user testing and evaluation stages, so that it's not left to the end at a low priority. Milestones were continually evaluated.
- The team made use of User Centred Design.
Conclusions to draw
Firstly, the paper clearly demonstrates that using agile methodologies at a digital agency can work. Both clients and the company's management were happy with the experience and were 'confident that requirements, architectures and designs can successfully emerge throughout the project'.
Other conclusions can be drawn from the paper:
- It is good to track milestones in the project. It would be useful for the software I am developing to have a feature for noting down milestones in a calendar.
- I suspect that, as digital agency designers and developers move onto different projects, they would have to move to different teams and sit with them instead. In the paper, they mention that instant messaging was used to facilitate communication in agile projects. Ideally, an 'agile office space', there would probably be no concept of having your own fixed desk; staff would be expected to move around and work in different locations in order to sit with their current team.
- It is useful to have the designer(s) working in the same team as the developer(s) at the same time. But sometimes, it makes sense for the designers to have a head start. Perhaps that would be done by only having designers participating in the initial sprint.
In this context, an IA is a type of designer that draws wireframe mockups of pages; thinking more about the interactions than the aesthetics. Other workplaces might call them interaction designers. ↩︎