On Agility, Fragility and "Watergile"

May 23, 2019 By Richard Smith

This is a guest post from Master of Digital Media Program Director Richard Smith.

Last week I posted something to our Facebook page about the old adage: "when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." Trite though it may be, this kind of sentiment seems to be a useful way of looking at something our alumni are telling us: the tendency to "over agile" things.

Being overly agile should be impossible, in a way. How can you be too nimble, one might ask? The problem comes, critics argue, when a process for managing the early/ideation phases of a project spills over into all aspects of a business. Do we want our accounting department to be agile?

More seriously, there are stageseven in an R&D projectwhere we have to buckle down and build something. Especially in the project model that we have at the CDM, where teams are required to produce a working (or some definition of "working…") prototype at the end. In other words, we have to stop spinning up new ideas and get down to building something.

There are stageseven in an R&D projectwhere we have to buckle down and build something."

The trick here, however, is not to just shelve agile thinking once the ideation is over. That would be "throwing the baby out with the bathwater" (to use another trite expression). There is tons of value in being agile while you make something. Rarely do you get it right the first time, and lots of products are "created" out of the ashes of a failed first attempt.

A more sensible approach is to take the best of agile and meld it with a production mentality, with an eye to timelines. Some people have mocked this as "watergile," suggesting that it is just a half-hearted approach for those too scared to get fully immersed in the agile waters.

That is too glib, however. As we were reminded last week, during a talk by Ryan Nadel (MDM alum and Senior Program Manager at Microsoft), watergile can also be a useful strategy for implementing the best of agile within a set of constraints, whether they be the global, long term strategies of a Fortune 50 company or the pressures of a student project. 

Watergile can also be a useful strategy for implementing the best of agile within a set of constraints" 

I am pleased to see our students learning to BE agile, not just implement the agile tools. Therein lies the real value of a professional.

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