In a current discussion on LinkedIn the question is posed: “Do Agile Methods Create Creativity and Innovation?”.
The answer might sound obvious and at one time I’d have said “Yes, of course” without hesitation. But what the questioner was getting at was how a focus on maximising production on short cycles can leave little or no time to stand back and think outside the box (this was their experience of Scrum – as run in their organisation).
I also thought of explicit creativity exercises and their apparent lack in many Agile approaches (though of course they don’t forbid them).
So let’s resist a quick answer and explore the topic in a little more detail.
Creativity and innovation need time and space to breathe and an environment that is Safe-Fail where
experimentation with uncertain outcome is actively encouraged.
I’ve sometimes seen Agile teams that lack creativity and innovation because they are working so fast and hard that there’s no time to think – it becomes an endless treadmill of production.
This can deliver fantastic efficiency but are we risking doing the wrong thing well?
It’s also true that I’ve more often seen non-Agile teams that lack creativity and innovation because of the same problem, but compounded with firefighting and bureaucracy on top.
So perhaps this isn’t so much about Agile, more about attitudes to experimentation and workloads, though I do agree Agile approaches build learning in as a repeated regular habit (which in turn encourages creativity and innovation).
There’s an interesting academic paper from a few years back that explores this question: Creativity in Agile Systems Development: A Literature Review.
If you think about it though, Agile principles and methods are not really about creativity per-se, they are about removing barriers and waste, speeding up flow of work and using rapid feedback to drive learning and improvement.
For example, there’s nothing inherently creative about Scrum – it isn’t trying to solve that problem. That’s no criticism of Scrum itself, I’d say the same about Kanban. They are not designed as creative processes but as work management approaches that have creative side-effects if time is used well.
If you want more creativity and innovation then you need to make space and time for it – whatever approach you are using to manage work. There are also a bunch of creativity techniques that groups can use to help the ideas come forward.
I wonder how many Agile teams are aware of and regularly use these tools?
So though Agile may have some creativity-giving side effects much of the benefit is actually in removal of bureaucracy and introduction of rapid learning cycles. It can certainly feel like life is creative, so long as you are not on that treadmill at full speed all the time.
It’s easy to say that if an Agile team isn’t creative they “they are not doing agile right”. That might be true but it is helpful? Experienced teams may find that creativity “just happens” but this doesn’t help the inexperienced get there.
The more I study and learn from both Product Design and Service Design approaches, the more I’m aware of creativity techniques that most agile development teams are not aware of (more on these soon).
I think there’s much to learn here and nothing to fear – none of it is in conflict with Agile principles per se.
I’d love to hear what you think.
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