Agile methodologies originated in the software space, but Bookigee CEO Kristen McLean (@ABCKristen) believes many of the same techniques can also be applied to content development and publishing workflows. She explains why in the following interview.
McLean will further explore this topic during her agile methodologies presentation at the upcoming Tools of Change for Publishing conference in New York.
What is an agile methodology?
Kristen McLean: An agile methodology is a series of strategies for managing projects and processes that emphasize quick creative cycles, flat self-organizing working groups, the breaking down of complex tasks into smaller achievable goals, and the presumption that you don’t always know what the finished product will be when you begin the process.
These types of methodologies work particularly well in any situation where you are trying to produce a creative product to meet a market that is evolving — like a new piece of software when the core concept needs proof from the user to evolve — or where there needs to be a very direct and engaged relationship between the producers and users of a particular product or service.
Agile methodologies emerged out of the software development community in the 1970s, but began to really codify in the 1990s with the rise of several types of “lightweight” methods such as SCRUM, Extreme Programming, and Adaptive Software Development. These were all rolled up under the umbrella of agile in 2001, when a group of developers came together to create the Manifesto for Agile Software Development, which set the core principles for this type of working philosophy.
Since then, agile has been applied outside of software development to many different kinds of systems management. Most promote development, teamwork, collaboration, and process adaptability throughout the life-cycle of the project. At the end of the day, it’s about getting something out there that we can test and learn from.
How do agile methodologies apply to publishing?
Kristen McLean: In relation to publishing, we’re really talking about two things: agile content development and agile workflow.
Agile content development is the idea that we may be able to apply these methodologies to creating content in a very different way than we are traditionally used to. This could mean anything from serialized book content to frequent releases of digital content, like book-related websites, apps, games and more. The discussion of how agile might be applied to traditional book content is just beginning, and I think there’s an open-ended question about how it might intersect with the deeply personal — and not always quick — process of writing a book.
I don’t believe some of our greatest works could have been written in an agile framework (think Hemingway, Roth, or Franzen), but I also believe agile might lend itself to certain kinds of book content, like serial fiction (romance, YA, mystery) and some kinds of non-fiction. The real question has to do with what exactly a “book” is and understanding the leading edge between knowing your audience and crowdsourcing your material.
Publishing houses have been inherently hierarchical because they’ve been organized around a manufacturing process wherein a book’s creation has been treated as though it’s on an assembly line. The publisher and editor have typically been the arbiters of content, and as a whole, publishers have not really cultivated a direct relationship with end users. Publishers make. Users buy/read/share, etc.
Publishers need to adapt to a radically different way of working. For example, here’s a few ways agile strategies could help with the adaptation of a publishing workflow:
- Create flat, flexible teams of four to five super-talented individuals with a collective skill set — including editorial, marketing, publicity, production, digital/design, and business — all working together from the moment of acquisition (or maybe before). These teams would need to be completely fluent in XHTML and would work under the supervision of a managing publisher whose job would be to create the proper environment and remove impediments so the team could do its job.
- An original creative voice and unique point of view will always be important in great writing, but those of us who produce books as trade objects (and package the content in them) have to stop assuming we know what the market wants and start talking to the market as frequently as possible.
- Use forward-facing data and feedback to project future sales. Stop using past sales as the exclusive way to project future sales. The market is moving too fast for that, and we all know there is a diminishing return for the same old, same old.
This interview was edited and condensed.
Associated photo on home and category pages adapted from: Agile-Software-Development-Poster-En.pdf by Dbenson and VersionOne, Inc., on Wikimedia Commons