15 beats per sin

A manuscript is like a set of requirements for software development, 

Greger started with a synopsis for each sin and five different characters to be present in each short film and I had to plan the project.

In order to write a waterfall project plan, you have to break down your project in smaller parts in order to estimate effort and time. The synopsis of Sevens Sins is not on a enough detailed for a making a realistic plan.

15 beats per Sin.png

I'm fond of using best practices so I went to Blake Snyder for some good advice. The recommendation in his book, Save the Cat, is to use 15 beats for a story.  

A as start, I created seven different stories, with 15 beats in each of them in a word document as a template for the manuscript. When doing the template, I didn’t use the synopsis as input. That had to wait a little while,

If you are used to Scrum as a method, you could see each story as an epic and each beat as a theme. 

In filmmaking, one of the most critical elements is a scene. A scene is generally thought of as the action in a single location and continuous time - an association of time, place or characters. If there are changes to the location, time or actors, there will be a new scene.

Without scenes, the manuscript is nothing more than a blank piece of paper. The same goes for a software project without requirements.

Comparing to the agile world, each scene is more or less like a user story. An actor does something in a scene. An actor does something in a user story. In both cases the are limited in scope with clear boundaries.

Now was it the time to bring up the synopsis.

"A retail company is struggling with it’s business and the CEO is looking for new ways forward and is ready to jump on any trend and falls for all sevens sins. The main characters are the CEO, CIO, CFO, and expert and the devil in disguise."

I started to write headlines, using the synopsis and the beats as input, for each scene. Then I placed them at the corresponding beat according to the sevens sins to get a sequence that worked with the narrative.

This is the difficult, and but fun and creative part of the process. Normally you work several persons together to throw ideas in between you like in a requirements workshop.

Think like doing process development where each step will be in the direction to the stated outcome. Define location and actors first, then action and/or dialogue. But sometimes the other way around is better, e.g. actor, dialogue/action and last location.

Are we becoming more agile in our methods when defining epics, themes and user stories or is it more or less as package and use-cases in RUP? 

Did we run an agile project?

There are a lot of discussions in project management groups if you should use waterfall or agile methods. In theory, it’s either or, but in reality, it’s a little more blended.

The easiest way is to give a real world example from a project, but as a consultant, I’m not allowed to share detailed client material. 

I will instead use the project Seven Deadly Sins of IT, as an example of waterfall vs. agile approach to project management.

We have been publishing Architecture Corner on Youtube for two years, as a hobby project aside from our normal day-to-day work as consultants. Last November, Greger Wikstrand and I discussed how to make the season 5 even better and how to get a bigger audience than today. We came up with the idea of short stories with a common theme and decided for Sevens Sins. 

Filmmaking is a waterfall style process, but the question was how we could to be more agile in our approach compared to usual ways of working in the business.

The steps are Development (e.g. idea creation), Pre-production, Production, Post-production and Distribution. Each phase very dependent of the previous phase, i.e. a classic waterfall method.

We are doing seven short films, each as a small waterfall, so in theory; there are no dependencies between them. The issue, due to production scheduling, is that we have to shot some scenes at the same location and time, thus introducing a critical path for the whole production.   

Greger and I are the product owners for Architecture Corner, so everything needs to be approved by either, or both of us. As a hobby project, the budget is very low, so we need to be more flexible in time and functionality.  

More than twenty-five persons in different locations are involved in the project, but nobody is allocated full time. This means that we don’t have a dedicated agile team in one place and the situation is more like a traditional AM project where everybody has many different tasks.

So from the start is the project it very waterfall-ish. The question is if it can evolve into a more agile project or not.

Why change way of life?

Did you fulfil your New Years promise to start a healthier life in January?

Change is hard on an individual level and even harder within an organisation. You must have a clear driver of why doing the change, but also why doing it now and not later.

Every movie is about change. Something happens and the lead characters life are changed forever. Without this critical moment, there will be no movie. Think of Spiderman without Peter Parker bitten by a spider. No signification changes to his life and thus no story.  

When proposing a larger change in an organisation, there is always resistance, but also prioritisation due to limited resources. If you can’t motivate why doing a change now, you will have to struggle for a long time until you get your funding.

Take technical debts as a prime example of doing later syndrome.  Why should I start upgrading my old systems to a new version now, instead of waiting until next year? Why should I start training at a gym this month? I could start in the spring instead.

If you want to get funding for your next project, you should explain why start now and not later. The larger project and budget, the more important it is to explain why the timing is so crucial.

When you viewing the next feature movie, watch for the moment that initiates the change in the beginning.


Use of patterns and templates in other industries outside IT

What is the benefit with patterns and templates when working with business requirements?

We could raise our view from the IT sector and instead look on the wide screen. When going to a cinema or viewing on-line, films are grouped by genres to make it simpler for the audience to find what they want. Would you like to see an action movie like Dark Night or a musical as La La Land today?

Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder

Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder

If you want to write a script for a feature film, you will be far better off if you start with a standard plot. Whether you follow Christopher Booker’s The Seven Basic Plot, Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat! or Ronald Tobias 20 Master Plots doesn’t matter.

With business requirements, the same is true. If you use TM Forums work for telcos or HL7 for healtcare, you are using the experiences of other people to speed up your work and avoid common mistakes.

However, using a template doesn’t mean that you don’t need the skill for the craft. Reading Save the Cat! wouldn’t result in an Oscar nomination unless you put down a lot of hard work and talent. 

If you want to write a manuscript, start learning the genres and an basic plots used in them. If you want to write business requirements, learn the frameworks in the industry you are working in.

When writing a manuscript, use the tool you like and could afford, but follow the industry standard structure for a screenplay.

When writing business requirements, use the tool you like and can afford, but follow best practices who to write business processes and business requirements. You will not win an Oscar, but there are other ways to measure success in IT.

1) What is story? http://www.scriptmag.com/features/craft-features/what-is-story-story-types-plot-types-themes-genres
2) TM Forum - http://www.tmforum.org
3) Health Level Seven International - http://www.hl7.org









Write business requirements as a Hollywood manuscript

Writing business requirements is not easy, so how can we improve ways of working with requirements?

Example from Final Draft

Example from Final Draft

One option is to look how they write a manuscript in Hollywood.

A film manuscript is described scene by scene according to a well defined structure,

  • The location where the scene is
  • Description of the scene in detail
  • What the actors do
  • What the actors say

and everybody in the business understand how to read this manuscript.

Based on the manuscript, you plan the production so that you have everything needed when shooting on set, not more, not less.

If you did a poor job during planning, you need to redo your shots or persuade the producer that you make some slight changes to the agreed story so you will be ready on time and within budget.

Business requirements are like scenes in a manuscript. The less detail we have when starting production, the less chance we have to know what we deliver.

The other problem in filmmaking how to avoid a fiasco, e.g. that our dearest film become a turkey instead of a Golden Globe winner and box-office-hit. 

In the manuscript, and when writing a storyboard, you have assure that all pieces fit together for the feature film. Sounds like a large IT project, where somebody should be responsible for the whole, not only the separate parts.