Communications Management by Improving Communication Skills
Communication Skills is one of the most fundamental values of Agile Management, although it would be more accurate to say that effective communication is what Agile Management deems critical to your success and hence communication skills development needed.
What is Communication?
With respect to Agile Management, communication is the act of transmitting information between individuals. Why is communication an issue worth discussing? Because the need to communicate effectively pervades software development, operations, and support. Developers and users must communicate. Developers and operations staff must communicate. Developers and management must communicate. Developers and … well, you get the idea. So it’s important to develop communication skills.
PMI Definition: Determining the information and communication needs of the projects stakeholders
When Agile teams talk about communications, they are usually talking about communications within the team. Agile puts a great deal of emphasis on the free flow of information between team members, between team members and the product owner, and even between the team and the direct customer. In some ways, the Agile community has really abstracted the entire stakeholder community behind the role of Product Owner.
Communication between team members, and between the team and its customers, is essential but it is not the only component of communication that must be planned. Sometimes there are other stakeholders that we must take into consideration.
At the team level, we usually deal with team member communication through collocation, whiteboards, wikis, and other rich and collaborative workspace. Agile teams trade a great deal of written documentation for these more osmotic forms of information exchange. On a small team with a single customer, it might be sufficient to suggest that customers get all the information they need from attending planning meetings, daily stand-ups, and iteration reviews.
When there is more than one stakeholder, or possibly a hierarchy of stakeholders , sometimes it is not sufficient to suggest that these stakeholders come down to the team room and check out the team’s progress on the Kanban board. Sometimes we need to do some roll-up reporting across a portfolio of projects or even programs. Sometimes we need to report status at a much higher level of abstraction for a more senior audience.
The key to planning communications on an Agile project is to follow the principle of simplicity. Don’t write documentation for the sake of documentation. Find out what your stakeholders really need and provide it as quickly and as simply as possible. Make use of natural information sources that the team is already producing (task boards, burndown charts, architectural representations) and create documentation that enables your business to make decisions.
Keep things light, go for face to face whenever possible, and when your stakeholders require more; make things as simple, clear, and accurate as possible. Communications planning is a very important communication skills.
PMI Definition: Making needed information available to project stakeholders in a timely manner
Agile teams keep their status up to date using large, visible information radiators that everyone in the team room has access to and can update themselves. These repositories of information are there for the team to know where it is at all times and so they can manage their work. The side effect of these radiators for the Project Manager is that you have instant access to real time information about the health of the project, release, or iteration.
Often, design and architecture will be worked out on whiteboards and then minimally documented on a Wiki or Sharepoint so they can be easily changed as we learn more about the evolving system. Agile teams lean toward lightweight artifacts and central, universally accessible document repositories. Agile teams recognize that the only truly accurate representation of the product is the code itself ; therefore documentation is kept light and at a pretty high level.
Sometimes a customer has a need for more detailed documentation to manage an external dependency or possibly an audit requirement. In these cases, that increased level of documentation is built into the estimate for the feature. Documentation is not free and it will slow down the creation of working software.
The key once again is to figure out what is the minimum amount of documentation needed to satisfy the requirement. Document systems at the highest level of abstraction you can get away with. Make sure you understand the information needs of the external stakeholder, make sure that work is represented in the backlog, and that it is prioritized to meet the needs of the organization.
Use the same collaborative techniques you would use to build features to create the documentation required by the business. So you can see it is very important to acquire this communication skills too.
PMI Definition: Collecting and distributing performance information. This includes status reporting, progress measurement, and forecasting
Burn down charts and Kanban boards are tools that a team will use to organically manage their work and make sure they are on track. As an Agile project manager is your responsibility to help the team and encourage that these tools are kept up to date. For the most part, these are the only tools you will need to understand the health of your project, and you largely get them for free.
Performance on Agile projects is pretty simple. You know how big your backlog is and you know how much you are able to complete each iteration. Based on these two variables you are able to predict how many features you will be able to complete before the end of the project, release, or iteration. Most of the Agilists like to keep a high level project road map that helps me understand where the project is expected to be at certain points as it progresses to completion. This is also useful for managing external dependencies.
These simple tools help you understand what progress you are making against expectations and if you’ll need to extend the release, adjust scope, or request additional funding. Since you are an agile team, you’ll more than likely be communicating how early you’ll be, how much more you’ll be able to do, and how much more value you’ve delivered to the organization.
Either way, you have a tremendous amount of information at your disposal to communicate project to the project stakeholders. Think EVM based on delivery of working product.
PMI Definition: Managing communications to satisfy the requirements and resolve issues with project stakeholders.
Managing stakeholders is really about managing the issues that come up during the life of the project. A significant benefit of Agile is that nothing is hidden. This level of visibility gives the project manager the information they need to resolve problems and remove impediments.
Issues can arise during iteration planning, execution, close-down, or just in the course of day to day work. Just like on any project, these need to get tracked and dealt with as soon as possible. Issues are reviewed during the daily stand-up meetings and retrospectives.
There are always going to be some issues that cannot be dealt with by the team. Typically it is advisable to hold a weekly or bi-weekly meeting with senior stakeholders where they get a distillation of significant impediments and what we need them to do to help us resolve the issue.
Agile Communication Environment
This communications-integration software platform abstracts and exposes complex multi-vendor communications capabilities as standard Web Services to simplify Unified Communications integration with business applications and processes, and deliver enhanced business agility and productivity.
Avaya Agile Communication Environment (ACE) is a software platform that simplifies the process of integrating multi-vendor communications systems with business applications through a suite of packaged and custom applications, a powerful IT developer toolkit, and multi-vendor communications adapters.
Applications that would have taken weeks or months to develop by specialist telecommunications developers can now be created easily by standard IT developers in a matter of days. Organizations can improve business agility and competitiveness by using Avaya ACE to minimize delays within communication-dependent business processes. The ACE application is integrated on IBM’s Websphere, runs on the Linux RedHat OS and is supported on IBM 3550 servers.
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