What’s Different about Agile Communication?

By Mark C. Layton

Agile communication differs slightly from communication in traditional projects. Communication, in project management terms, is the formal and informal ways the people on the project team convey information to each other. As with traditional projects, good communication is a necessity for agile projects.

However, the agile principles set a different tone for agile projects, emphasizing simplicity, directness, and face-to-face conversations. The following agile principles relate to communication:

(4) Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.

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

(7) Working software is the primary measure of progress.

(10) Simplicity — the art of maximizing the amount of work not done — is essential.

(12) At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

The Agile Manifesto also addresses communication, valuing working software over comprehensive documentation. Although documentation has value, working functionality has more importance on an agile project.

This table shows some differences between communication on traditional projects and on agile projects.

Traditional versus Agile Communication
Communication Management with Traditional Approaches Communication Management with Agile Approaches
Team members might make no special effort for in-person conversations. Agile project management approaches value face-to-face communication as the best way to convey information.
Traditional approaches place high value on documentation. Teams may create a large number of complex documents and status reports based on process, rather than considering actual need. Agile documents, or artifacts, are intentionally simple and provide information that is barely sufficient. Agile artifacts only contain essential information and can often convey project status at a glance.

Project teams use the show, don’t tell concept, showing working software to communicate progress on a regular basis in the sprint review.

Team members may be required to attend a large number of meetings, whether or not those meetings are useful or necessary. Meetings on agile projects are, by design, as quick as possible and include only people who will add to the meeting and benefit from the meeting. Agile meetings provide all the benefits of face-to-face communication without wasting time. The structure of agile meetings is to enhance, not reduce, productivity.

The question of how much documentation is required is not a volume question but an appropriateness question. Why do you need a specific document? How can you create it in the simplest way possible? You can use poster-sized sticky sheets to put on the wall and make information digestible. This can also work best for visually conveying artifacts such as the vision statement, the definition of done, the impediments log, and important architectural decisions. Pictures truly are worth a thousand words.