The agile community is full of people who say things like "communication must be as rich as possible,by which they mean, "in person, simultaneously in time, and proceeding from high level to detail." Not content with this message, our community members often go the extra mile to say things like "there's no point in expecting good communication to occur otherwise. [heavy sigh]"
This leads to some seriously bad things happening when agilists attempt to communicate with each other in the environments in which they are normally employed. REALITY CHECK: how many of these are true where you are working today:
In short, if you're like many of us, you are working in the type of organization most likely to hire agile custom software delivery people: large, corporate environments. What to do, what to do?
Much to my growing aggravation, one thing a lot of us seem to do is pretend we're working in a small, co-located group anyway. Because agile theory says "don't waste time on meeting minutes," and "writing is evil," we take a team which is ten people total, but working on four continents, and go ahead and build some kind of terse card wall with nothing on it but short statements in the form "as a...I need to...so that..." and some acceptance criteria, we schedule a daily standup (which devolves to weekly or monthly because people can't attend), we end up having side conversations to decide absolutely everything, but we don't tell people about them unless forced, (definitely not in writing! writing is evil!) and we roll our eyes if people complain that the decision-making process isn't democratic, and that nobody knows what's going on. All of this in the name of "keeping communication rich."
I've ranted on this before, but I have a new angle today! It's called "learning styles," and I think it can help us think about how to best provide rich communication in a different way, as well as throwing some light on some of the underlying prejudices behind the communication theory we agilists have been using so far.
North Carolina State University hosts an excellent set of materials on what they call the "Index of Learning Styles." They divide people into learning preferences on the following dimensions (each is a spectrum, and each person falls somewhere on each spectrum):
So for me, the question is, "how best to accommodate all full-spectrum of learners" for communications needed during software delivery and subsequent support, rather than "how to make sure we don't waste time writing things down."
In the end, when agilists say they prefer "in person, simultaneous and holistic discussions" without too many details, I think it's interesting to note that these preferences show an underlying prejudice towards communication at one end of each of the pieces of the ILS scale: an agilist is probably someone we think of as "interactive, spontaneous, visual, and global" in thinking.
But of course ALL of us aren't like this, and for happy, productive teams who can get along even when not drinking beer together, the pragmatic communicator will build a project communication strategy which is friendly to people popping up in different areas of those continua. And of course the ILS isn't the only theory of learning styles. But it's all food for thought.
By the way, if you're interested in seeing what your own learning style spectrum looks like, and how to best to accommodate your own preferences for best learning, the ILS people offer this online quiz. It's like Meyers-Briggs, only faster!
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