Production Principles

Now that we’ve established a mindset and a culture, what is it we actually practice doing? Well, before we get to common practices, or even a production-oriented twist on a common practice, we need to establish the values and principles which drive the practices. Remember that practices without the mindset don’t actually create an agile organization. In fact, this is where you might see agile management failures. The leap between the mindset and the practices is to understand why there is a practice. And then we measure how well the practice fits the motivation. If the practice does not accomplish the goal — the why that is driving the practice, then the practice should evolve.

This is where we could take the values and principles from the Agile Manifesto, as well as the Lean Principles, and refine them for our Production Principles setting. Note in Johanna Rothman’s book Create Your Successful Agile Project she simplifies and streamlines the principles description (see page 6 of this excerpt). I will do a similar refinement with a bent toward production.

Values

The values from the manifesto, noting the possible refinement for production in italics:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation – in production, working usually means delivering a desired visual result. Value the ability to consistently deliver visual results. If the mechanism is clearly understood, its repeatable.
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation – in production, we have supervisors/artists/TDs as customers for collaboration.
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Pillars of Lean

In our presentation of values, we can also consider the two pillars of lean:

  1. Respect for people – this goes along with the emphasis on individuals and interactions, building trust and the freedom for critical thinking and expression.
  2. Commitment to continuous improvement – we’ve discussed continuous improvement in the growth mindset, but the key here is the commitment to it.

In production, we can group the individuals that interact differently depending on their roles. The interaction marks a natural balance in each group’s goals. The director and the supervisors drive the visual direction of the shot, while the producers manage the cost. The artists and technologists execute the vision for the cost. So deliverable value depends on how we measure the execution of the vision relative to cost.

Principles

Note that in the translation from software development to production, we must come up with who the customer is, since it is mentioned quite often here. In some sense, it is ultimately the director, and the supervisors feed that vision. But there may be many customers in the path toward the director. A production is a very large collaboration, and the path it ultimately takes from team to team to the final result may not be as direct as planned

From the Agile Manifesto principles:

  1. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software In production, deliver visually significant improvements toward the vision early and often.
  2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantageWelcome changing vision. Brilliance in the process of movie making often comes from the collaboration itself.
  3. Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescaleDeliver visual results often. Don’t necessarily wait for the perfect result to present. The practice of showing dailies fits right into this principle.
  4. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the projectProducers, production and production management works together daily with artists/technologists throughout the project. This is pretty common already though what they do may be refined, clarified and itself measured.
  5. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job doneTrust those who are motivated and empower them.
  6. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversationFace-to-face communication is best whether between artists, TDs, programmers, …
  7. Working software is the primary measure of progressVisual improvements measure progress. That’s what makes production exciting.
  8. Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitelyKeep production to a sustainable slow burn rather than a sequence of exploding fire storms. Firefighting triage should be built into the methods.
  9. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agilityRefactoring and architectural thinking can apply to artist workflow to enhance agility.
  10. Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essentialSimplicity increases the effectiveness in support of the vision.
  11. The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teamThe best production practices emerge from the collaboration of a team. Isolated pipeline thinking can hinder this improvement cycle.
  12. At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordinglyIn production, make retrospection regular; it happens, but not often enough, or too late.

From The Five Principles of Lean:

  1. Define Value – besides the what that is of value, actually determining a quantitative measurement for value can be quite a challenge. Doing something for saving artist/TD labor is sometimes a wild estimate. And when value is about the visual quality of the final shot, we must attribute some value to that increased quality.
  2. Map the Value Stream – once the stages of work have been identified, this is a process in qualification and prioritization that gets rid of unnecessary work in each stage toward delivering the value (ie actually making it leaner). In larger production houses, there may be quite a few steps going through several departments to deliver the intended value.
  3. Create Flow – this is a key concept when mixing lean with agile, to consider refinement of iteration-based into flow-based development. Production fits flow better than iteration, as it has some attributes pointed out by Johanna Rothman.
    1. Interrupt-driven and maintenance – Tech Support and show-based immediate support needs grow in larger cross-show, house-wide technologies and workflows
    2. Implementors not co-located – often larger production crosses many time zones.
    3. Team not cross-functional – artist/TD testing of deliverable is in a different team.
  4. Establish Pull – Pulling tasks across a board helps eliminate multi-tasking and too much work-in-progress, big long columns on a board. This is often quite a challenge in production when priorities are difficult to manage and tend to all percolate to the top. Consider changes when collaboration is used to push more tasks into work-in-progress rather than to pull them across and finish them as a team. Because production often has several independent experts, high work-in-progress counts tend to happen.
  5. Pursue Perfection – When we work, we don’t do it “down and dirty”, rather we break up work into smaller ”clean”  steps, each step perfecting as we go.

So with these principles, we drive tangible Production Practices. These practices may be as different as the production houses are unique. But there may be some common threads to start from, as we dig into them in the next post.

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