3 Reasons Saturday Night Live Is the Perfect Example of Agility | TechWell

3 Reasons Saturday Night Live Is the Perfect Example of Agility

Cameraperson pointing a video camera at a stage

Unless you’ve been living in a van down by the river your whole life, you’re probably familiar with characters like Wayne and Garth or Debbie Downer, and you may have heard the cries for “More cowbell!”

Saturday Night Live has consistently delivered iconic, award-winning content and thrilled its audience for more than four decades. But did you realize that the practices used to deliver this sketch comedy television show week after week have quite a bit in common with practices used by agile businesses?

The working definition of agility that we use at my company is:

Self-organizing teams delivering value continuously and frequently, learning from that delivery, and adjusting accordingly. Indefinitely.

Lorne Michaels didn’t intend to build one of the best examples of business agility that has ever existed when he created the show in 1975, but the SNL process for delivering batches of comedy each week aligns perfectly with this definition for three key reasons.

1. The entire SNL crew is a self-organizing team

An agile team is composed of a product owner, development team, and ScrumMaster. The idea is that the team functions most powerfully with autonomy, and the team should have the authority and decision-making power to get from concept to delivery.

In SNL’s case, Michaels is the product owner. He maintains the show’s vision and spends his time in the studio providing minute-by-minute feedback to the cast, deflecting unnecessary input from network executives, and protecting the integrity of the product.

The SNL writers and cast make up the development team. They collectively implement the vision as laid out by Michaels and deliver a product that more than delights its audience.

The stage managers or directors are the ScrumMasters—the ones who make sure the full team has what they need when they need it, so the show can be delivered without preventable obstacles.

2. SNL delivers value continuously and frequently

Agile practitioners value delivering features often in predetermined periods of time, commonly referred to as “iterations.” 

The conclusion of the show on Saturday night marks the end of an iteration for SNL, and each week the team starts from scratch, pitching approximately 100 sketch concepts on Monday and narrowing it down throughout the week until eventually the lineup is ready just in time to go live on Saturday.

3. The SNL team learns from each delivery and adjusts 

Frequent feature delivery is the best way to get feedback fast and adjust, all for the sake of delivering the best possible value to customers.

Each week, the SNL team develops new content that draws from input and audience reactions and incorporates timely elements to keep things relevant. 

SNL is a product. It has features (sketches). It has benefits (entertainment). It has users (viewers). It has buyers (advertisers). It has stakeholders (NBC). And the agile delivery model that has helped the show remain a pop culture powerhouse for more than four decades is the same model any business can use to continuously, reliably deliver value to its customers.

John Krewson is presenting the session Live from Las Vegas, It's Saturday Night: The Agility of SNL at the entirely remote Agile + DevOps Virtual conference, June 8–11, 2020.

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