Think about the common practices of an agile team: daily stand-up meetings, retrospectives after every sprint, pair programming and buddy reviews, collaborating with customers, and more face-to-face time instead of mountains of documentation. What is the agenda behind all these operations? Frequent and open communication.
Many organizations have issues during the transition to an agile workflow. Some teams never quite recover from that transformation stage; they say they tried agile but it didn’t work for them, or they are still struggling to get it going. If we look for the real reason behind all these troubles, I bet the majority fo the time, it would be communication.
Agile is designed for smaller that want to get more done with fewer formal processes. Iteratively building and demonstrating the desired products for more immediate feedback is the goal.
Think about the common practices of an agile team: daily stand-up meetings, retrospectives after every sprint, pair programming and buddy reviews, collaborating with customers, and more face-to-face time instead of mountains of documentation.
What is the agenda behind all these operations? Frequent and open communication.
Agile teams are designed so that everybody is aware of everyone’s tasks, progress, strengths, and output each day. The difficulty is communicating all this information.
Let’s say a team was working on a sprint with some defined user stories. The team started working on their assigned stories, using what little was specified in the requirements and assuming the rest. Nothing much was brought up in the daily stand-up meetings, which were short and missed often. The developers worked on their stuff, and in the last few days of the sprint passed their code on to the testers, who began their test design parallel to the test execution. Most of the testing was done in an exploratory fashion, owing to the lack of information and time.
Of course, problems arose. Testers blamed faulty designs and the lack of information provided to them. In turn, the developers blamed the specifications. The manager—who was missing for most of the sprint—now appears and questions the team about the quality issues. Most of the user stories become spill-over items to work on during the next sprint due to the design changes needed.
Unfortunately, this is probably not an unfamiliar situation for many of you. An agile team can’t succeed if communication is lacking.
There are multiple factors that can impede effective communication within agile teams:
- Lack of verbal or written communication skills
- Unwillingness to share in-depth details of tasks, efforts, and estimates
- Not reporting risks or concerns in time
- Developers and testers not sharing complete details or scenarios of their user stories with each other
- Leaving testers out of important technical or design-related communication for relevant user stories
- Team members shying away from suggesting improvements or alterations at design time
- Team members overruling others' ideas by dominating the conversation
- Lack of retrospective meetings or another feedback mechanism for sprints or iterations
- Not having regular conversations and demonstrations with the team members, customers, and product owners to gather feedback
The team in the example earlier could have done much better if they had nurtured their communication skills. The developers should have discussed the specifications and pointed out missing or ambiguous aspects to the manager, who then would have talked to the clients to get clarifications. The test team should have been involved in all these communications, building their tests in parallel and getting them reviewed. Developers and testers should have coordinated their user stories to buddy test the features and get maximum issues resolved in advance. And everyone should have been participating in stand-up meetings to communicate progress and risks. If this had happened, by the end of the sprint the user stories would have been resolved, and the team could have delivered a better-quality product.
Naturally, it’s easier to look at a failed project afterward and point out what should have been done differently. How can you set your team up for success from the beginning? Before even seriously considering the logistics of agile adoption, you should start looking at all aspects of communication in your teams.
The assigned ScrumMasters must have the ability to communicate and manage the team well, as well as encourage teammates to speak their minds. The agile team may need some verbal or written skills training if they are not used to informal communications via chats, email, or short documents.
All communication within the agile team must be addressed to the complete team, including sharing any documents, release plans or schedules, review requests and feedback, risks or concerns, and even leave updates. This builds a complete sense of oneness within the team and maintains complete transparency at all times.
The managers and leads must ensure open communication and healthy feedback during all meetings and also encourage team members individually to share their ideas and opinions. Likewise, the team must be receptive to constructive criticism and ready to learn from their mistakes.
Only in such an environment will the real agile spirit thrive and teams will be able to find success in their endeavors.