Monday, July 25, 2005

Agile Development - Learning from Tommy Hilfiger

I've allways seen software development as more of a creative process than a science. A couple of recent experiences has convince me even more of this.

The first incident occurred when I was explaining story writing to a BA. "Oh" she said, "a story board." "It sounds just like the story board we'd put together when working on a new fashion collection." Prior to being a BA she worked for several years in fashion. Apparently, in a fashion boutique someone would come up with a concept for a new range or collection on a story board. A team would then populate the board with ideas: drawings and snippets of fabric building and expanding on the basic theme.

More I thought about her analogy, the more I liked it. After all, in the beginning, the concept for a new piece of software is no less creative than a fashion concept. Stories are nothing more than incomplete snippets that help flesh out the basic vision. Some stories will be accepted, depending on their percieved value, much like ideas in fashion.

The second incident occured whilst watching television. The programm was called "Rich Girls", and followed the life of Tommy Hilfigers' daughter. Tommys' team had come up with a story board for a collection aimed at teenagers. As a way of proving their ideas, Tommy asked his teenaged daughter and one of her friends to come into the office and go through the story board.

His daughter took her "work" seriously, and went to efforts to explain to her friend that "she needed to be honest." If she didn't like something she should say so. "Don't be diplomatic". The scene was an interesting one. The story board taking pride of place in the centre of a large room. Fashion designers huddled in a door way peering in. Tommy leading his daughter and her friend through ideas on the board. Tommys' focus was soley on his daughter and her friend, after all they where the potential customers. The fashion designers were tense, and uncomfortable, as they listened to a severe critique, handed out by two teenagers.

Tommys management technique was interesting. There was only two experts in that room that day, the teenagers. Watching them say, "I wouldn't wear that, or I wouldn't be seen in stripes like those", with everyone listening was amazing. A real lesson in direct customer feedback.

I recently read a post by Rachel Davies where she refers to the lies and half truths that characterise the relationship between development and the business in most organisations.

Tommy Hilfigers management technique seemed miles apart from what I'm use to and what Rachel describes in her blog.

Managing a creative process is different to managing a defined science. Perhaps IT managers could learn a lot from the creative professions. Acknowledging that software development is essentially creative, would be a good first step.

No comments: