I’ve spent the last two days in a class on managing programs – collections of projects which must all be delivered together to produce any business value – which is extremely apropos to my work life (I currently run a program with 110 subprojects!) but not very interesting to my creative life.
Or is it?
I’ve started getting really excited about project management methodology as it applies to creative projects. There is a lot that doesn’t apply, of course, but there are some ideas that do translate and have the potential to lower risk phenomenally. I’ve already unconsciously applied some of them, but never really managed to put it into words.
Anyway, the instructor for the workshop put me on to a book titled Flexible Product Development, by Preston G. Smith, which is a deconstruction of the Agile software development methodology, specifically XP (Extreme Programming), with an eye to how it can be applied outside of software. I’m not going to bore you with the details (though, if you are a process geek like me, you will probably find it tremendously exciting), but here are two nuggets from the principles outlined in the book:
- Modular vs. integral design. Modular designs (where you can break up the item into separate pieces) are easier to change than integral designs, so allow more flexibility. An example of modular design would be breaking down a car into subsystems – the steering mechanism, the drive train, the radiator, etc. – and figuring out/modifying each piece separately. Or, in Autumn Splendor, the leaves, outer garment, and lining are separate modules. An integral design, on the other hand, might be a bronze sculpture that is cast in a single piece – you get one chance to get it right, and that’s it.
Not everything needs to be modular, but parts that are modular are easier to change your mind about or replace if things go wrong, so if you have part of a project that is likely to change (or get screwed up), making it modular rather than integral will reduce the risk of botching the entire project.
One example of this was doing the leaves on Autumn Splendor. I had the option of making the leaves modular (by doing the leaves separately and applying them later) or integral (by doing something like screen printing or embroidery on the actual work). Because I wasn’t sure what I wanted, I opted to make them modular, thus easy to change around and also cheaper to change if I screwed up.
- “Set design” as opposed to “point design”. This was interesting, though it took me awhile to understand it. Set design means looking at a set of options and gradually reducing the array of options, rather than zooming in on a single design early in the process (point design). For example, on Phoenix Rising, I’m testing various solutions which I know will involve some kind of handwoven fabric, but rather than specifying the fabric immediately (“it will be 120/2 silk sett at 72 epi”) and then trying to work with that, I’m looking at the general characteristics of the fabric I want, and gradually narrowing it down based on what that fabric needs to be like. By keeping my mind open, I open up to more possibilities, rather than boxing myself in.
I’m still figuring out how to add this to the book – I think it’s going to need some digestion and translation one level up to package it for a less technical audience. There’s too much jargon in my explanation above, which I think readers will likely find offputting.
That, alas, is the sum total of creative applications from the last two days, which were grueling – up and out the door at 7 am to make it to class on time, nine hours of class time, followed by another hour’s drive home. The last two days I’ve basically had time to go to class, eat dinner, and fall into bed. Tomorrow (Sunday) I’d like to catch up on my creative life, but I’m under the gun for some stuff at work, plus I need to get laundry etc. done, so unlikely much will happen. I’ll probably sneak out an hour or two to weave, though.