Summary: How a large organization like Disney overcame massive hurdles in the production of two popular movies, and how it relates to agile development.
Have you ever poured hours of time into a project, only to discover later something isn’t working, resulting having to start from the beginning? You’re not the only one. In fact, this even happens to experts, such as Disney, more than you’d think. Take the smash hit Disney movie Frozen, and the more recent Zootopia, for example. Developing these two movies didn’t necessarily go as planned, but the outcome was still a major success.
Anna & Elsa Were Not Originally Sisters
According to an interview with the directors of Frozen, originally the main characters in the movie weren’t sisters, and even very late in the development process, Elsa was still a classic Disney villain. But the story just didn’t feel right, as there was no emotional connection between Elsa and Anna. The song writers were having a hard time writing a song for Elsa, as she didn’t seem to have any real motivation. Then, they wrote “Let It Go”. It changed the whole perspective of who Elsa was. After that, everything fell into place, but it did require throwing away a lot of work up to that that point. The same thing happened with Zootopia.
Judy Hopps Was Not the Star of Zootopia
In November 2014, the team behind Disney’s Zootopia had a very bad day. After years of development and production into the movie, they realized a huge aspect of their movie didn’t work. There were two main characters, one primary and one secondary. In order for the film to make sense, the producers realized the characters had to be flipped. For a normal person, changing and scrapping so much hard work would likely be seen as a major defeat. But this is Disney and according to the people there, everyone embraced it.
“We knew it was going to be a lot of work, but immediately hearing the idea no one said like, ‘Oh no! I’ve got to keep this thing.’ It was very much the opposite. It was ‘This is really exciting. This is going to help the movie immeasurably. We just need to execute it, and we’re running out of time to do it.’ But it’s an amazing opportunity to make this movie really special.”
Shared the co-director of Zootopia, Jared Bush, in an article published shortly before the movie premiered.
Agile Development is Like Dating
While not as glamorous as making movies, software development is also a highly creative process. The mind is where all ideas originate, but it’s the heart that truly determines if a feature is great. Like making movies, you have a working draft when you start, but it’s not until the project starts taking form, that you really get a feel for how impactful it will actually be.
This reconciliation between heart and mind between each sprint cycle is kind of like dating. You do all your research up front (searching for them on Facebook), move items from the backlog to the sprint (commit to the first date), and then review the completed work at the next sprint meeting (going on the first date). Then, you get an immediate, often explainable, first reaction. Either it feels right or it doesn’t. This is where it gets tricky.
A Great Team Makes Pivoting Easier
In version 13.5 of Intranet Connections (coming soon!), we are adding scheduled email reminders for document reviews and read confirmations. For one of the new configuration screens, where you set the number of reminders and who gets them, I had provided the developers a mock-up of how the screen should work. However, as I ran through the finished prototype using various user stories, it just wasn’t as intuitive as I thought it would be. It was “good enough”, but I didn’t get the feeling it was quite right, and others felt the same way.
Even though we keep to a two week sprint, the developer had still poured hours of work into the prototype. While the whole point of agile development is to be able to pivot quickly, it’s easier said than done. Developers can feel hurt that the hours they put in may now go to waste. Worse yet, it was my mock-up, and required admitting to the team my initial mock-up wasn’t good after all. But it was necessary to get from good enough to great.
Just Let It Go…
As an organization, “Let It Go” is now one of our mottos. We aim to make software that is not only functional, but impactful on a personal level. We want our users to feel empowered by the tools we provide, so they can unleash their creativity. But sometimes, this does require throwing away work and starting again. It can be a painful (yet humbling) process at times, but having a great team makes it that much easier.