I had a discussion with my partner recently about how so few TV shows had decent endings, even if they had a huge amount of money thrown into them like Game of Thrones. After a bit of reading I stumbled across this answer from Scott Miller which I thought looked a lot like some of the problems we come across when thinking about ways of working, particularly where vision is involved.
When the ending is already written
When there isn’t a vision of an end in mind, we end up with a finale that feels forced because it can’t take into account changes that have evolved naturally over the course of the series. This reminded me of waterfall projects being run in a context which is ‘complex’ (as in the Cynefin model of complexity); we can end up with a big push at the end to wrap up due to unforeseen changes in the original project plan to try and deliver on time. In the show analogy we end up with rushed finales that attempt to wrap up five subplots in an hour!
When there isn’t a set ending in mind
Conversely, not having a vision of where the show is going leaves the producers with a tough job of tying diverging side-quests once they hear the show is ending soon! I thought this felt analogous to more agile ways of working paired with leaders who aren’t providing a clear direction of travel – different teams are pulling in their own directions, not necessarily aligned on where they’re all heading. If alignment is then sought, teams can have a hard time pivoting to support this new vision. Cue cuts in scope and lists of tech debt that may or may not be resolved at a later date, similar to sideline stories that get dropped but which writers/producers give their own interpretation of in later interviews!
I think having a vision is really important and without having one it can pave a way of confusion and/or demotivation for people trying to go in the ‘right’ direction. Giving too strict a vision can be just as hurtful though, leading to stifled innovation and a lack of serendipitous moments. It’s important for a vision to be clear enough that people understand where we need to go, but flexible enough that everyone can forge there own way forward using their own expertise.
Are there any TV shows you think had a great ending? (Breaking Bad and Ozark were two of mine!)
*Image from iamag.co