Agile principle #6 | face to face

As we roll into June, the next Agile principle we will explore is the Agile Principle #6. It is yet another principle that appeals to our humanity, and it says:

The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.

It’s so easy, right? Or is it?

If you’d rather watch or listen, here’s a video for you. Otherwise, keep on reading!

A quick history, or just treat me like a human

It is important to remember context. In the late 1990’s computer and software were a world of glacial interactions. A manager talks to another manager and work arrived at the programmers’ door. It was not always very glamorous to be a software developer.

Emails, memos threads. And mind you, the internet was NOT what it is today. Not in the speed, not in the apps. Work was cubicles and silos. And a lot of things were discussed and decided and later arrived translated or in written form to the developers.

The products ended up not being exactly what the clients expected. A lot of frustrations on both ends.

So the main motivation was to avoid the separation both in the physical spaces and the communication among business people, clients and the development team. Avoid the telephone game, avoid losing, interpreting information. Let’s be clearer and collaborate.

Collocation is amazing

Then, everybody in the same space! Open spaces. Collocation. That’s the world that was created.

It’s debatable if collocation is the best way to work at all times, but it is a rather solid strategy to avoid miscommunications. If I need to talk to you, I swivel my chair. How awesome is that? Plus, we all bond and the team gels so much quicker because we can get coffee together and chit-chat.

For quite sometime, working from the office and in the same physical space was the norm. But it was not the only way for effectiveness. We must remember that since the 1990’s amazing software has been created in the open-source community and those people have always been distributed everywhere in the world.

So we need to think deeper to understand the power of the agile principle #6.

Why don’t you talk to me?

Whenever you are coaching teams or individuals, including executives on this one, my take for you is: coach them for communication. Direct communication. Because that is what this principle is all about.

If you send an email to your stakeholder, who send an email in their own words to another person, all the way until it arrives in the devlopment team what can happen? Email threads, even the direct ones, from me to you, get long. Replies. Re-replies. Forwards.

That’s what we are trying to avoid. It’s both ineffective and inefficient. The best way to explain, ask and solve things is by talking to people. In person, over the phone, on a video call. In that synchronous communication everybody has a chance to timely rebuff, repeat, acknowledge, challenge. What can be discussed and solved in a 15-minute conversation can take hours or days if you do it via memos and emails. Not to mention those get so verbose! And we lose important pieces of communication, such as intonation. Sometimes not even emojis can save it.

The point is really, why don’t you talk to me? Ask me directly; challenge me directly. Human to human communication. Whenever you ask me something, I can understand where you come from when we can chat. Otherwise, I don’t know if it’s an order or an ask for help. Otherwise, I cannot add some pieces of my own ideas to make the solution a winning one.

That’s the avenue for coaching people in the spirit of the agile principle #6. If they are all “doing sprints” but everybody just keeps sending emails to each other, how agile, flexible, innovative do you think they can really be? I’d say there’s opportunity for improvement!

In the age of remote work

Pandemics, location freedom, no matter the reason, collocation is not the main choice anymore. Some argue this is a boomer vs millennial fight, but quite honestly cultural changes happen all the time. And more and more people of all generations just look at work differently now.

So remote work is here to stay, no point in fighting it. So how do you coach for the agile principle #6, face-to-face communication in the age of remote work?

It has never been easier! Cameras on in many apps on the phone and in the computer. “Worst case scenario” is the good old phone, once again, via your own multi-channel app where you have the team chat, the team documents, and even audio and video. From Slack to Zoom or MS Teams, so many options exist for that, some even free of charge.

Now, there are important things to pay attention to when we meet remotely, especially when it’s not just a one-on-one conversation. A while back I compiled a list of 7 tips for you to better your online meetings. Go check it out!

The point is that the technology could not be easier today to fulfill on direct, synchronous communication. The one where we can quickly correct misunderstandings. If despite all the available technology people are not talking directly, I would start probing on the deeper reasons why.

A final word on technology is to be mindful of chats. Chats scroll extremely fast and no matter what you say, it can be pages away in a matter of hours. So, while it’s awesome to offer chat to your remote teams and they are very useful, they do not constitute direct communication. A question I asked you might be separated by tons of other text in it, even if we use the approach of threads.

It’s a matter of principle

As I’m closing this post, let me give you one more insight: another cultural change among workers of all ages today is how much passion they put in their craft. Because they want to produce their best work, they want to fully understand what is asked of them. They are not mere executors. People want to talk.

So the Agile principle #6 t warns us of the dangers of the fire-and-forget type of communication. Of treating people in a mechanical way, in ignoring that my way of saying things my not be the way you listen to things. Communication is about the emitter of the message, the recipient and the channel.

Coach people to have actual conversations. And remember that both sides need to leave feeling understood for things to work.

What is one challenge you have with communication in your teams?