August 09, 2012, 8:58 AM —
Quick: when I say Agile or Scrum, what's the first thing that comes to mind?
If you said sprints, backlogs or user stories, then you're either a veteran software developer or ... a public radio employee? Wait, wait don't tell me that Carl Kasell, Nina Totenberg and (gasp) Click and Clack attend daily standups?
Well, no. But the folks developing the next Car Talk might. Turns out that Agile isn't just for nerds -- er, tech professionals -- anymore. More and more it's being used for the management of non-software -- nay, non-technical -- projects. Construction, baby planning, and, yes, even new public radio programming development are being managed via Agile and Scrum to do things faster, cheaper and more efficiently.
NPR has recently adopted a new Agile-like method for program development. Traditionally, the development of new NPR programs has involved a lot of upfront time and money to create a show and prepare for launch. New shows were rolled out slowly (over months and years), the costs were high (millions of dollars) and change was slow.
Stop me if this is giving you visions of Niagra Falls dancing in your head.
Given this, not to mention the hit that the recent economic downturn has had on public radio funding, NPR vice president of programming Eric Nuzum has turned to Agile to develop programs more in tune with what their listeners want in a much shorter timeframe and with a much smaller budget.
"The NPR board gave us a mandate to develop more programming anchored in radio -- which is a really expensive prospect, so I started to think of ways we could reduce the expense and time involved in developing new programming," says Nuzum. "It just kind of happened out of desire to go further, faster, or for less money. I was looking for some inspiration and found it one floor up inside our building (where Digital Media sits)."
The Digital Media team at NPR is heavily invested in Agile, and their success with it has inspired other departments. So far, Nuzum and his team have gone through one round of new program development using the Agile approach, which has resulted in new programs such as the TED Radio Hour, Ask Me Another, Cabinet of Wonders and How To Do Everything (a podcast). Nuzum estimates that the Agile approach has resulted in these programs being developed for one third of the usual cost.