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Smooth Scrum: Lessons from the Theatre

The last few decades of the American theater have seen a rapid growth in the number of ‘devising ensembles’—playwrights, actors, directors, and designers working together in collaborative groups to develop plays. It's agile development for the American stage.
Instead of beginning with a script—which is really nothing more than a fixed, detailed set of requirements that have to be met in design and development—theater artists are working collaboratively to transform a few rough (user) stories into a fully fleshed-out experience through the theatrical equivalent of sprints… with tremendous, ground-breaking results.
Any number of lessons from the world of devised theater can teach us a great deal about how to make scrum projects more creative, satisfying, successful, and smooth than their traditional waterfall counterparts. If your scrum practice needs a creative boost, this session might be the answer.

Additional Supporting Materials


  1. How can the members of a new scrum development team -- some of whom may never have worked together before -- quickly develop a shared vocabulary and working style to make project planning and collaboration efficient, playful, and effective? And how can the tools, games, and basic principles of improvisation -- which are central to devised theatre -- inform better practices for everything from stand-up meetings to whiteboard sessions to project planning?
  2. When two theatre artists can't agree on the right decision for anything from a scene or a line to a prop or a light queue, they often fall back on the wisdom of Hamlet: "The play's the thing," somebody says, and conflicts tend to disappear. So how can that same wisdom help scrum teams wade through their own disagreements and establish shared priorities?
  3. Adding new experts to a scrum development team late in a game -- typically when resources get unexpectedly allocated to other projects -- raises all sorts of challenges. Devised theatre troupes often bring in additional experts, after a project has been underway for some time, to address specific needs that hadn't been foreseen... but the transition is often seamless. What can the theatre teach us about on-boarding new collaborators?
  4. One of the trickiest aspects of scrum development is capturing details without relying on documentation. Devised theatre troupes frequently work without ANY documentation -- even a script! -- for the entire duration of a project. How on earth do they avoid losing track of any critical information? Here's a hint: a distributed network of brainpower.
  5. Devised theatre is emegent: a plot is "iterated into existence" through the independent actions of distinct actors. As each actor builds a separate character, the interactions between those characters slowly transform into a unified story. How can that model inform agile practices, through which product architecture also emerges through independent development and iteration?



Gwydion Suilebhan, Account Director, Threespot

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