Why Prison Break is agile

Being in a hotel room a lot sure helps you keep up with televsion shows you would otherwise skip withour remorse, for instance talk shows. Zapping through the channels I stumbled upon a stupifying interview with the Australian actor Dominic Purcell who plays one of the main characters in the television series Prison Break, that, to be quite honest, I’ve never watched. Just as I’m about to move to the next channel Purcell starts explaining the way the new season of Prison Break is developed – only interrupted by numerous fucks, which are allowed on Dutch television. I’ll try to recapture it. Without the fucks.

“At the start of the season,” Purcell mentioned, “the writer’s outline the plot for the season. Which locations, the rough story, how many episodes act in a prison and how many outside of the prison.” “Next, the studio bosses will move around a bit with this season set up, perhaps they want more episodes inside and less outside. Stuff like that,” the Australian continues. “Only after all this is approved, the writer’s continue and write the first episode, which is than recorded, during which the director can make changes to the script and the settings. The episode is then screened by the studio. And then we move on to the next episode. Sometimes the studio changes the order in which we record the episodes.”

From a software development perspective, this sure is a nice story. Likely without knowing, the studio applies agile principles, much like we do in Smart projects (see the wiki at I’ll examine.

First the plot is outlined for the season. This is quite similar to having the project proposal and later on the project plan in Smart. We outline the project, but in smart use cases, not in episodes. Further similarity is that Prison Break’s unit of work – episodes – are equally granular, just like smart use cases. There’s differences, such as where they are located, how many actors are involved, what resources and decors are needed, but they are more or less equally sized. This means that the process of taping the episodes has become managable. Just like realizing smart use cases in a Smart project.

Notice that the actual design (writing the script) isn’t done until the actual episode is taped. This is pure YAGNI. Only design just what is needed, and when it is needed. We do the same with our smart use cases. Design and test design only takes place, when the use cases are being built. And finally, the script and scenes might change due to new insights – or even more agile – are influenced by outside events, such as weather conditions. Need I say more? Responding to change, even late in the project. I have to say, Prison Break is one hack of an agile television show. Fuck!