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I know, what's new Chris!  We have heard this a million times before you.  And, yes, you might have heard this a million times before me. 

But, as I go from project to project there is one thing that remains constant for a successful project  and that is good communication.  When communication fails the project fails when its flows easily then projects are successful.  That's one of the reasons why I am a fan of true Agile/Scrum types of development efforts over things like Rational and waterfall.  Don't get me wrong documentation is great and all but just like everything else written including instant messages and e-mails, what does it communicate and is the correct thing being communicated?  Written documents and people reading them, you just never know what or how they will interpret it.

Anything you can do to improve communcation between your business, your team and your project the better.  If it's written and everyone gets the document then great!  My experience has been writing everything down in word documents, e-mails and instant messages is like playing the "Pass it along" game where you whisper in one person's ear a phrase they turn and whisper it to the next person and by the time it gets back to you its completely different.

In my humble opinion, I agree that Agile gets people communicating.  There should not be any "he said she said"  type of comments.  It should be,  "Hey, you remember Joe saying this the other day?  Yeah, what about it?"  There shouldn't be any silent time bombers or "Secret Trolls", who sit there not saying anything until it becomes so frustrating that they go somewhere else besides the source and make people's lives miserable. Instead, you should work with the direct source verbally and daily to gain understanding and allow them to ask questions and probe even if its in areas you don't feel they belong. 

For these reasons I support daily project scrum stand up meetings but with verbal follow-up on items after the meeting for details on things that were said in the meeting.  A good manager/scrum master will follow-up daily with people after the scrum meeting to gain better understanding and details.  The bad ones sit in their office quietly miscommunicating things to people outside of the project and wonder what happened when it's not what they thought it was and getting pissed about it.

I think planning poker sessions is a great idea!  I may or may not want to sit there and hold up a card showing my estimate even though that seems like it could be fun.  But the cards is not the point of the meeting.  The point of the meeting is find out from each member if they understand the task at hand for the current sprint and if not, communicate with each other until everyone does understand.  The key point is, it improves communication!  I knew a person once that thought this was a bad idea!  To this day I still cannot understand where someone thinks that this would be a bad idea but I could be missing something.

The other reason why you keep things verbal and open is that is quick!  I have asked myself recently how long did I really sit there and stare at that Visio document and Word Document re-phrasing and re-drawing things just trying to make sure that I am clearly communicating what needs to be done only to find out 2 days later I could have done it better if I only did this tweak and that tweak.  I would say I have spent hours and days doing that where 30 minutes in a conference room or at someone's desk would have accomplished the same thing but 10 times better!

I do think there should be documentation though.  But I think it should come after the meetings where you discussed it and the team came up with the answers.  By that time the document becomes the record of the meeting just to remind everyone of the decisions, designs, approaches, business rules and concepts that were talked about and not a instructional "how to do your job" manual.  If developers were technical writers able to clearly communicate instructional step by step items then I would not be typing this out.  But, developers are not technical writers.  They are coders and they speak languages that only a computer can really understand in the end.

In summary, whatever is the right method of communication for you, then you should build on that and nourish it for growth and to be better than before.  I have yet to run across a problem in life that could have been avoided or solved quickly with really good communication.

Posted on Wednesday, April 15, 2009 11:27 PM General | Back to top

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