Building the car while you’re driving it: Using agile methodologies for changing project scopes

Sarah Wambold, Metropolitan Museum of Art, USA, Marty Spellerberg, Spellerberg Associates, USA

Published paper: Building the car while driving it: Using Agile methodologies for changing project scopes

Using real-world projects from the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and the Clyfford Still Museum as the basis for our discussion, the authors identify the principles of an Agile design approach tailored specifically to the needs of museums—with their many stakeholders, diverse audiences, and limited resources. We discuss roles, timelines, and the benefits achieved by employing Agile methodologies to respond to evolving project needs and priorities.

From 2013 to 2014, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago engaged artist Goshka Macuga for its year-long artist residency program. With the bulk of the residency activities happening off site, the museum’s challenge was to make the residency visible to MCA visitors. The result was a Web-based app for an in-gallery iPad kiosk for our on-site visitors, and a website for online visitors that would later serve as the archive for the project.

In the years since the Clyfford Still Museum opened its doors, the museum’s website had become obsolete. The design was outdated, the site’s architecture was unwieldy, and the content management system no longer met the institution’s needs. Our goal was to redesign the site using a new, flexible content management system (CMS) that could evolve as the project developed.

In both cases, the Agile approach gave us the framework to address the projects’ evolving needs, respond to stakeholders’ priorities, and test our assumptions as the projects developed.

Drawing on learnings from both projects, we provide actionable guidelines on roles, timelines, and scoping projects in phases to deliver top priorities early. We discuss the benefits of implementing Agile using a CMS so that real content can inform the development of the design, organization, and functionality of the final site. We consider the drawbacks of the Agile approach and the requirements for its successful application.

Selected bibliography:

Beck, Kent. Extreme Programming Explained: Embrace Change. Addison-Wesley Professional, 2000.

Beck, Kent, et al. Manifesto for Agile Software Development. <>.

Bowles, Cennydd. "Getting Real About Agile Design." A List Apart. December 2, 2008. <>.

Johnson, Clay, and Harper Reed. “Why the Government Never Gets Tech Right: Getting to the Bottom of’s Flop.” New York Times, October 24, 2013. <>.

Thomas, David, and David Heinemeier Hansson. Agile Web Development with Rails. Pragmatic Bookshelf, 2011.

Walter, Micah. “Downgrading your website (or why we are moving to WordPress).” Cooper Hewitt Labs (blog). Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, April 6, 2014. <>.