Interview with NPR’s Brian Boyer

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On converting skeptics

“I think it’s pretty easy to convince people that having a very tightly collaborative process is really, really important. That the project team is working very closely with the reporter and the editor kind of throughout their building of the thing. Our time frames are so compressed. I mean most of the work we do happens in less than three weeks. There’s not a lot of room for screwing up. So when they talk about things like “failing fast,” right – pardon my jargon – you’ve gotta fail extra fucking fast so you can figure out what the right thing is.”

On why people think agile doesn’t work

“The haters don’t like agile because they think it sounds like you’re working without a plan and it sounds like you’re working without a process and both of those things are not true. We write up a pretty good plan before we start a project but we have a very strong idea about what we think we’re going to do. We have a very strong sense of purpose for what we want to build but what we’re not doing is we’re not fooling ourselves pretending that we know exactly what we want developed because the process of building is a process in which you learn.”

On how often stakeholders should be involved

“That’s not a sufficient amount of contact throughout the iteration. Ideally, you’re sitting down with these folks when you are prioritizing the work you are going to do, you’re doing it with them. You’re asking them to prioritize the work as opposed to prioritizing yourself. You’re sitting down and sketching with them, you figure out some of the designs with them. They are part of the process, not merely a client.”

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On how you spread an idea like agile throughout a newsroom

“Part of our process is about being really transparent about how we do things, and how we make decisions. As we work with people throughout the newsroom in the last couple of years, the more we can infect their brains with ideas like “Let’s test an idea. Let’s have short frequent meetings that are really well-planned and effective” as opposed to long frequent meetings that are unplanned and ineffective. There’s sort of lots of little battles that we are slowly fighting around the newsroom to kind of bring this place up to speed.”

On agile not coming easily

“A good agile-type process can be very difficult to run. I mean, communicating that much is hard, pair programming all day is hard, writing really good tests for your code is hard, tracking every single detail of a piece of software in the task tracking software takes a lot of work. It’s a system of controls because the one thing you know that you don’t control is change. But you gotta get the controls right, and you need to get them right without feeling onerous. Process should feel easy, it should feel lightweight, it should just feel like the way you work everyday and you should be happy with it.”

Get involved

We’re doing a study called agile in newsroom, which includes interviewing people like Brian Boyer, who know about it. If you have knowledge to share about agile development, or about making it happen in newsrooms, we want to talk to you. Contact us here.

Follow @brianboyer

Photos used and altered with permission under Creative Commons licensing from Ramiro Chanes

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