Agile workflow

History Lesson

I was doing some reading for a seminary class, and came across an amusing story about the British army. They were looking to improve upon their cannon firing efficiency in battle, and were in a transitional period from the old paradigms of war to more streamlined methods. So, they hired a consultant of sorts, to get them up to speed. Here is a quote describing the funny situation, taken from page 124 of the book Social Change, by Robert Nisbet…

A moment before firing, two members of the gun crew ceased all activity and came to attention for a three-second interval extending throughout the discharge of the gun. He summoned up an old colonel of artillery, showed him the pictures, and pointed out the strange behavior… "Ah," he said when the performance was over, "I have it. They are holding the horses."

Even though the artillery cannons in question were being transported by army convoy trucks, the troops were still being trained to take a time-out. This was reserved for controlling the horses, who would have been scared by the loud noise of the shells being fired. The old paradigm had since been done away with, yet the workflow process still adhered to a now meaningless structure.

Modern Application

This got me to thinking, how might we today learn from the mistakes of the past? Today, we see agile web development shops breaking with convention, challenging the old paradigm by doing more with smaller teams. This agile mentality needn't be exclusive to tiny groups though. It is something we try to employ at my workplace, on our Design Services team, of a large company.

I could outline all of that here, but will instead refer you to an article written by one of my co-workers, well before I had even joined the team. It's entitled Web Applications: a Team Effort, and outlines an ideally streamlined workflow and environment, in which each team member brings something to the table.

Another good example is 37signals, who practially own the patent on agile web development. I was a big fan of their first book. They have a new PDF book on web applications out now, entitled Getting Real. Our office got a site license, and printouts are currently making their way around the building. While I have not read it yet, I am waiting eagerly to get my hands on it.

Speaking of PDF's, here is an oldie but goodie. Awhile back, Jeffrey Veen decided to give away his book The Art and Science of Web Design for free, to celebrate the five years it had been in print. He covers the transition from print paradigms to thinking in web terms. Thought dated, it is a very good read and I would encourage you to go download it. You can't beat the price.

If you missed attending SXSW, be sure to grab the free slides from the panel on Dogma Free Design. These were made available by Luke Wroblewski, who currently works for Yahoo on their search functionality. Instead of challenging old paradigms, they emphasized not getting caught up in jargon and hype.

Before I wrap this up, in case you missed it last December, you might also want to check out the free Omnigraffle and Microsoft Visio templates and stencils provided by Garrett Dimon. In our office, we use Garrett's templates for making workflow diagrams in Visio. It has helped streamline our process, and will probably prove useful to you too. If anyone knows of other good resources out there, free or otherwise, please leave a link in the comments.