Agile Management Communication Methods - dummies

Agile Management Communication Methods

By Mark C. Layton

To manage communication on agile projects, you need to understand how different agile communication methods work and how to use them together. You also need to know why status on an agile project is different and how to report project progress to stakeholders.

Understanding agile communication methods

Face-to-face conversations are the heart and soul of agile projects. Agile meetings provide a format for communicating in a face-to-face environment. Meetings on agile projects have a specific purpose and a specific amount of time in order to allow the development team the time to work, rather than spend time in meetings. Agile artifacts provide a format for written communication that is structured, but not cumbersome or unnecessary.

The table provides a view of the different communication channels on an agile project.

Agile Project Communication Channels
Channel Type Role in Communication
Project planning, release planning, and sprint planning Meetings Communicate the details of the project, the release, and the
sprint to the scrum team.
Product vision statement Artifact Communicates the end goal of the project to the project team
and the organization.
Product roadmap Artifact Communicates a long-term view of the features that support the
product vision and are likely to be part of the project.
Product backlog Artifact Communicates the scope of the project as a whole to the project
Release plan Artifact Communicates the goals for a specific release.
Sprint backlog Artifact Updated daily, it provides immediate sprint and project status
to anyone who needs that information. The burndown chart on the
sprint backlog provides a quick visual of the sprint status.
Task board Artifact Visually radiates out status of the current sprint or release
to anyone who walks by the scrum team’s work area.
Daily scrum Meeting Provides the scrum team with a verbal, face-to-face opportunity
to coordinate the priorities of the day and identify any
Face-to-face conversations Informal The most important mode of communication on an agile
Sprint review Meeting The embodiment of the “show, don’t tell”
philosophy. Displaying working product to the entire project team
conveys project progress in a more meaningful way than a report
ever could.
Sprint retrospective Meeting Allows the scrum team to communicate with one another
specifically for improvement.
Meeting notes Informal These are an optional, informal communication method.
Meeting notes can capture action items from a meeting to ensure
people on the scrum team remember them for later.
Notes from a sprint review can record new features for the product
Notes from a sprint retrospective can remind the scrum team of
commitments for improvement.
Collaborative solutions Informal White boards, sticky notes, and electronic collaboration tools
all help the scrum team communicate. Ensure that these tools
augment, rather than replace, face-to-face conversations.

Artifacts, meetings, and more informal communication channels are all tools. Keep in mind that even the best tools need people to use those tools correctly to be effective. Agile projects are about people and interactions; tools are secondary to success.

Status and progress reporting on an agile project

In an agile project, you track progress of your sprint and of the project on a daily basis, and you have several tools for communicating status and progress:

  • The daily scrum meeting lasts no longer than 15 minutes, in which time scrum team members each make three statements: what they completed yesterday, what they will work on today, and a list of items impeding their progress.

  • The sprint backlog, if updated every day, always gives an up-to-date status for your project stakeholders. You can also show them the product backlog so that they know which features the scrum team has completed to date, which features are part of future sprints, and the priority of the features.

  • The burndown chart quickly shows, rather than tells, status. When you look at a sprint burndown chart, you can instantly see if the sprint is going well, or if it might be in trouble.

  • A task board is a great way to quickly show your project team the status of a sprint, release, or even of the entire project. Task boards have sticky notes with user story titles in at least four columns: To Do, In Progress, Accept, and Done. If you display your task board in the scrum team’s work area, then anyone who walks by can see a high-level status of which product features are done and which features are in progress. The scrum team always knows where the product stands, because the scrum team sees the task board every day.

  • The sprint review meeting, held at the end of every sprint, is when the scrum team demonstrates the working product to the product stakeholders. Strongly encourage anyone who may have an interest in your project to come to your sprint reviews. When people see the working product in action, especially on a regular basis, they get a much better sense of the work you completed.

All projects have stakeholders, people outside of the immediate scrum team who have a vested interest in the project. As at least one of the stakeholders usually pays for the project, it’s important for them to know how the project is progressing.