What Broadway Musicals Taught Me About Agile Development

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At CAST, our NYC offices are located right down the street from the center of the theatrical world: Broadway. To see every musical playing on The Great White Way would be difficult, but there is a lot to glean from sitting in those cramped seats. You might even get some lessons that you didn’t anticipate - like a few things about Agile development.

Here are some of the unlikely tips I’ve picked up from showbiz that can be incorporated by teams and might just save your Agile program:

Hamilton Musical

Write Like You’re Running Out of Time

In Hamilton, it is repeatedly mentioned that Alexander Hamilton wrote like he was running out of time - he frequently went overboard and did more work than was expected of him. This should serve as a reminder that while no one really wants to work overtime, there are times when it is needed to show that you care about the work you are doing. Even Alexander Hamilton required some help (most notably from John Jay and James Madison), so don’t be afraid to spread the work again.

Know Your End User

If you are building a system for an end user, you must know that person. In the musical Aida, Aida and Mereb overcome miscommunications and troubles in their relationship by knowing each other and being able to anticipate what the other thinks and how they feel. You need to do the same thing throughout the Agile development process - you must anticipate what the end user wants and even how other products will interact with what you are creating.

Have Faith Your Product Will Work Out

In the musical Wicked (the true, untold story of the Wicked Witch of the West), we first greet Elphaba Thropp on her first day of school. She sings a song entitled “The Wizard and I” in belief that one day she will be able to make a positive change and work hand-in-hand with the Wizard of Oz.

In Agile development, you need to have some of that blind faith Elphaba has. Agile teams must remain focused on the end product and have faith that their work will contribute to the greater good of the organization.

Your Team Is the Most Important Thing

One of the prevailing messages of the beloved musical Rent is that “there’s only us, there’s only this,” meaning that the team you have now, the people that surround you, are the people you need to work with and support. The same thing can be said in agile development - you need to know that you can trust and rely on the people on your team. 

This trust will ensure that people aren’t going to spend time rechecking the work of others repeatedly - they just trust that it will be done properly. It also suggests that past mistakes are forgotten and not held against specific team members.

Think for Today, But Keep Tomorrow in Mind

One of the most emotional and touching musicals of the last few years, Come From Away, tells the story of 6,000 people trapped in a small Canadian town after their flights were grounded on 9/11. One song, “I Am Here” highlights how the people stranded could only live for that day. They had to accept where they were.

The same can be said of Agile development - you cannot build for a system that you do not have yet, even if you know what you want. Instead, you have to focus on building for today and today only, while preparing for continuous modernization in the future.

Public Reaction Trumps Internal Struggle

In Waitress, one of the showstopping numbers is titled, “I Didn’t Plan It” and focuses on a character who saw an opportunity and ran with it - and it turns out, she liked the results. Sometimes, that happens with agile development too. There is a tendency to talk and talk and talk about specific code or a product without actually solving any problems.

Sometimes, the best thing to do is release it and see what the end customers think versus holding it back and making changes that might not be necessary. Create a minimally viable product and see how reality matches up against your expectations.

While we don’t think there will be any musicals written about agile development anytime soon, there are lessons to be learned from every show.

Filed in: DevOps
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Britney Schaeffer
Britney Schaeffer Director of Marketing Communications
As Director of Marketing Communications for CAST, Britney leads the company's efforts in evangelizing Software Intelligence and communicating the value it brings to multiple stakeholders. Previously, Britney worked in PR for a variety of leading technology companies, including SAP, IPsoft, Viant and others.
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