What the Web Developer Learned from the Stage Director

My wife is known by myself and friends as someone who’s excellent at managing projects.

Her ability to start from nothing but a goal and produce real results with many moving parts always impresses me.

Her secret is that she approaches projects with the perspective and skills she developed in theatre while producing and directing stage plays in college and later managing a cast of a hundred in professional theatre.

I wanted to learn more about her process so I asked her to describe to me how to produce and direct a stage play.

The following is what this web developer learned from the stage play director, and how to apply her methods to any good development process.

Directing a Stage Play (In Brief)

Read the script over four or five times

Before anything, become very familiar with the script until you know it inside and out.

Start at act one - scene one

  1. Work through the script and make notes on what’s needed to produce each scene.
  2. Research parts of the script as needed, such as time period or subject matter.
  3. Define elements such as blocking, set design, ect.

Rehearse early

After casting, begin rehearsals early.

  1. Start with a sit down to do read-throughs and discuss the characters.
  2. Later progress to the stage.
  3. Refine elements of each scene over time.
  4. Provide notes to actors on specific changes or areas for improvement.

Meet separately with other departments/crew

Schedule miscellaneous meetings and discussions with set designers, sound, costume design, and any other parties that support the overall production.

Communicate the vision for the play and get their feedback on ways to make it happen.

Rehearse often

  1. Continue to progress through rehearsals.
  2. Improve and tweak scenes over time.
  3. Add and try out other layers such as blocking, sound, and lighting as ready.
  4. Move to dress rehearsals.
  5. Finally complete several walk-throughs (fully acting out the play, but without an audience) until the play is ready for opening night.

Develop Web Sites Like a Stage Play

Here’s what producing a stage play has to teach us about how to successfully manage a web development project.

Read the script over four or five times

Functional Specifications and Technical Specifications are the web developer’s scripts.

Read the scripts over four or five times until you know them inside and out. Have all lead team members do the same.

Start at act one - scene one

This seems so basic, but it’s key for large projects that involve designing major systems.

It’s hard to know where to begin. Start at act one - scene one.

Begin researching and mapping out what’s needed to meet each section’s specifications.

In other words, break it up into manageable chunks.

Lay in and improve functionality over time.

Rehearse early

  1. Have a sit down with your development team and all the actors involved in development.

    • Discuss the big picture and purpose of the project.
    • Review individual roles and how the team should act together to produce the final site.
  2. View each functional area of the site as a scene to be improved and enhanced over time.

  3. Send individual notes to developers and team members to suggest changes, improvement, or simply to provide direction for next steps.

Meet separately with other departments/crew

  1. Schedule and manage all those other meetings that need to take place with other departments.
  2. Meet with server admins, marketing, designers, and who ever else has a stake in the project.
  3. Share the vision, and get their feedback / buy-in on how to make it all happen.

Rehearse often

Rehearse often. Yes, the iterative agile approach.

  1. Add on functionality and complexity over time. As designs become available layer them into the ‘scene’.
  2. Let all people involved in the project attend rehearsals, ie. daily stand ups and build calls. However, the Scrum Master (as the director) runs the meetings.
  3. Eventually move to client demos and client acceptance testing, as a play would move to dress rehearsals.
  4. Complete several run-throughs, including testing on the servers, QA testing, and load testing.

Finally, launch that site and have a great opening night celebration.

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