Agile principles: 7. Face-to-face conversation

I’ve decided to write about the 12 Agile principles in no particular order. I can only write about my experience, but hopefully it will still provide useful information for you.

The 7th Agile principle is: Face-to-face communication is the best form of communication (co-location).

In my opinion and experience, this is a very important principle for any project (whether it’s agile or traditional). Even better, this principle is a very good guideline for almost any area in life.

But let’s focus on work. Probably you’ve had the experience of wasting time on e-mails. I know that in one of my previous workplaces we wasted tremendous effort on  writing complicated e-mails and reports to protect our backsides. To be sure that we don’t miss out anyone, we copied in managers and the managers’ managers. Obviously while those e-mails looked very professional, most of the time they ended up in the Trash folder. And I can’t say I was very proud of writing daily status reports that no one really read, but forwarded onto other managers… But that was the process and I had to send out those e-mails to get the daily contract rate and to be a “good worker” .

I don’t hate e-mails. There are exceptions and there is a place for e-mails. You wouldn’t commit to a contract verbally (always subject to interpretation). You will need to send out an e-mail for training participants with information. But when you send out an e-mail, you should ask yourself: Is this the best channel of communication?

Let’s jump to the telephone conversations. While telephone calls are verbal, you miss a lot of non-verbal elements if you can’t see the other person. And we all know, that non-verbal signs carry the most significant messages. If you have people offshore, video conferences might be a suitable solution. I’ve seen a workplace where the two teams could see each other through a webcam and a large screen all day. It requires significant investment and maturity. People need to understand and accept that someone on the other side can see every move that they are making.

Let’s not forget about social media. When the Agile manifesto was written, social media was not a buzzword yet. There is useful application for tools like Chatter, Twitter. While they are not replacement for a conversation, they are there to share short updates and knowledge.

And of course there are instances when you burn yourself. It might happen that you talk to a person one day and the next day that person denies that the discussion ever happened. Trust can make a difference.

As a summary, I believe this is a key principle and I recommend to ask yourself when starting a new e-mail: Would it have a better outcome if I’d talk to that person face-to-face?

I welcome any comments to my thoughts, either here or if you see me at a Melbourne meetup, face-to-face…