Whilst traditional methods of project management utilise documentation for agile communication purposes, Agile places more emphasis on frequent and open verbal communication.
The main communication channel in Agile comes from meetings, which have a set time and specific agenda. This allows the team to spend more time working on the project and less time discussing it.
Methods of communication
There are a number of specific communication channels in Agile, they are a mixture of meetings, informal discussions and artifacts.
Project, release and sprint planning
Meetings are held to discuss various types of planning. They communicate the specific details of the project, release and sprint to the team.
Visit Sprint Release Planning.
Product vision statement
This artifact is used to communicate the end project goal to the team and organisation.
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Used in conjunction with the product vision statement, the roadmap communicates a long-term view of the features.
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Another artifact, the product backlog communicates the whole scope of the project to the team.
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The release plan communicates the goals of each release.
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The immediate sprint and project status is communicated by the sprint backlog. Updated daily it provides a quick visual of the status.
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This daily meeting allows the team to meet face-to-face to discuss the priorities of the day and identify any changes that need to be made.
Discussions don’t need to be confined to scheduled meetings, team members should feel free to discuss the project with their colleagues through face-to-face conversations as needed.
During sprint reviews the working product is shown to the whole project team, providing a more meaningful vision than a written report. The key thing to remember is that this meeting is for showing only.
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Here is where the discussion around the sprint can take place. The team should highlight areas that went well, in addition to those that didn’t go well to identify solutions and areas for improvement.
Visit Sprint Retrospective.
Whilst an optional part of Agile meetings, it can be useful to have a brief, written outline of meetings that have taken place, with actions captured. This allows members of the team to remember them for a later date.
Some teams may use sophisticated electronic tools, whilst some may use a whiteboard and sticky notes. Whichever solutions the team choose, they must augment face-to-face discussion rather than replace it.
Maintaining and improving communication channels
Communication is a vital part of project success, and, in true Agile fashion, should be subject to continuous improvement. Here are five ways to improve communication within the Agile team.
Avoid miscommunication at the beginning of the project
Most miscommunication during a project happens at the beginning. Ensure that the roles and goals are clearly communicated to the team at kick-off and highlight how problems should be resolved.
Of course, at this stage team members should be aware that this is guidance and not set in stone, as changes are inevitable in Agile.
The team should always be encouraged to ask questions, no matter how small, and should never be made to feel inadequate.
When responding to questions, remember Albert Mehrabian’s popular 7%-38%-55% rule which identifies that non-verbal communication accounts of 93% of total communication. Accompanying an answer with an eye-roll or a frown may discourage team members from asking further questions in future.
Don’t fear mistakes
Making mistakes force learning and self-improvement, and as such, team members should not be afraid of making them.
Once mistakes have been made they can be openly discussed and rectified as a team. Where teams are afraid, mistakes, that are often small, are hidden until they become significant problems that can delay the project by days or even months.
Make retrospectives productive
Retrospective meetings are a key feature of Agile projects and open up the communication channels amongst the team.
Focus is placed on what went well and what went wrong, with the aim of improving the process during the next sprint.
The key here is to make the meetings productive. Blaming others or complaining is not an effective use of what is a usually time-bound meeting. Identify issues and develop solutions as to how they can be solved.
Without feedback it is impossible to improve, either as an individual or as a team.
Both positive and constructive feedback should be issued frequently to everyone.
If a team member has handled a situation well, they should be informed of that and the impact that it has had on their team or the process. If a deadline has been missed, then feedback should be given to help them improve. Remember to keep negative feedback constructive by offering ways to improve, this will keep morale high amongst the team.
Agile is a quick-paced project management method, and as such face-to-face communication, where problems and solutions can be exchanged instantaneously, is at the heart of all Agile projects. Whilst there are many tools which can facilitate and complement face-to-face discussion, they should never fully replace it.