Is Pixar's Success Related to Agile Software Development Principles?

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Ed Catmull is one of the most thoughtful senior managers who constantly strives to improve Pixar and its practices. He approaches management in a manner that I would characterize as applying the principles of agile software development to film-making and company development.

In the video below, he gives a really great perspective of part of learning and applying several principles, including:

1. Iterative process– Review the material every day.

2. Constant Reviews to identify areas of improvement (a.k.a. Retrospectives, After-action reviews).

3. Trust– It must be safe for people to tell the truth.

4. Communication from anybody to anybody is key (communication should not only follow organizational structure).

5. People and how they function are more important than ideas (good people and practices will stimulate good ideas).

6. Do not let success mask problems.

7. Each product (movie) must be original (Jack Trout’s primary message for two decades now to all companies in all industries has been around this point, differentiation and competitive positioning. While this is not an agile product and development principle, perhaps it should be an agile company development principle and certainly should be a principle in the product management process. It has certainly worked for Pixar!)

We apply the agile software principles to running our expansion stage venture capital firm and work closely with our portfolio companies to help them apply the principles to software development as well as other departments and their company overall. It is great to see Pixar running with similar principles, particularly given its amazing run of successful movies!

Take a look at Ed’s talk. He is amazingly transparent, intellectually honest, and has a lot of great examples in his talk. If you are a student of management, this relatively long talk is worth it!