The Agile Director: Can Scrum and Agile Methodologies Transform the Way Films and TV Shows Are Made?

Once upon a time, Agile methodologies and Scrum swooped in to save the day in the software development world. In the high-stakes world of film and TV production, innovation is key. Agile methodologies and Scrum, the champions of software development, are now eyeing a new stage to conquer. But could these project management stars truly transform the way films and TV shows are made? How could the principles of Agile and Scrum be applied to the unique challenges of the entertainment industry? Would a new approach lead to more creative and efficient productions, or would they create chaos on set?

In the early 2000s, a group of forward-thinking software developers decided to break free from the shackles of traditional project management methodologies, such as Waterfall (though not the awe-inspiring, cascading waterfalls found in nature). These innovators craved a more flexible and adaptable approach, so they brainstormed and ultimately devised the Agile Manifesto, which served as a groundbreaking blueprint for project management, akin to a blockbuster movie script.

Scrum, a particular Agile methodology, was conceived by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland. This approach emphasizes breaking projects down into smaller, more manageable “sprints” that include regular checkpoints, making it ideal for fast-paced industries.

Within Agile methodologies, various meetings, known as ceremonies or events, help foster communication, collaboration, and progress. Here’s an overview of the most common Agile meetings:

Sprint Planning: This meeting kicks off a sprint, bringing together the team, Product Owner, and Scrum Master to discuss and choose items from the product backlog that they will tackle during the sprint. Additionally, they break down tasks and establish the sprint goal.

Daily Stand-up (or Daily Scrum): This brief, daily meeting (usually 15 minutes) allows team members to share their progress, outline their plans for the day, and discuss any obstacles they’ve encountered. It’s similar to a morning coffee break but with a specific purpose.

Backlog Refinement (or Grooming): Occurring periodically, typically once per sprint, this meeting involves the team and Product Owner reviewing and updating the product backlog by refining user stories and adding new items when necessary. Picture it as a spring cleaning session for your backlog.

Sprint Review (or Demo): Upon completing a sprint, the team showcases their work to the Product Owner and stakeholders, discussing achievements, demonstrating the product increment, and collecting feedback for future enhancements. This event resembles a mini-premiere for your latest project.

Sprint Retrospective: In this post-sprint meeting, the team reflects on the sprint, analyzing what went well, what didn’t, and pinpointing areas for improvement in the next sprint. It’s akin to a group therapy session focused on your team’s performance.

Product Increment Planning (in Scaled Agile Framework): In more extensive Agile implementations, like the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), additional meetings may be necessary, such as the Product Increment (PI) Planning event. This periodic, large-scale planning session enables multiple Agile teams to coordinate their efforts for the upcoming product increment, typically covering several sprints.

How might we adapt Agile and Scrum concepts for the TV or film industry?

Envision yourself as a TV show producer. Rather than meticulously planning every aspect of the season in advance, you employ Agile principles to adapt as the project unfolds. You segment the production into smaller parts, such as episodes or even individual scenes, and continuously reevaluate your priorities. This approach is like maintaining an ever-evolving storyboard.

Scrum can be adapted similarly. The crew is divided into cross-functional teams that function like miniature production companies. These teams work in short sprints, typically lasting two to four weeks, and then review their work, integrate feedback, and plan the next sprint. The process resembles a series of brief film festivals where each team presents their progress.

However, there are challenges for someone in the TV or film industry adapting to Agile and Scrum:

Terminology: Agile and Scrum come with unique jargon (user stories, sprint backlog, etc.), which may initially feel like learning an entirely new film genre. But once you master it, you’ll be speaking Agilese fluently.

Collaboration: Agile stresses frequent communication and collaboration, comparable to hosting a daily talk show where everyone shares updates, challenges, andaccomplishments. This might be a departure from the traditional top-down approach often found in the TV and film industries, but embracing open communication and collaboration can lead to exciting new creative possibilities.

Flexibility: Agile and Scrum necessitate the ability to adapt to changes quickly. For someone accustomed to rigid production schedules, this level of flexibility might feel like doing improv. But as the saying goes, “Yes, and…!”

Some Agile elements may be particularly beneficial in the film and TV industries, such as iterative development, continuous feedback, and adaptability. However, certain aspects might not be as easily integrated:

Fixed Budgets: Agile projects often have flexible scopes, which could make working within fixed budgets challenging. It’s like trying to finance a film with a constantly changing script. Producers and financial teams would need to be prepared for this level of uncertainty.

Regulatory Constraints: The film and TV industries are often subject to strict regulations and compliance requirements. Agile methodologies might struggle to operate within these constraints, like attempting to shoot an action-packed scene in a serene library. Finding ways to balance the Agile approach with industry regulations will be key to successfully implementing Agile principles in film and TV production.