Organizations are constantly undertaking projects and modernizations to better their business operations, services, or processes. There are different methodologies that can be utilized by contractors or organizations that create different lifecycles to execute the project.
Agile is an increasingly popular methodology that has gained more attention due to its iterative nature that delivers results on an incremental basis while reducing risk and increasing project control. Projects can run into obstacles for many reasons including cost, scheduling, functionality, or personnel issues. Some obstacles are outside of the control of the project team resulting in contingencies or other planning methods to identify and mitigate problems.
Lack of communication can cause additional obstacles that could have been avoided and can cause unnecessary delays or costs. The general importance of communication seems obvious, but it can often be overlooked or taken for granted. It is vital to the project’s success and important at all stages in the lifecycle from initiation to delivery.
Yet many projects, even projects using agile methodology, are crippled due to unclear or inadequate communication with team members. According to an article published by the Project Management Institute, found here, half of unsuccessful projects can be directly attributed to lack of effective communication.
Projects using Agile Methodology are especially dependent on communication because of the team environment and the need for understanding of business requirements through all members of the team.
So how can a project team increase control and minimize unnecessary risks in the Agile project lifecycle and decrease the likelihood of the project failing?
Communication is the best way to increase cooperation and clarity regarding all aspects of the project lifecycle, especially in an agile environment. It is important for communication to be the foundation for teamwork and for the ongoing relationship with stakeholders. According to the PMI, the project manager should spend 90% of their time communicating.
Communication with teammates in an Agile environment is the groundwork for a successful project.
The Agile Manifesto Identifies Many Principles that Highlight Communication
Communication is an important part of any project but is essential when utilizing Agile Methodology. The creators of Agile understood and highlighted the significance of communication and collaboration though this process in the Agile Manifesto, which outlines the basic components and principles of Agile.
It highlights the importance of interactions over processes, collaboration over negotiation, and daily meetings by face-to-face communication over documentation. There is also space for reflection and feedback after each sprint while there should be team driven productivity and decentralized decision making, overall communication is at the root of Agile principles.
The foundation of Agile is a self-organizing team that uses design focused methodology to deliver working software benefits though sprints or phases to receive feedback incrementally.
Selecting the right members for the team and creating a healthy and open group culture is the first step to starting an Agile project. Individuals on the team must fit and support the team dynamic. They must be team players, open to feedback, have excellent communication skills, care about the team success over personal success, and be flexible. A toxic team member, unwilling or unable to properly communicate and contribute to the team can be toxic to project development and success.
Agile is meant to be decentralized in decision making and self-organizing, but it is important for team members to have clarification of their roles and tasks. Communication should help members have a clear understanding of their responsibilities, daily and wholistic goals, and performance expectations throughout the project lifecycle.
The focus of Agile is truly a designed focused methodology, not a “code like hell” methodology. The key component is for members to fully understand the design and goals for the current sprint phase before coding begins.
Clear and constant communication is how to ensure all members of the Agile team have a clear understanding of the design for the current deliverables as well as the definition of done for each sprint. This communication and clarity can prevent “coding like hell” and rework that misunderstanding of requirements may cause within the team.
The result is a faster, more productive, and accurate design that is delivered with the end strategic goal in each team member’s mind.
How to Achieve Effective Communication Methods for Agile Teams
The ideal communication method for Agile teams begins with face-to-face daily meetings with a facilitator. These meetings discuss the objectives for the day, any potential issues or obstacles, followed by collaboration for solving these issues, and any other comments, concerns, or ideas about the work. Communication should be continued throughout the day when needed and resolved by in person, email, or phone conversations.
Communication is a two-way street; with the sender and receiver both communicating back and forth. Active listening is the key to establishing understanding in what is being communicated and engaging in communication interactions. It shows you are interested, invested, and actively absorbing the information.
Within the Agile team, the multidisciplinary aspect is an advantage to creating the best product but can be challenging. When communicating with the team, it’s multidisciplinary nature and differences between teammates must be considered.
It’s ideal to use team members experienced in Agile Methodology and Agile team dynamics. Experience is only gained through practice and the different backgrounds, habits, and preferences of individual members should be considered when communicating.
There are Implications as the Project Lifecycle in Agile Advances
As mentioned earlier, Agile Methodology is built upon providing constant benefits through iterations of working software as the project lifecycle progresses.
Agile is unlike other project development methods, like “big bang” modernization, where there is discussion at the beginning of the project regarding end results, personnel are given jobs, and the software is developed and implemented at one time at the end of lifecycle without interim communication. Agile requires constant communication within the team daily, during and after each sprint, and at the end of the lifecycle.
Deliverables and solutions should be discussed with the team and feedback from stakeholders should be acknowledged and discussed as iterations and demonstrations are completed. The communication throughout these phases about updated requirements or details with members will decrease the need for rework and improve the final solution results and usability.
Because of the style of Agile, the importance of communication though each iteration becomes more apparent as the final product becomes realized. Poor communication has greater impacts on schedule and functionality of the software as the lifecycle progresses. Daily stand ups, feedback, and reflection following sprints are ways that communication by each team member should be carried on as development advances.
Modernization efforts are complex, time consuming, and risky. The environment of information technology is constantly improving and expanding while projects can easily be delayed due to budget, resource, or schedule restrictions. Agile Methodology provides more benefits incrementally but is extremely dependent on constant, honest, and efficient communication between team members and with stakeholders. Communication is the best way to decrease risks, increase transparency, and create the best solution for the organization.