Communication in Agile Teams

The second of the April Practical Agile’s Meetup discussions concerned communication in Agile teams.
Tin Can Phone

The first subject that came up was how do you signal your availability to communicate? A “Headphone” standard was proposed as follows:

  • Both Headphones in – I’m in the zone. Leave me alone. Send me an eMessage.
  • One Headphone in – I’m busy but available to communicate.
  • No Headphones in – I’m eager to communicate.

This did lead to the question of how much headphone usage was acceptable? We’d hope that in a self organising team that individual would be putting the needs of the team first and would be actively listening and ready to contribute as necessary – not just to their immediate team, but to the whole .  If the job is getting done is there a problem? It goes back to the concept of T-Shaped People.

How much communication needs to be recorded was a clear topic. The Agile Manifesto values “Working software over comprehensive documentation” but we need to remember that the documentation side still has value. An interesting perspective was that the User Story was a promise to have a conversation. Decisions should be logged somehow – and the use of tools such as TFS and Jira can be easily used to record PO decisions etc. The standard rule of thumb seems to be if you need to ask the question record the answer.

An interesting perspective was that the User Story was a promise to have a conversation – which aligns with the Agile Manifesto valuing “Customer collaboration over contract negotiation”.

Over communication can be a problem with “Reply To All” being regarded as the work of the devil – though perhaps the original emailer may be to blame for distributing it too widely in the first place?

Definition of Ready can be useful by clarifying what criteria is needed to start and leading to discussion of If and Why a story is not ready. BDD and Given-When-Then style criteria (Gherkin) can help clarify any issues and pick out any assumptions,

A team needs to be realistic and be comfortable that some of the finer detail can be thrashed out once the story has been started. The team should be empowered enough can consider whether they feeling any “missing” details are within the remit of the team to determine.

Amigo sessions were once again highlighted as useful tool – helping to kick off communication and common understanding.

It was raised that a mature team’s definition of ready can be unspoken, but on the other hand this could cause confusion for any new joiners.

Who would cross the Bridge of Death must answer me these standard questions three, ere the other side he see

Monty Python and the Holy Grail - The Bridgekeeper

What is your name? What is your quest? What is the average velocity of a 2 week sprint?

The daily Stand-ups were discussed. The value of the 3 standard questions was questioned. An opinion that a simple update as to what you were working on should suffice as the team should already be aware of any issues and problems was generally agreed with.

The Stand-up can also be used as a check before any new work is started that there are no in-play tasks that could be assisted with. The team need to be focusing on the bigger picture rather than just their “own” tasks and a Story isn’t done till it’s all done.

A useful Stand-up tool that has been mentioned before was a confidence check.  After the updates  each participant gives their confidence in completing the Sprint goals by revealing a number of fingers – Five for Very Confident to One for Very Worried. This can stimulate conversation and potentially address problems early by focusing the team on them.

Finally, I think what really ran through the discussion is that Communication is about Respect. I’m off to put on my headphones and look forward to seeing you next time.