agility before Agile

I’ve spent the last 5 years or so, mostly digital project managing all sorts of things, web and mobile. While we managed to adopt some artefacts and ceremonies from Kanban and Scrum neither the organisation nor clients were configured such that we could fully adopt an Agile culture.

Meanwhile Agile has continued to grow in traditionally more conservative organisations. Accelerated in part by the recognition of Product Management disciplines and approach.

There was however some agility before the big bang of the Agile manifesto….

I think back to my time as a Studio Manger (a shocking 20 years ago) having previously been a Software Engineer and Project Manager. A couple of things we got right back in 1998 pertinent to Agile priorities:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

We certainly recognised and valued staff who could work in multi-function teams.¬† We recruited designers with technical aptitude and developers with an interest in the creative and aimed for some overlap in skill-sets. Typically we structured projects with a designer, developer and account manager. Any of whom might be designated project lead based on the nature of the project or it’s stage in the life-cycle. i.e. a very creative project may well be lead by a designer, functionally complex projects lead by a developer and content driven projects typically by an account manager. Whoever lead would have the bulk of contact with the client who would be treated as part of the project team.

At that time,  laptops were rare and hot-desking seemed impractical. Each person having a workstation often significantly customised, big and heavy.

We did however take the opportunity to redesign the studio and it’s furniture to facilitate quick and easy team formation. Instead of benches of workstations and hot desks, we had specially designed furniture arranged in clusters of four. Within a cluster, computer screens were kept to the outer edge to so it could be angled for all the team to see. Workstations consisted of desktop computer and monitor both on top of a customised mobile pedestal set of drawers. Changing teams was simply a matter of unplugging from the network and wheeling the workstation as a single piece to the next cluster.

Two clusters of 4, ready for workstations
Wine and beer for the opening of the new studio

I have yet to work in an environment quite like it since. Of course, laptops and WIFI make the ‘wheelie-workstation’ less necessary. I remain proud of the work we did in that studio, my colleagues and the way we worked.