Scrum in Entertainment
My experience as a ScrumMaster producing commercials
31 July 2015
Many relate Agile or Scrum to IT and software development. When I became a ScrumMaster, I was on the application engineering side of IT, and logically it was a great fit. However, I work for a company that offers its software and services to Hollywood and the entertainment industry as a whole. Recently I was approached to oversee the company's commercial shoots. As a working ScrumMaster, I immediately thought, "Can I use my training and skill set and apply it to the entertainment industry?"
I have produced a few independent films and even sold a screenplay, so I am very familiar with the development, production, and distribution of creative content. All productions are broken up into four sections. The first section, not actually being a part of the production process, was to create an idea and write a script. This part of the process was already done for us by another staff member. I was left with managing the last three steps or sections, which are preproduction, production (aka filming), and postproduction.
Each of these sections will become what are called "sprints" in my newly created JIRA® board. Preproduction is the process of assembling everything needed to produce the product. Generally, everyone involved in the production is brought on at different stages, as this is how cost is managed on a production. This industry practice wouldn't fit our Agile process and maximize visibility. To fit the framework, my head producer, which translates into our product owner, agreed to have the whole crew, including the actors, at our sprint planning meeting. By the way, the film crew is our Scrum team.
On this small one-off shoot, we did not technically have a product backlog, so our sprint planning meeting was harder and longer than usual. The major roadblock was the lack of knowledge of the Agile process. I had to give impromptu lessons or definitions to actors, cinematographers, sound professionals, etc., and this was harder than I had anticipated.
All of our user stories were based on departments. We did this so that it would be logical for the crew, as productions employ what is a "call sheet," with daily tasks, agendas, etc. This made the transition easier and kept the crew sane, which is always a good thing when you are dealing with artists. I used the MoSCoW (must have, should have, could have, won't have but would like in the future) method, which was excellent for us because of our fixed deadline. This was critical for the camera department because the director had a list of shots and angles he wanted, and a number of those were must-haves, and the rest went into the should-haves and could-haves categories.
The finished commercial was our release, and the release consisted of the three sprints. We assigned story points accordingly and started our first sprint. During this first sprint, which lasted three weeks, the stories and subtasks varied widely based on department. For example, the actors' only user story was to memorize their lines, while the wardrobe and grip departments each had several tasks. Daily stand-ups were mainly done in the office, although a few team members used teleconferencing.
We had one day to shoot two commercials. While small, the commercials required a lot to do, as we had more than seven pages to finish in ten hours. You may not know this, but nothing ever goes 100 percent right on any video shoot. Lights don't work, fuses blow, actors forget lines, and so on. Our shoot was no exception, and those things I mentioned and more happened.
We set up a digital board on a 50-inch TV that we hooked up to a laptop. This gave everyone visibility into our one-day sprint. All of this was new territory for the crew, but what we did on this sprint was totally new for me, too. In this second sprint, we used hours instead of story points. I've never mixed story points and hours in a release, but this sprint was only ten hours long, and time is money on filming day, so it just made sense. The Scrum team "crew" understood hours; the whole industry runs on hours.
Industry unions dictate that a break has to be taken after so many hours. This wasn't a union shoot, but we still followed the rules. After each break, we would do a full stand-up meeting, which lasted around 15 minutes. In between off-loading of the camera and sound equipment data files, I would have what we call "blazers." Blazers are simply one-crew departments that conduct two-minute stand-ups so that I could keep the board up to date and track burn-down.
Every department was on time, except for camera, and some above-the-line talent, like actors and the director. We did accomplish the must-haves and should-haves, but we did not accomplish the could-have shots. This is actually excellent for a production, to get everything needed in the short time we had, with a process the crew had never used before. We officially yelled, "It’s a wrap!" on time and still on budget.
Post is where most of the magic actually happens for most productions. This is where the special effects happen, color correction, sound, music, etc. Similar to sprint one, each department was set up with a user story and subtasks within a three-week sprint. This sprint had the benefit of having a month to prepare for the footage, editing process, selecting the ending jingle, etc.
During my training to become a ScrumMaster, my excellent teacher told the class that the process can be and is used in other industries outside of software development. I was able to do this firsthand in the entertainment industry. With the success of this project, I plan to try it on a larger scale with a short film in October.
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