Sunday, May 13, 2012

Is Communication the correct word for Agile in the Enterprise?


I was recently in a discussion with some folks where the topic was the acceptance of Agile principles by managers and employees.  Several times during this discussion, "communication" came up in the context of letting people in the organization understand why they were going through an agile transformation.

A manager in the meeting made the following comment;  "We have emailed, had meetings and told everyone why we are doing this.  There will be no talking to them and asking questions from them about it anymore.  That would be a waste of time.  We have communicated with them already."

An enterprise does not necessarily have the same meaning for the word "Communication" as many of us might think.

When discussing Agile teams and projects with stakeholders, I often will say (I think incorrectly) something such as "An important part of your agile adoption is communication."

I recently realized, I may have been using the wrong word when discussing human interactions in an enterprise.   Perhaps the correct word should be "Dialogue", "Conversation", or as the agile manifesto simply put it "Interactions".

Often, large corporations have a separate "communications" department.  In some cases, there may be an entire division just for "Communication".  These folks have some very specific ideas of what communication is.

Communication
Communications has a responsibility to let employees know about new company initiatives, plans and direction.  They have a responsibility to do Investor news reports, company news for the press, and a variety of other messages.  Think of it as Outgoing Communication, or something with a sense of being Finished.  It has been communicated.... Period.

Don't get me wrong.   I've talked with many people in Communications and they are definitely folks who care about the feedback loop.  Occasionally, they may even get to do a survey, or if they are lucky, some focus groups.  Unfortunately, like other industries, they often don't get to do what brought them to the field in the first place.

Perhaps, teaching people in Communications about agile would serve an organization well.  In fact, I know they would really appreciate the incremental feedback loop. Maybe I'll discuss that in a future post.

When talking with stakeholders, we should stop saying that a fundamental part of agile is communication, and instead say something like, "For an agile adoption to be successful, it is extremely important to keep interactions between customers, managers, and team members active and alive".

The point here is that Communication is not what's important to emphasize.  It is dialogue, interaction, conversation, discussion, talking, chatting, collaboration or whatever word you want to use.

The word "Communication" has a very specific context in an enterprise...Use with caution.

Mike Caspar


References:
agile manifesto  - http://www.agilemanifesto.org