There is an interesting conversation asking “Is Agile the enemy of creativity and innovation” over on the Agile and Lean Software Development group on LinkedIn.

There seems to be an idea out there that Agile, with its discipline and need to release often, leaves no room for creativity. Although I have worked with teams were this was definitely the case, I disagree that the blame for this should be placed on Agile. To me, this is a people problem, or more specifically, it is a culture problem. Each of the teams that were lacking in creativity put releases first and foremost and did not see the benefit of creativity. They had very tight roadmaps and lacked the open space needed for innovation.

I think it is too easy to blame the processes or methodologies in place and to avoid looking at the people, but, when it comes to software, everything starts with people (even the Agile Manifesto starts with people). People will put importance on what they value and what is important to them. If a project manager or developer thinks getting software in front of customers is important, then that is what the team will work towards.

One way to ensure that creativity is part of Agile is to add it. One team I worked with, we created stories for things like aesthetics and styling. This simple step dramatically increased the visual quality of what we released as it gave designers time and space to work. It also provided time for the developers to work with and learn from the CSS experts, making the entire team stronger. Another team would pair a designer and a developer together when working on any story that touched the front-end. The developer would do all the HTML/CSS and the designer would guide the process. This greatly decreased the back and forth with the final design.

However, I am not sure that design is what the person asking the question had in mind. The problem with creativity is that it is messy. It requires time to make mistakes and time to iterate. Design Thinking has a step called divergence in which the entire team brainstorms ideas for a problem. From those ideas, the team then runs experiments to try and converge on the solution. It is what allows companies like IDEO to be as innovative and creative as they are. They take time to be wrong, a lot.

In order to be truly creative, you need the space and time to fail without that failing being a failure. And many development teams are not willing to take that time. They want to development the right solution the first time and then move on. This is not Agile, this is the culture of the company and what they hold as important.

Personally, I think Agile aids in creativity as it holds people, collaboration, and conversation as values instead of contracts, processes, and tools. To be creative you have to start with people and Agile does this. In addition, it builds in a process of getting better in the form of retrospectives. If someone on an Agile team feels the team is not creative, they have the opportunity to talk about it and see if they can bring about a change.

Instead of killing creativity, I think Agile can foster it and help it grow, but only on a team that understands that creativity and innovation must be part of the teams, and companies, culture.